Spending more time outdoors is important for a child’s development

Published 11:58 am Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Behind my house is a mile long path next to a river. The whole neighborhood uses it for exercise, recreation, and driving my dogs crazy. I can’t help but watch as people walk by from dawn until dusk. Unfortunately, one group of people are rarely present –  unaccompanied kids. 


There are a few kids here and there ambling around, but the ages of 8-13 are sorely under represented. If one were to take a census of our neighborhood by path walkers, you would think there were few kids in that age range. 

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As a culture, we have manipulated our activities to be as safe as possible. In a bubble wrapped world, life lessons of situational awareness and problem solving are neglected. 


I once heard a story about a cat that was raised in a room with no place to jump up or down. It matured while staying at the same altitude. After a bit, the researchers set up an experiment to see if the cat would avoid walking off a ledge. 


They let the cat go in a room with an optical illusion cliff that looked dangerously high. The cat walked right off it and did not land on its feet (the cat wasn’t harmed).


When we try to keep our kids safe all the time, I think we run the risk of raising cats that will walk off a ledge. Or worse, cats that don’t even walk to the ledge. 


In the afternoon, the safest place for my kids to be is in front of a screen. Except for a sore hand from a controller or a stubbed toe when walking while playing a hand held device, screentime is relatively safe in the short term. The safest place may not be the best place. 


Poison Ivy, ant bites, blisters, and slipping into a mud puddle are all dangers of a screen-less world. A kid could climb a tree just to fall and break their arm. A fishing hook could get lodged in an ear. All of these dangers are part of the best place for kids – a world with consequences unlike a safe digital world. 


The last unsupervised kids I saw on the path behind my house was around 3 years ago. I was walking my dogs and two 12 year old boys walked towards me. They looked me in the eye (very uncommon) and said good afternoon. 


I asked if they were terrorizing squirrels with a smile and said good luck as the BB gun toting boys walked away. I thought back to my days with a pocket knife, pellet gun, and the woods of my youth with a smile. 


When I returned to the house, I saw an alert on my phone. Folks in my neighborhood were debating calling the cops on these boys. Others had come to their defense, but unfortunately they were told not to go to the path with their BB guns anymore. 


I haven’t seen them since. I hope they found a plot of woods to explore and not a screen. I hope we didn’t create a couple more cats that would walk off a cliff.