How to Get Kids to Play Outdoors
Barrier: "It's not safe!"
Parents have been so inundated with dire media warnings about child
abductions and pedestrian accidents that many think going outside is too
dangerous for their preteens. "There are things outside that can be risky,
but keeping kids under house arrest has risks, too," Louv says. For
example, the CDC reports that about one in three American children are now
overweight or at risk for becoming so, increasing their chances of developing
type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure. While we should
undoubtedly be aware of the potential — but usually rare — hazards of letting
kids play outside, we also need to pay attention to the much more prevalent
dangers of not letting them play outside.
- Establish ground rules. Set clear limits so your kids know what's
safe. My two older sons, for instance, can play in any front yard on our block,
but they aren't allowed to enter anyone's house or backyard without letting me
know first. Before they go out, we agree on where they're going and when
they'll be back, and we set up a check-in call. The rules you make will depend
upon factors such as your child's age and maturity, your neighborhood's safety,
and the availability of siblings or friends for your kid to buddy up with. My
younger son, who's 4, is permitted to go out in the fenced backyard or into the
front yard if his big brothers are with him. But my 2 1/2-year-old, whom I've
affectionately dubbed "the bolter," must remain within locked gates at
- Enlist a village. When you wandered through the neighborhood as a
kid, chances are that your friends' moms were keeping an eye on you as well as
on their own brood. Join with other local parents to look out for one another's
kids, and keep in touch by phone or text-message about where the gang is going
and what they're up to. You'll gain several extra sets of watchful eyes, but
the kids will still be able to enjoy a sense of freedom. Better yet, plan
regular hangout times when parents get together, sit outside on lawn chairs,
and chat while the kids run around, suggests Mike Lanza, 45, father of two and
founder of playborhood.com, an online community dedicated to promoting
unstructured neighborhood play.
Barrier: "Indoors is more fun!"
Video games, 24-hour cartoon networks, texting, and the Internet — with so
much stimulation indoors, no wonder kids don't bother going out. Limiting
screen time to no more than one to two hours a day, as the American Academy of
Pediatrics advises, discourages hanging around the house all day. But how can
you make the outdoors more appealing?