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Health & Parenting

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How to Get Kids to Play Outdoors

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Several studies have shown that regular, unstructured playtime in nature makes kids smarter, calmer, more self-disciplined, more cooperative, and happier. As a child, I loved going outdoors for its own sake, but looking back, I value the gifts it gave me: a strong, healthy body; an up-close-and-personal relationship with the birds and bugs and plants of northern Michigan; a resilience borne of the many scraped shins and bike crashes I never let slow me down; and the joy of knowing that every day held adventure and excitement right outside my front door.

So what's keeping our kids indoors? Read on for a rundown of the attitudes, both ours and theirs, most likely to prevent them from heading for the backyard — and parent-tested ways to overcome them.

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.

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