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Alarming Decline of Quality Youth Playtime (houseoflawandorder.com)
373 points by technologyvault 87 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 261 comments

I wrote a book advising parents how to give kids a life of independent neighborhood play. Check out Playborhood - http://playborhood.com

In a nutshell, I contend that this is a social problem of neighborhood culture, and parents should work to make their neighborhoods as fun and inviting as video games and the Internet. Simply cutting off electronics and shoving them out the door won't do it because there's no one out there - neighborhoods are very boring. Somehow, we need to create a culture of play, first with parents, and later without, in our neighborhoods. The book Playborhood is all about that.

social problem of neighborhood culture

Yes it is, but you aren't going to solve it without rolling back women's rights. Neighbourhoods are not communities anymore because there aren't enough adults around during the day. With both parents working 9-5, there aren't any moms around to keep an eye on the kids playing during summer break.

It was bad when we as a society told women they're not allowed to work. Now women have to work just to be able to afford a house on two incomes which previously cost only one.

I'm sorry but this is BS through and through. I grew up in a very small town with, by today's standards, very little with regard to what was available to entertain us. My friends and I always had things to do. Kids want to be outside, play outdoor games and pretend outdoors. It's the parents that mess it up by assuming there's nothing for them and then by also being overprotective and limiting the ability to explore. Growing up during my summers off my Mother and Father worked during the day. Starting around age 10 I was trusted with the responsibility of maintaining myself as well as household tasks. The reality was >90% of my parentless time was free. And I was always doing something. Most of the time it was friends self-organizing and the rare (for me) structured outing with the local town's rec center.

As a parent now I encourage free and outdoor play whenever possible. Winter, summer - doesn't matter. They love being outside and self-organize. Sure they're young enough still to want help with setting up games from time to time, but it's crazy how much imagination and natural inquisitive nature is in them. Parents overcommit kids today. Play is work now. And work sucks as a kid. Don't do that.

But the premise that communities are gone because parents aren't around isn't founded in anything but an assumption and is wildly inaccurate in my daily life.

I agree. I grew up in a tiny town where basically all parents had to work so we (the kids) had more or less no adult supervision of any kind. There were no mobile phones, no internet, no consoles (that any of us could afford anyway), sometimes not even a football, so most of the kids spent all day out inventing games and fun activities with a key around our necks. Everything could be a toy, everywhere could be a playground.

As a kid I never even considered an adult could contribute in any way to my free time and to the degree to which I will enjoy it. Of course they had a contribution but it was more akin to teaching an autonomous car to drive rather than you driving the car yourself. The end result is still a functioning car, but the implications of each case are vastly different.

Maybe the particulars of the situation made it possible. Small, safe town with friendlier people, fewer distractions available, more relaxed legal framework, fewer dangers out there, etc. But the implication that you need adults to build and maintain an environment in which kids can play is only valid if that's the way you lived it so it's the only way you can imagine it. It is sufficient but not necessary. There are plenty of other ways that don't involve parents to build their kids' playing universe. And having just one more possibility invalidates the premise of the original comment.

Not true, as there was more to neighbourhood society than stay at home mums. When I grew up in the 70s, in a major city, and there were many more stay at home mums in one earner, two parent households, for sure. But...

The local shopkeepers and retired would keep an eye on the local kids too. If anything we'd be more likely to be pulled up and ticked off by the old lady doing her gardening or the old fella taking the dog for a walk than the local mums. The mums were often busy with the youngest of the family, cooking, and other jobs keeping them inside. Not all had toddlers of course.

The local shopkeepers - newsagent, butcher, baker all knew our mums as they were in every week so if we pushed too far it was certain to get back home. Everyone seemed to know everyone else. A non-automated surveillance state. :)

So what did we kids do? Went and played on the demolished old factory site, along the canal, or on the disused railway station and line. No one got to keep an eye on anyone there.

The situation of women having to work is just as repressive of women's rights as not allowed. I'm sure there's a lot of women, and some men, who would stay home with the children whilst young if it were possible. The expectation now is they have to juggle both.

The local shopkeepers in many places are getting pushed out by corporations, especially in less-populated areas. Walmart is your one-stop mini-city for groceries, all household goods, prepared foods—and they are not going to take on the liability of allowing employees to watch over children playing.

Then again they're getting pushed out because the "community" prefers the convenience and cheap prices of the local corporation one-stop shop to the more expensive and less well stocked bevvy of butchers and bakers and corner shops. It's no surprise that the only ones surviving are those crewed by and catering to immigrant and "ethnic" food cultures not well-served by corp marts and fringe spaces (e.g. local coffee roaster, expensive / foodie grocery store, tea shop).

Of course it's never quite that simple.

Now that the supermarkets mostly "won", local bakers, greengrocers and butchers etc are usually cheaper and far better stocked than any of the supermarkets yet of far higher quality. Supermarket prices just aren't competitive any more, as they mostly stopped trying, though of course they beat the open all hours corner shops. Cut price Aldi are now the fastest growing supermarket in the UK. Tesco are laughable on price and quality by comparison with Aldi or Lidl.

There's also an element of having to prefer the one stop shop of a supermarket thanks, in part, to most of us having to have both partners working to survive. I strongly suspect if more couples were still able to support a home and family on one income there'd be many more of those butchers, bakers and greengrocers around and still thriving.

Still, we are where we are, and probably stuck with it.

as for how the economics of a society affects & recreates the spatial design of various localities, we should always keep in mind that technology is part of play, and also enhances play

tho only the rare & remarkable ppl are at the leading edge of that (as is the case with anything else in society)


I think both experiences could be true, in American suburbs and towns there is no such thing as a shop keeper or butcher in your neighborhood, it's _all_ residential. In that context it would only be the mothers and retired available.

During my days of play we never were around businesses though we did occasionally see retired people most of our limited oversight was mother based.

Depends where you grew up.

For me, this was early 90s in a big European city, there were zero shops even near where we were playing outside most of the time. So sure, this was after school and being 10-14, but it wouldn't really matter (for this topic) if there was someone at home, because most days I'd be outside just after school anyway.

i agree with all the others here that the claim by 'chongli' is false & inaccurate and illustrates a person that is incredibly biased due to their a) limited experience, and b) knowledge

this mega-problem of there being insufficient spaces for play in our current society is undeniably a human crisis (tho this likely has always been the case as 'play' as a concept is relatively new in the history of ideas)

if or not there's less overall spaces for play relative to the past is unknown, and it would seem supa difficult to get data on. but if anyone has extensive evidence on the topic, i'll like to see the links

it's likely accurate that most places in 2019 has this problems (that kids dont play outside). but there are also places, including within cities, where kids do run around and play on the roads

i'd say the contingency of this affordance is based on how good of an area you live in to be able to give this privilege of play to kids, as well as everyone else in society

That's not the reason. I grew up in the 1970s in a neighborhood where there were usually several different roving packs of kids playing in a variety of ways for hours on end, after school and all day on weekends and holidays. Thinking back on it, I estimate 75% of the Moms had jobs, and the Moms who didn't were rarely seen anyway.

In other words, there were usually no parents supervising anything in my neighborhood in the 70s, yet our play culture was dramatically different from present day play culture.

This might be a factor, but I live in a neighbourhood where there are plenty of SAHM's and it's not like kids play is flourishing like it did in my generation (and there are plenty of kids). There are multiple factors. I also think a big one that contributes to the "helicopter parent" perception. Is our towns and cities. We built them around cars. I remember reading there are 3-4x cars on the road now as opposed to in the 80s. My parents would let us wander very far from home when we were young because they knew we could bike many places without hitting a really busy or high-speed-limit street for a while. Nowawadays, there are cars everywhere and it does lead to a heightened sense of danger (real or perceived).

Meta-guess: SAHM means "stay at home mom".

>Yes it is, but you aren't going to solve it without rolling back women's rights.

The economic pressure to work to support your family is not what I would call a right, but a modern requirement (of both men and women). If anything, this is an advancement of an employers right to extract cheap labor while maintaining a moral high ground in the name of equality and phony, corporate backed, dollars-and-cents egalitarianism.

>It was bad when we as a society told women they're not allowed to work.

To be clear I agree, and, upon further inspection, so do you: :-)

>Now women have to work just to be able to afford a house on two incomes which previously cost only one.

Posting anyway because maybe there's something to be said about the choice of words ('rights' to work) here, which should perhaps be considered for rephrasing en masse (as I'm sure you're aware, but was not explicitly said).

I grew up in the late 90s and early 2000s in an apartment complex where about a dozen of us kids in the area spent all day out and about. We built clubhouses in the woods, played Pokemon and Yugioh on the sidewalks, and as we got older started trekking up and down a walking trail next to the complex to convenience stores and towns up to several miles away.

At the same time, there were probably another half dozen kids we knew of living in and around the area whose parents refused to let them come out to play. In hindsight, they were the rising tide that seems to have taken over parenting, despite all those kids probably now being able to testify they missed the opportunity.

And boy all those private investors are thrilled to keep nearly all of the productivity gains from having double the labor pool available!

Alternatively, perhaps this is the source of wage stagnation. We doubled the labor pool but did not necessarily double consumption.

That's because costs have gone up while wages have stayed the same; people need a double income now, while 30-40 years ago my parents could afford to own a house on a single income. Me, I was only able to buy one on a single income a year and a half or so ago, at an age where my dad had two kids with the third on its way with seven years less education and no degree. Mind you, different / cheaper area of the country, too.

>That's because costs have gone up while wages have stayed the same

I think you misunderstand. Wages may have stayed the same because there are twice as many people competing for jobs, compared to times when women were socially discouraged from working.

Labor gets cheaper, i.e. people are paid less, when there are more people competing for jobs. Supply and demand just like any other market.

And lots of women enjoy having a professional career.

Why? What’s better, slaving away in a cubicle from 9 to 5 doing meaningless work so some corporate big wig can meet his bottom line and get a bonus... or watching your children grow up, spending all day playing with them, raising them, hanging out with other parents while kids play...

I thought this should be obvious, but it seems women want to be like men and suffer through the generally horribly competitive, generally meaningless, and often monotonous drab of having a “career” in some goal of chasing an ever higher number on a direct deposit every two weeks. Why? Why not have the obviously much more fun, relaxed life of being a stay at home mother and be there as your child grows into an adult and builds their own unique personality?

Haven’t there been lots of studies showing women’s self reported happiness declining in recent decades? Specifically those who pursue these cutthroat executive positions dominated by pyschopathic, aggressive men working 80 hour weeks? Why would anyone be jealous of this lifestyle?

I'm guessing you haven't spent time at home looking after pre school kids. It is exhausting and relentless. Just going to the toilet alone for 5 mins seems like an unimaginable luxury. So an office environment, with opportunities for adult chit chat, and the relative prestige compared to child care, seems attractive to many of either gender who have experience of both.

Women want to be treated equally and fairly. Up until recent history, women were treated as second class citizens under many laws. Even today, women overwhelmingly face discrimination and harassment in all walks of life, moreso than men.

Nobody wants to work 80 hour weeks. Women's rights is about not having your gender be a basis of disqualification for anything. If a woman wants to work the same miserable demanding job a man works, she should have every right to. Her gender should not be a disqualifier for a job.

Your argument for why wouldn't a mother want to stay at home and be with her kids could just as easily be applied to any father.

For some, staying at home is also meaningless and monotonous.

Who are you to say what women should prefer or not prefer?

I think this was a rhetorical question. Like, given the choice between raising your kids and staying at home, and going to a soul-sucking corporate cubicle job, WHY would ANYONE choose the later over the former, if both are a viable option for your family finances?

No doubt about that one :) It goes without saying that their financial security is thoroughly important. Still, all workers in 2019 have diminished purchasing power compared to the amount of hours worked (and commuted)

Yes, but someone needs to raise the children.

We fathers can also take time off from work to stay at home with the kids and many of us do exactly that.

I think women are better at taking care of children, especially at the beginning (eg. breast feeding). Later, it's father's role to teach (raise) children.

My wife and I are equally capable of both taking care of and teaching our child. Breast feeding is a pretty small part of it, and it only lasts for a year or so.

Are you a parent?

Yes, I am parent of 2 kids: 7 and 4 years old. But my (single) case doesn't matter. From my observations women are naturally much more capable than men to deal with kids. One simple fact: they're more talkative. So the kid has better contact with language. Simple example: when kid gets hurt mum is usually trying to cheer up while father is trying to say something like "oh, it's nothing, go on and play". At the beginning, the attitude of woman is needed by kid, later - the one from father. Both are very different and very important.

I grew up in India so maybe the situation was different, but during summer vacation i would be practically out of my house from 7am to 9 pm ( apart from breakfast at 9am, lunch and then be at someone's home for a bit in afternoon) completely unsupervised. Lack of gameboys, mobile phones and playstations meant that even when we went to somebody else's place for a family dinner/lunch/get-together, all the kids would go outside and play on their own, again unsupervised.

As my childhood was in last soviet days and early post-soviet times all the parents were working. There weren't moms looking after kids after school. But there there were always elder neighbors that were already pensioners that were always observing yard in case of children were getting too wild. They knew all the kids of the building and were running out another unknown kids from other blocks (especially if they seemed to be aggressive). If some "own" child was misbehaving too much they were reporting to parents. So IMO this thing had also an effect of involving lone elders into community.

> Now women have to work just to be able to afford a house on two incomes which previously cost only one.

I frequently see people argue that you now have to have two incomes to have a normal middle-class lifestyle, but it doesn't square at all with my own experience. I come from a pretty conservative sub-culture, where it's much more common for a husband/father in a family to be the primary breadwinner and for the wife/mother not to work. Sure, a lot of our friends are highly-paid engineers and the like, which makes that easier. But others aren't - off the top of my head, I can name teachers (in a state known for terrible teacher pay), law enforcement officers, city maintenance workers, etc. All of these people are figuring out how to live a fairly normal middle-class lifestyle on one income.

How is that possible? We make other choices that support the goal of a single-income family. Most of us shop at Aldi, not Whole Foods. Nobody drives new cars (our nicer car is a 2005, for example). We do a lot of home maintenance ourselves. We share clothes, toys, and kids' supplies with each other, or get them on consignment. You get the idea. (Oh, and we also don't have to pay higher-tax-bracket taxes on the second income, high property taxes on big homes and new cars, or pay for daycare when we're at work.)

There's of course nothing wrong with women working or with nice cars or shopping at Whole Foods, and I respect the fact that different people choose to handle these issues differently. But don't be deceived - it's still possible for most middle-class Americans to live on one income, as long as they're willing to choose to make the sacrifices in other areas that facilitate that lifestyle.

(I won't claim to be able to speak to how this goes for poorer classes.)

Increased remote working or changing the core hours people work would both solve the issue of adults not being around during the day.

Massively increasing the supply of housing so a parent regardless of gender could stay at home and still afford a house would also fix the problem.

A universal basic income would also fix the issue of both parents needing to work to afford a house.

We could also consider parenting a job and pay parents a living wage to stay at home and raise their kids.

The fact you immediately suggested the only solution to this problem would be to limit women's right to work is a bit sad. There are plenty of good solutions that would work well and don't need to restrict or rollback the progress we've made towards equality. At the very least you could have suggested limiting families to one working parent rather than specifically women.

> Increased remote working or changing the core hours people work would both solve the issue of adults not being around during the day.

If you plan on spending you're remote working hours supervising children, your not really working. Working at night will not allow more time to supervise children during the day.

I'm not convinced the OP was suggesting that limiting women's rights was a solution, merely that increased female labor participation will result in less time spent with children.

> There are plenty of good solutions that would work well

I'm not sure there are many.

> progress we've made towards equality

We've made progress in some areas, and regressed in others.

This is an issue about the amount of available time. Focusing more time in work will divert time from other activities. There is no other way of looking at it.


If you plan on spending you're remote working hours supervising children, your not really working. Working at night will not allow more time to supervise children during the day.

Remote working means you don't waste time commuting, you can be available during breaks because you're already at home, and you can step away from your keyboard and be there immediately in an emergency. All those things are huge benefits over office work if you have kids.

Changing core hours doesn't mean working nights. It means things like starting at 6am and finishing at 2pm, so you're available to look after your kids in after school hours, or starting at 10am so you have time to take your kids to kindergarten. Or, as you say, working at night so you can be there all day (if you're one of these lucky people who don't need much sleep.)

There are solutions to this problem.

> Yes it is, but you aren't going to solve it without rolling back women's rights.

We live in 2019 -- who says it's the women that need to stay at home? I'd happily swap with my wife and stay home while she was working, but I seriously doubt she'd let me. :D

Other than that, you're right. We need people working less (on average), and we need to start building actual communities instead of online social networks.

That is simply not true. Children do not need adult supervision 24/7, and from age 10 and up they are more than capable to be out and about for hours without parents checking in on them. Well, they are if they've been allowed some independence anyway.

During my summer vacation growing up we played for hours, completely unsupervised. There needs to be a culture of allowing kids to play without parents watching over.

> Yes it is, but you aren't going to solve it without rolling back women's rights.

You know you can also have men keeping an eye on children while their spouse (of any gender) work.

If both adults can have a job, price of living adjusts until both have to have a job.

Um, ok so why don't you suggest that dads stay home then...

I know most people are disagreeing with you but I mostly agree. I think it is a big cultural change. Most parents today won't even let their kid outside without them because they are worried about abduction or some other tragedy. You are missing a couple of things though. Houses used to all have porches and the retirees sat out there and could also keep an eye on people (kids or strangers).

The other issue is that most people don't even know their direct neighbors or spend any significant time together. That is definitely their choice but that is what is required to turn a group of houses into a neighborhood. This is much harder in the suburbs than in the cities where there are already known collecting spots like stores, parks, playgrounds and courts. In the suburbs, most people get home after dark from work and kids activities and then it is off to bed for the kids and Netflix for the parents. We all need to slow the hell down.

I think having a more disperse mix of generations would solve this. Not every family's kids need parents in the backyard, but some retirees could be there. Not necessarily to be actively engaging with the kids, but keeping an eye on them. Just to make sure they are safe.

Solution I have seen around me is more semi-structured groups. I.e. I am kinda sad we missed-out on sunday-school, but I will be trying to get my girl at least to some scouting org :)

The important thing seems to be a balance between the structured activity in the group (I have seen peers that had so many activities, but little connection with the kids they were around, because there is little time to interact in i.e. gymnastic class) and just messing around :)

> Yes it is, but you aren't going to solve it without rolling back women's rights.

Reducing required household market labor for basic living, perhaps. But, even to the extent that is true, just because in the past that was done by constraining women's choices doesn't mean that it can only be done with gendered constraints.

>without rolling back women's right

May I rephrase this: "without strengthening parental and co-parental rights" (this includes grandparents and the extended family).

> Yes it is, but you aren't going to solve it without rolling back women's rights.

Framing it as "rolling back" plays into the feminists' hands. Yes, your rolling back, but you're rolling back what's effectively a regression.

The problem I see is that people simply don't have children anymore. We are surrounded by couples in their 20s-50s living in houses without children. When my kids want to visit friends they have to ride their bikes 1+ miles to the next family with kids (and we don't live in a rural area, we live in a densely populated suburban area) and from their those 2 kids will ride another 1+ miles to the next family with kids. I suppose the real culprit is people can't afford to have kids anymore (though we managed to have 7 kids on a single income, so it is possible).

The problem I see is that people simply don't have children anymore.

Is that actually true, beyond this anecdote? FWIW, my own suburban neighborhood (a cluster of about 60 townhomes) has enough kids that there's usually a small basketball game going on in the parking lot. And often bikes left scattered around (until dinner time, when the kids pick them up and go home).

In my experience as a parent (my son moved out last year), there were always kids around, but they were scheduled down to the minute in sports, STEM enrichment activities, scouts, or church. And those kids from families that didn't have that kind of budget were glued to TV screens or computer monitors.

We tried to give our son free time to play, but there was nobody around to play with. The kids were there, just not available.

Now that we've moved to a smaller house, with THs instead of SFHs, it appears to be slightly better. More play in the parking lot. But, the kids still seem pretty tightly scheduled (almost all are in sports leagues year-round).

Yes this is true: https://www.infoplease.com/us/births/live-births-and-birth-r...

Anecdotally I've lived in a few different places, and it seems to vary a lot, even by neighborhood. In Utah there are tons of kids around. In Alaska there were neighborhoods here and there with lots of kids, and many others with practically no kids. I would guess that perception of kids varies a lot based on which neighborhood you move to, but yes overall it is declining.

one thing to watch out for here, though- sampling bias works out in the kids' favor.

More kids are in neighborhoods with... more kids!

For others who don’t know the lingo:

TH = townhouse

SFH = single family home

... I think


And for the Brits, that would be detached (=SFH) and terraced (=TH).

Though in the US, we have lots of newer terraced/town-homes than I think you have across the pond (where they tend to be older homes in industrial cities). And we don't really do semi-detached (duplex in the US).

>people can't afford to have kids anymore.

I don't think this is the issue. It's much more a cultural thing, statistically richer countries have lower birthrates. But getting married and having kids is no longer accepted as "just what you do". Less people are getting married, that also may play a role.

I'd also imagine it's different in different areas. Might even map to incomes, or political leanings of different zip codes.

It isn't people can't afford kids; it's

a. The opportunity cost of having children is higher in rich countries. (E.g. If you are richer, you can say travel more.. but can't easily if you have kids! Also the income hit from having children is also much higher in rich countries)

b. Rich countries generally have higher social expectations for parental involvement. Kids cost more in rich countries because parents actually do more.

For us it completely around income and time. Live in the bay area, have a long commute, can't afford to have a second kid even if I really want to. I'm very well paid.

souprock 86 days ago [flagged]

If you did really want a second kid, you would have moved. You would have a trivial commute, fuel would be half the cost, and housing would be a tenth the cost.

Clearly, there is something more important to you.

That's the stupidest comment I've ever read. It doesn't really deserve a thoughtful answer and I find it pretty insulting to get lectured about life choices by someone that simply doesn't understand the situation.

souprock 86 days ago [flagged]

I was tempted to lecture you about life choices, but I didn't. I said nothing about the morality, ethics, or wisdom of the choices you have made.

I simply said it is clear that you have determined that other things in your life are of greater priority for you.

I'm not sure what you mean by "stupidest". It isn't wrong. For me it is a trivially obvious observation, and thus kind of lame, but I'm a disinterested observer. Making the correct observation would be more difficult if I were deeply invested in the situation.

FYI, my 11 kids are supported on a single income, and I'm just an experienced software hacker. I don't even manage people or work overtime. Granted, I don't get to live anywhere near my childhood home of the Bay Area, but such is life. Just as you have done, I made choices according to my priorities, but my priorities are different.

Also there's lots more to do at home than screw around with the spouse now.

I think a big part of it is that we spend so much time beating it into adolescents that they shouldn't have kids that it becomes a very large psychological hump to get over to become okay with the idea of having kids.

When you spend ten years telling people all the ways kids will ruin their lives, it doesn't really seem surprising that they'd be hesitant to have kids...

Keeping in mind I am no way a necessary fan of raising children in suburbia: My own parents moved from acreage into suburbia when I was 10 or so, but its not like distances were shorter out in the semi-rural area. And its not like many of us have a practical choice.

But of all its problems, what's the problem with kids having to ride 1+ miles to their friends?

When I was about 10-11, I was riding 2kms by myself (and then with my younger sister) in the Australian summer holidays down to a tennis camp. Sometimes it ran late and the sun went down, so my parents would come and pick us up in their car...just kidding, they bought me a generator to put on my bike and a reflector and I rode home in the dark.

When we moved again, I had a regular neighbourhood friend and we'd go and play networked computer games and nintendo during school holidays and after school during my teenage years (having two pc's you could network was quite advanced for the 1990's). But putting this into google, his place was 1.4 kms away from my house.

There was a video store 5 to 6 kms by car that had some rental games and videos, but of course we couldn't drive. But it must of been 4-5 kms by taking a shortcut through a nature reserve with our mountain bikes. And that's what we did. After a year or two, another store opened up a few kms in the other direction and we went there as well.

Even back then, video games were a huge part of my life...we were nerds in the absolute sense, but so were the mountain bikes and the exploring. Maybe we were lucky backing on to some nature reserves, but even in the staid morass of suburbia, are there too many places with nothing in a 10km radius? And even if the answer is yes, even that I'm a bit skeptical of. The nature reserve attracted us because it was a place without adults and it was a little bit dangerous, not because it was set up with activities or playgrounds.

In my mind, the distance wasn't a barrier to playtime. The fact that our parents would let us out to explore, and we subsequently went within about a 10km radius of our homes unsupervised on our bikes and without cell phones WAS the playtime.

The changing variable isn't the distances: its the supervisory culture and the fact that everything is now streamed conveniently into our homes on demand, and the fact that many of these products are now specifically engineered to try to turn people into screen viewing zombies.

The biggest problem with 1km distance is that it prevents random meetings where kids just hang around and meet randomly often enough to get to know each other without planning. It also means that they will say fuck it and stay home doing their own thing. Not all that many kids like biking alone in all directions.

Lastly, low density likely means that the one kid available close enough is not good friend match.

While i agree that not ALL kids will like biking alone in all directions, I believe that a huge part of this isn't the kids themselves, but the environment they're raised in.

Raise a kid on acreage without electronics and internet and suddenly lo and behold, almost all of them will spontaneously go out and start exploring, and if they're all doing this they'll find and latch on to the other kids. And there's parks and playgrounds and church and sports and libraries and other places kids and families from wide areas tend to congregate.

And with all due respect: what is this idea of 'not a good friend match'? They're kids: they eat, sleep and play games. They're not professors or lawyers with 25 years of specialisation and gobbledygook talking past each other with their heads up their own arses about how important they are: unless they're violent and/or their family is dysfunctional, they're a good friend match. Isn't one of the first skills to teach a child the ability to negotiate, mediate, get along with others, irrespective of superficial differences or interests?

Raise children in an environment with on demand streaming, and multiple televisions in their homes and all their neighbour's homes, and hit them with games specifically based around quick dopamine boosts and vying for maximising engagement and attention spans, and with a parenting culture that says they have to be supervised and scheduled, and lo and behold, they act just like conditioned rats in psyche 101 experiments do.

And what is 'low-density'? Again, in my childhood, I moved INTO suburbia from a relatively less dense location. And I haven't even gotten started on the 'horrors' that happened where I lived when I was under 10. I'm in no way religious today (and back then, for context, it was the uniting church, which is barely religious by american standards), but we walked a few hundred metres to a neighbourhood house where an old couple lived and had church services and kids groups for the neighbourhood children: imagine the preposterous concept of 'not a good friend match' when you've got 10-20 kids in a several km radius. I had one friend a few hundred metres down the road. And I don't mean like 'one acceptable friend': i mean, there was a kid several hundred metres down the road. We just walked to each other's houses.

When the community got enough money together to build a church and community space out of cinder blocks, well then we walked a km down the road and back again.

To blame the things like 'kids don't like biking in all directions' or 'distance in suburbia' or 'not good friend match' as the causes or barriers to quality youth playtime? NO! Absolutely not! If anything, the very things that are being labelled as barriers are are the very ESSENCE of quality youth playtime and we wonder where its gone.

Quality youth playtime is BORN of isolation, independence, lack of supervision, self-direction, imagination, boredom, and danger.

The CAUSE of its decrease is not these things. Its not even necessarily technology: we still had TV and computers back in my day, but when you and everyone else have to wait a week between episodes of your favourite show (don't know what it was like in the US, there was no cable in my country), and you have to cycle 4-5kms over hilly terrain to get a book or a video or a game for a week and then return it, you did so (back in the day, our kids network also pirated pc games between us all, but that's another story).

Its universal supervision, scheduling, protection, anxiety, short-term rewards, emphasis on private vs public space, exclusion of children from public space, on-demand universal supply of media and entertainment, absolute abundance of convenience and the attention economy that's driving it.

The rest are just excuses to stop us having to deal with the actual issues. I'm no friend of suburbia, but suburbia itself does not negate quality youth playtime. And the idea that these things are the barriers or causes is somewhat comical to people who actually grow up with significantly greater levels of those things as actual barriers...and still have quality youth playtime.

All your examples involve situations where there are many kids around. Parent talked about situation where area simply does not have that many kids . They were not born and thus are not available to play. You can't meet a kid that does not exist.

Even without electronics, beyond age of 6, nearby areas are explores quick and indoor activities are more fun then biking alone again through area you know pretty well. I knew few kids who liked that, but they were very much minority - and they were the kind of kids that don't seek novelty and aresponsibility fine with doing the same thing same way every day. Even without electronics, over age of 6-7, indoor has more options, more interesting options and is more fun unless there is company outside. Hence kids not rushing outside if a chance of meeting someone is low.

Not a good friend is a kid you don't like to play with. It is simply not true that all kids like to play with all kids nor that all they do is games and games are the same. It does not have to be something bad like bullying or being little assholes - through it can be. It can be something as simple as one kid doing mostly focused plays and the other widely running around. With many kids they will sort themselves to groups, with few they just end up doing own thing and not having interest in each other.

> All your examples involve situations where there are many kids around. Parent talked about situation where area simply does not have that many kids . They were not born and thus are not available to play. You can't meet a kid that does not exist.

How does school work in areas where there's only one kid? And how can that one kid ever learn to properly socialize when it supposedly never ever interact with other kids?

I mean sure, there's probably a situation like that out there with some home-schooled kids, but when I was a kid I also didn't hang out with dozens of kids, I had like 1-2 best friends with whom I'd hang out and that was already plenty enough.

Parents drive them for 30-60minutes to reach the school. The kid socializes in school or in after school activities.

I don't know much about home schooled kids, but afaik that is separate issue. They often live in communities with other home schooling families, it is often religious and thus implies many many siblings etc.

Riding that far isn't a problem. But I grew up in a similar neighborhood and at that time our neighborhood was full of kids. There were so many kids on my street that there wasn't really any reason to go to the next street, much less a mile away.

> I grew up in a similar neighborhood and at that time our neighborhood was full of kids.

It's interesting how this happens, because there's definitely neighborhoods with a lot of kids about the same age. I can only assume it's the ways the markets function.

My neighborhood was full of kids growing up-- it was a brand-new housing development built to be compact and affordable that seemed to attract a lot of relatively young professionals who had recently started families and were in need of a cheap housing alternative.

In my town a lot of the more expensive housing might be snatched by kid-less couples, retired immigrants (I'm from Mexico, a lot of American immigrants move there to retire), etc.

Established neighborhoods will eventually see the older tenants move out (or, grimly enough, die off) but it happens in such a random fashion you never really see just a single influx of young families into the neighborhood, like you do with a brand-new development.

>(and we don't live in a rural area, we live in a densely populated suburban area)

That doesn't necessarily mean much. Moving from urban areas to suburban ones already greatly reduces density and access to services and the sort of institutions we are talking about.

To give some sense of proportion, the average American suburb has[1] a density of about 2.7k people per square mile. That's about 2 1/2 times less dense than a Western European suburb (6.2k), and about eight times less dense than a Western European core urban area (18.8k).

American suburbia is extremely sparsely populated and fundamentally unfit to provide the cultural institutions that modern, small families and communities require. Calls for larger families is simply unrealistic, because the opportunities that each kid in a large family on a single income in a developed knowledge economy gets are abysmal. In our modern world, quality trumps quantity so to speak.


Suburbia is fine, and those definitions are skewed by certain regions of the country. A older northeast suburb is similar to Europe. White middle class people just don’t have kids anymore.

Of my cousins (about 12 people), only half are married at 35-40, and three couples have kids. That’s not uncommon.

At some point, acquisitions and trips became more important than family. Personally, I think that it is really sad.

Where do you live?

New York. The family is mostly from metro ny and is scattered from DC to Boston.

Interesting. I live in Southern California (LA suburbs) and there are more kids (of all races including white) than what you describe. There are probably regional differences in fertility rate. I know California is probably lower than many other parts of the country.

Ahh... the Internet delivers:


... also:


+1. I'm from Mexico, where houses tend to be smaller and more tightly packed. There's essentially no yards or large patios, so not only do you live closer to other kids, but you're kinda forced to play in the shared street space, since you don't have that much open private space.

American suburbia is extremely sparsely populated and fundamentally unfit to provide the cultural institutions that modern, small families and communities require.

That's just your opinion. Thriving suburbs are practically sustained in toto by middle class (broadly speaking) people in nearby cities who want a greener, safer, larger space with better schools (at least by their perception) for their children on their given level of income.

This has nothing to do with children playing outside together. I grew up in a sparse suburban area in the early 80s and kids played together all of the time. Scheduled after school activities were only a few times a week and usually only for older kids.

> 2.7k people per square mile

Perhaps your source is per square kilometer? That seems really low for a suburb. E.g. Bay area cities (not particularly denser) are around 3k people per square kilometer.

For comparison, I live in a US suburb with a population density of around 1K people per square mile, and is a good example of a place where packs of children regularly play outdoors on any neighborhood street you care to walk down (maybe not as many who once would have, and children's screen time is a problem here like anywhere) despite the low population density. Some neighborhood characteristics: * 30 minute drive away from downtown. 40 min during rush hour. * Home prices here are much more affordable for single income families like us. Our monthly payment on a 6 bedroom house in the suburb costs the same as rent on the average 2 bedroom apartment in the city, and several $hundred less than the average 3 bedroom. * The farther away from the city center, the lower crime tends to be, and parents are more willing to send their children out for unsupervised play. More children are visible despite living in a much less densely populated neighborhood. * Local children's play groups are easy to find on social media, meetup.com, etc. * Major tech center 15 min drive away. * Supply of local jobs exceeds people available to fill them, resulting in below average unemployment, and greater than average incomes. * Bikable neighborhoods - many multi-use paths separate from car traffic, so we worry less about sending kids out on their bicycles to neighborhood parks or biking with young kids in a trailer. Often shared with horseback riders, which our kids are always excited about. Also makes for a more pleasant bicycle commute to work (at least, until I get closer to the city). * Trails and nature easily accessed - without getting in my car, I can and do run or bike from my doorstep up into mountain trails with a nice view of the valley.

And of course there are disadvantages: * Commute time. It takes me 28 minutes to get to work in the morning, so I lose almost an hour per day to travel, but this is relatively ok compared to other cities. * Fewer public transportation options - must transfer from the train to a bus to get to my remote corner of the metro area. These days it's easier to take Uber to the nearest train station when my car is not available. * Fewer night life options within walking distance of home * Fewer dining options within walking distance of home * Businesses have difficulty hiring, with so few people looking for work who are not already employed. * Not near a coast

All of this is to say, if growing a family in a neighborhood with other families with children is a priority, there are absolutely affordable cities around the US where you can make this happen. Even on a single income. Even in low population density areas. Even without giving up access to a nearby metro area and all of the culture and services it has to offer. If you are not willing to move to any of those places, maybe there is something more important to you, as has already been said.

I grew up with no kids my age around (farming countryside in europe).

I often wonder how much of my solitary/introverted personality is the result of my environment.

Are you open to sharing more of your experience? I wonder if you were also homeschooled? Did you have siblings? How has it been as an adult (if you are now) in regard to how you grew up?

I don't mind. There are probably more fascinating or relevant life stories than mine but here it goes :

I should mention that I am trying to sum up as best as I can but I don't want to give the impression that I am resentful against my parents. They did what they thought was best.

I was raised in the countryside. My parents were able to have me avoid going to the nearest school (IIRC one the main teacher was alcoholic) and make me go to one slightly farther (30 minutes by foot).

My mom was a stay at home mom, driving me to school and picking me up for lunch.. I believe it lasted until the end of high school ?

So no kids my age near our house, going anywhere was virtually impossible with pretty dangerous roads all around the house and an overprotective mom, not a lot of time spent socializing at school either.

I do have one sister, but she is a compulsive liar and thief. I am not sure what the medical term would be for her condition would be, if any. I have even caught her lying even about stuff that made no sense to lie about since it was completely uninteresting and did not give her anything to lie about it .. She has also has the need to make everything about herself (except taking responsibility for literally anything). So we are not close at all, and she is one of the reasons why I went far from home as soon as I could.

Oh, I also did not have regular access to a TV while growing up. If I remember correctly I could watch it during the weekends ? I never had one in my room, or a computer for that matter. We did have one family computer I ended up spending a lot of time on. Not on programming though, I only started learning that in my early 20s.

I do remember being extremely bored at school .. I learned my 2 first languages in a large by myself, by reading books. So I don't have a good grasp of tenses. My accent is also pretty terrible in languages I have learned by reading.

I don't think I am near 'genius level' intellect (whatever that means) by any mean, but I could have surely used a different learning structure.. I mostly remember reading tons of books, both at home and at school and half assing everything until after high school.

Soo, as an adult, I believe I am reasonably well adjusted ? I can be emotionally distant though. Something my girlfriends have often had issues with. Not in a toxic masculinity way of 'men don't cry', but more that it is often pretty hard to know what is on my mind. I can easily spend lots of time alone too.. I need to make a conscious effort in order to involve myself in group activities and making new friends can be very hard (especially now that I have moved from Europe to San Francisco).

How I am as an adult is an extension of how I was as a kid. It is very hard to distinguish nature and nurture. I do make lots of efforts to correct course on the parts of my personality that I don't know and I think I am becoming less and less socially awkward as time goes on .. It is hard to self evaluate yourself on this though.

That may just be situational. My neighborhood has a mix of everyone from childless 20-50 couples, retired folks, and families. There's a basketball game going on right now out in front of my house, in fact, with a half dozen elementary/middle school age kids.

To offer a counter-anecdote, my street is a veritable spawning pool. Four or five houses have kids, there are probably 10 kids primary-school-aged and younger and another 4-5 high school aged kids. It's very location-dependent (obviously).

Interesting thought, if you double the workforce, but not double the available jobs, salaries will go down. In game theory, the first ones to start working would be winners, but after a while everyone will be losers.

I don't know how to identify them ahead of time, but there are definitely pockets that are densely populated with children, and I lucked into one. My kids have loads of neighborhood kids to play with. The place we moved from across town has no kids to speak of. I'd draw the same conclusion as you, if I still lived on the other side of town.

When I went back to my parents' home around new years, you could definitely tell the demographics have changed. 35ish years ago it was a newly built neighbourhood; now, the kids (like me) have moved out and while new families have moved in, it was still a lot quieter around new year's.

I think you're right. Just unplugging and kicking the kids out the door just isn't effective, ultimately. I think that's true mainly because it takes all of the parents in the neighborhood doing the same thing. Otherwise, your kids end up outside with no one to play with because all of the kids their age are still inside attached to their electronic devices. I think it's much harder today to create alternative activities than it used to be.

I think siblings play an important role here. More than a few times I remember going out and having no one to play with but my brother, only to be joined later on by other kids.

Moreover, I can only assume that it was through me that my brother got introduced to the "social scene" of the neighborhood. I was the older one, so when we came out to play, I was in charge of him, and that meant always inviting him to play and introducing him to all my friends.

Siblings are like friends you have no option but having (and playing with). Incredibly reliable, in that sense (:

I think that parents who help their kids understand that their siblings have the potential to be their best, life-long friends are doing a wonderful thing for their kids. My sisters and I (2 years between each of us) spent a huge amount of time playing together even up through Jr. High school. We're still very close today.

Same with my sibling and I. Unfortunately were far apart-- he's in college, I'm abroad, so interestingly enough the only way we can play together now is through video games.

I care so little about League of Legends I've never played a match outside the ones we play together, but I always prioritize any planned League time over any other leisure activity (:

Or worse, one family kicks their kids out, and they float around to all the neighbors. Eventually, neighbors learn to avoid them because it's everyday and they misbehave. /Rant

Cars. Get rid of cars. And maybe bicycle helmets; more kids will die from lack of physical activity than from a fall off a bike.

Get rid of helmet laws but keep reccomending them. Riding a bike with a helmet is best but riding without one is better than sitting at home.

> neighborhoods are very boring

What changed to make them boring? Couldn't it rather be that neighborhoods are now considered boring due to highly interactive electronic entertainment being available, as an alternative, pretty much everywhere, at any time?

Mind you: I'm not saying these things are equal, but by now electronic entertainment has been designed to be as appealing as possible, in contrast to that, the alternative of going outside to look for stimuli, has become quite unappealing and bothersome to many.

Why go out in the world, to get sensual and intellectual stimulation, when you can just click away on the Internet or in Fortnite to get your "fix"? Particularly with the news cycles constantly bombarding everybody with FUD these days, making parents less likely to give their children unsupervised "outside time" even if the kids actually want to go outside.

I remember neighbourhood play at seven years old when my friend's older brothers donned us with boxing gloves and had us fight each other. Good memories.

Last Child in the Woods is also a landmark book on this subject, and highly worth a read

It is an issue no doubt because parents just honestly don't have the confidence to let their kids go.

They are paranoid not just about kidnappers or child molesters, but they are worried about not preparing their kids for school and "getting ahead", thus the over planned childhoods.

I really wish parents would just let go a little.

1) Read to your kids at night. Do it as old as they want you to do it.

2) Give them unstructured play time with friends consistently. After age 9 or so, they really can go off on their own without parents around.

3) Younger kids should experience a variety of things well through middle school. The more things they do, the better. Sure, they should get good grades (A's and B's), but obsessing over all A's in middle school isn't worth it.

4) High school is when structure starts to be more important IF they want to get into a competitive school. And forcing a high school kid to get a perfect score on his SAT is a recipe for disaster. It should be the kids choice.

Way too many parents are obsessed about making sure their son or daughter get into THE college they want. It's more about the parent than the student.

I wish I could tell more parents to let fucking go. Teenagers go to war, they start businesses, they do all sorts of grown up things.

Keep them away from drugs and help them find a passion. That's about it.

I am not paranoid about kidnappers and child molesters, but I am paranoid about other grownups who are paranoid about kidnappers and child molesters. I fully expect if I let my kids have the freedom previous generations had I would soon be visited by police and CPS because other paranoid do-gooders would report my kids as being in danger.

The trick seems to be to put them on bikes. At least where I'm at kids that are riding bikes are assumed to be "free range" while kids on foot are assumed to be lost.

The implication of there being free-range kids is that the rest are factory-farmed.

Since around becoming a teen it was obvious to me that schools were less factories and more prisons that happened to have a stated goal and intended side-effect of forcing 'educational work'.

I didn't mind the work, I did mind having it assigned as homework.

Completely agree.

> After age 9 or so, they really can go off on their own without parents around.

I'd say more like age six, depending on the kid. Kids are much more independent and aware than adults give them credit for.

> I wish I could tell more parents to let fucking go.

It's ironic that just doing this -- letting go -- would probably do more good than any "educational" activity they schedule into their kids' lives.

Yup. Parents think that they are helping their kid by doing everything for them, but really ,they are hurting them.

It should be a gradual process of teaching a kid how to be independent and have independent skills from the time they are toddlers.

Kids really appreciate being taught patiently how to do a life skill.

And if they don't want to learn how to do laundry, you make them learn.

Amen! My favorite thing I've learned as a Boy Scout leader is the EDGE method of learning (Explain, Demonstrate, Guide, and Enable). If we as parents spent more time teaching our kids skills in a methodical way (which doesn't necessarily mean doing so in a lengthy way), then our kids would feel so much more empowered to be truly independent. I've also found that taking the the approach of "inviting" them to learn a new skill (and using the EDGE method to teach it) can be so much more powerful than attempting to force them to learn. When we do that, we often default to teaching them using only one method rather than the multi-method approach of EDGE.

I don’t think that’s a viable strategy in today’s world. The kids I knew growing up that were pushed hard by their parents are doing much better (and happier) than those that were not.

Kids don’t reliably make good long term decisions for themselves. It’s more fun to play fortnite than to practice for a math/piano competition. They can’t see the long term impact of not working out and eating poorly.

I got pushed pretty hard as a kid. It wasn’t fun at the time, but now I appreciate it. There’s a widening gap between the rich and poor in America, and it’s a lot nicer to be on the rich side.

There is a difference between kids whose parents kept an eye on them and made sure they didn't go too far off the beaten path and kids whose parents structured their lives so heavily that they never had a chance to breathe for themselves.

If you are from a stable family situation, it's easy to gloss over how shitty some kids have it at home.

I specifically said to give them a variety of activities. Letting them play fortnite everyday doesn't qualify as a variety of activities.

And I never said to not push a kid. If that's what you think will help him, then do it.

If a kid has a bad habit of quitting things when they get tough, then you may need to "force" them to do something.

And part of having them try a variety of activities will mean forcing them to do it.

You can make them do a variety of things while also letting them have unstructured free time.

I think too, when I say unstructured free time, I mean outside play time with no screens.

I guess you could say that a parent is "forcing" them to not use a screen, so it's not really "free play time", but I think making kids go outside and play without giving them any directions on what to do, is a very good thing.

> The kids I knew growing up that were pushed hard by their parents are doing much better (and happier) than those that were not.

For all the nostalgia, parents often make decisions based on their own observations about their own generation and themselves. It is interesting that none of these articles ever consider that some parent may go to the other extreme, because not everything was sunny and awesome all the time in the past.

If I “let my kids go”, they go to the TV, iPad, or Kindle.

My kids, like most of their friends, get structured time so they don’t always fall back on what they do during unstructured time — technology stuff. I can take away those options (and we do that during the week), but if I want them to have fun the way they define it, often that means an iPad. And I offer to go climbing, hiking, etc with them, but so far it’s the older one that will embrace that while the younger sees it as a chore that takes her away from Roblox or some other game. That’s the irony of “free range” parenting — the “free” part explicitly excludes an option that didn’t exist when I was a kid because of what looks an awful lot like nostalgia.

What's so bad about that?

I have lots of good nostalgic memories of climbing trees and stuff on my early childhood, and of LAN parties and couch gaming on my late childhood.

Both were "unproductive" and seen by adults as "pointless". Both were very fun.

I should have clarified that when I say unstructured, I meant without any screens. Basically, you tell the kid they can do whatever they want without screens.

Be creative, play a sport, walk around, read a book, go explore.... whatever, as long as it isn't tech related.

> I really wish parents would just let go a little.

And so should schools. While we preach healthy work/life balance for adults, we bury children in huge amounts of homework that can stretch into or fill whole evenings.

I'm all for a demanding, highly structured and efficient time spent at school, but please give them a chance to explore own interests and hobbies after school.

> 2) Give them unstructured play time with friends consistently. After age 9 or so, they really can go off on their own without parents around.


In Manitoba I can be fined up to $50,000 and given 24 months in prison if I allow my kids to play alone under the age of 12.

The PDF refers to child 'home' or 'in a vehicle' alone, but the details of the law are that the guardian of any child under the age without adequate supervision is liable.

I'm not even that old and I used to play in a park with my friends, in one of the rougher neighborhoods in my city, 2 kilometers from my parents house when I was 8.

Those were great experiences my kids can't legally have.

After wandering around in Germany, coming home late etc my kid was shocked when we put him in a US school 6 year ago (i.e. post smartphone). It wasn't just the unstructured time, but the range of things kids are allowed to do. Amusingly/sadly he said things like "people here haven't heard of freedom".

We had neighbors with a kid precisely the same age as him, but the kids were never around, instead being driven from place to place.

(BTW it's pretty common to complain about the quality of US education too but in this case it was actually OK, especially when compared to the notorious Berlin schools, and he decided on a US undergraduate education which I think was a good decision.)

What were the exact freedoms your child was missing?

That's a good question. This was through the eyes of a 13 year old.

On the general side: I'd say the German approach for kids (2-12) is "super strict on the basics, then have at it." So you are very strict that they must stand behind the yellow line, don't interrupt grown ups, behave yourself at the table, etc, but once you have the core down there are few restrictions (this changes as you grow up...I like to joke that Ordnung is the German state religion). So he was used to unsafe playgrounds, coming home late from just exploring the U-bahn with his friends (all ignoring texts from parents) etc. He compared that to American kids who seemed to always being told not to do things without having a set of basics to make their own decisions. He had one Palo Alto classmate who was grounded if he wasn't home 15 minutes after school let out!

An example: in grade six he and his friends found a bottle of vodka in the schoolyard (urban school). As any 12 year olds would, they took one of their gym sneakers, filled it with vodka, and set it on fire. The maths teacher passed by and said "boys, school starts in a few minutes; don't be late" and kept going. He told me he'd be expelled from his US school if he had matches or a lighter. In Germany that didn't even rate a letter home from the school.

He also complained that grownups were always involved. Schools have police officers in them, scouts have parents involved, etc. Kids don't get to run things and screw them up like they do in Germany. I went to a Christmas service in a church where the kids wrote and put on a Christmas play -- apparently Noah brought the animals, 2x2, to see the newborn. I am not christian but I'm pretty sure that isn't doctrine -- but everyone seemed to like it.

He found the US school routine quite rigid with little time for exploration of the material but instead memorization. If anything the US seemed more like the asian schooling my mother went through, or perhaps the prewar Prussian system. I know the US kindergarteners are told to learn the alphabet while the German one was mainly focused on getting along and learning, by the end of the year, to keep your clothes on all day. They left the alhpabet (in two languages!) to the first grade.


This mirrors my experience - I grew up in Britain, Germany and Hong Kong, before my parents moved to Chicago when I was 11, in 1994.

There were rules on my pre-American childhood. Strict rules - but as you say, there was freedom - I thought nothing of cycling off into the mountains alone in the winter, of getting on a train and going to the city to meet friends, of building a treehouse in the woods complete with punji traps.

Cue America. I spent most of the year I was at school there being suspended for such misdeeds as walking the few miles home instead of waiting for a broken down school bus, climbing trees, and sword fighting with sticks; being a kid, in short. Hell, they even suspended me for reading under the desk, because I usually finished the period assignment in the first 5-10 minutes.

The breaking point was when I cycled from our ‘burb to downtown Chicago to meet a friend for a movie. My parents knew where I was, it was the weekend.

Another parent from the same school spotted me cycling around downtown. Called the police. I got home that evening to find half a dozen cops sat there at the house, threatening my parents with me being put into care, them being imprisoned, and all the rest. Apparently I was in mortal danger by... being on a bicycle without an adult?

After that, they didn’t want me going anywhere without them or another adult. I ended up just not going anywhere.

I went back to school in the UK.

Also, the education was years behind that which I had had previously - I mean, they only had two subjects - “soclish” and “sciath”. “Bored” didn’t even begin to cover it.

I didn't have the experience of growing up in Germany (or the USA to compare), but I can draw parallels to growing up in Mexico. My mom sure was strict, but I had the freedom of hopping on my bike and just taking off in the streets. So many adventures. A bit too many times I got nagged for being home late, or too dirty, or soaked (we lived close to a river). Never actually "grounded" though for small stuff like that. My mom knew quite well that a long sermon and her anger were more effective in making me feel bad about worrying her.

In a way, in my case, the strictness at home made the freedom of the streets both more cherished and more meditated. I think this goes to the "basics" from two comments above-- I had the upbringing to make my own decisions and wasn't just told "no" blindly.

And perhaps in that strictness was also the motivation to get out of home and enjoy some freedom? If I were cozy and "free enough" at home, I wonder if I'd wanted to get out so much.

I grew up in the Florida countryside in the 80s and 90s and there was no such restrictions on my siblings and I and our playtime. We rode our bikes everywhere. We built forts, climbed into trash pits to dig for hidden gems, climbed trees and fell out of them, and later when we got older, we rode four wheelers and dirt bikes everywhere. We fished and hunted too. I was even then a big geek and played plenty of video games but I definitely balanced that with outdoors activities. I find myself craving more of that now in my 30s than I bothered to in my 20s.

> An example: in grade six he and his friends found a bottle of vodka in the schoolyard (urban school). As any 12 year olds would, they took one of their gym sneakers, filled it with vodka, and set it on fire. The maths teacher passed by and said "boys, school starts in a few minutes; don't be late" and kept going. He told me he'd be expelled from his US school if he had matches or a lighter. In Germany that didn't even rate a letter home from the school.

I'm all for letting kids be kids, but I do wonder if this is a bit too far in the other direction. Playing with fire can in fact cause buildings to burn down, and, y'know, maybe there's a reason we have fewer of those incidents today than we once did.

But maybe that's my American viewpoint showing...

No, it is not just American viewpoint. Kid here at 12 have independence, but they are expected not to create fires as part of play. Definitely not with vodka. I would expect the teacher going around to explain them risks and tell them to stop.

Kids independence must go hand in hand with knowing when the real harm can happen and responsibility to avoid such situation.

By the way another comment he made was that he felt he had greater freedom of speech in Germany while in the US there was a much stronger conformist view and he was discouraged from speaking out.

Again, this is a teen ager speaking, so make of that what you will.

Thank you.

This is largely an American problem. When I lived in Europe I didn't see people being "fearful" about letting their children roam the streets. During my recent trips to Japan, I also felt that same vibe. Children under the age of 10 taking the trains by themselves or with friends, even in Tokyo.

American isolationism creates fearfulness.

Exactly. I was in Germany recently and saw small children walking home from school alone. In America, this can get parents arrested in many states.

In Japan, they basically force kids to walk to school without parents when they're 7-8 years old. If I ever have kids, I'd want to raise them someplace like that, not in a country where I'm legally required to be a helicopter parent until the kid is a legal adult.

I walked to school for 4 years in the US. Not to mention I biked or walked anywhere I could from about 6-16. No one is stopping kids and then arresting parents, it’s absurd to say.

It did happen in Maryland. Guess what? The CPS completely changed their rules after the justified outcry.[1] Not a single person was arrested in this matter.


People usually don’t hear the retraction, only the initial story.

Because this happens every once in a while it’s very easy to get the idea it’s an official policy and you can get in trouble for it. And the consequences are so high people don’t want to risk it.

Add that to internal fear about stranger danger and the kid getting lost or hurt and is it any wonder people tend towards not allowing this stuff?

You’re right, I had to go to Wikipedia to find the end result. USA Today had the initial incident but no follow up.

I'd also like to point out that the entire state of Utah felt it necessary to pass a law making "free range parenting" (letting your kids run around outside unattended) legal, because they had so many problems with people calling the police.

Remember, any time the police are called, even if it's stupid, they have to show up and investigate, and when there's no parents around, that means they have to find them, and at the minimum you have a giant hassle on your hands.

Even in the incident you cite, the CPS did act badly, and that was just in one place. Why did they ever get to the point where they acted like that in the first place? It would have been unthinkable in other developed nations.

And in your own link, the last line is: "The encounters between the Meitivs and the government have led to an intense debate among parents and educators.["

Why is there an "intense debate" about this? Obviously it's a big, big issue in the US, or else there wouldn't be any "intense debate" about it.

Supreme Court in BC ruled that kids being left alone under the age of 10 wasn't allowed. So apparently Canada is worse.

A lot of Americans think Canada is "America-lite", and basically a European version of America. It really isn't; they copy many of our worst tendencies.

Don't know which other's you're referring to? Guns? War on Drugs? Prisons? Health Care? Public Transport?

I walked to school as a young kid too in the US, but that was decades ago. Things have completely changed so you and I were children.

Raising kids in Japan means that you’re raising them in a culture that has an alarmingly high youth suicide rate [0], and that your daughter taking the subway on her own is likely to be sexually assaulted [1].

And since the original link is about quality youth playtime, let’s not forget all the hours spent at cram schools in the evenings and weekends if you want a shot at a decent university.

I’m not a big fan of the US either when it comes to parenting/educational trends, but there’s no silver bullet.

(Unsurprised by the downvotes, given how fetishized Japan is in the West and how most are incapable of looking at the country through a critical lens)

[0] https://www.humanium.org/en/child-suicide-in-japan-the-leadi...

[1] https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2017/03/sexual-as...

Not that this doesn't happen in the US: Palo Alto pays to have human guards at each rail crossing to discourage high schoolers from jumping in front of trains.

I live on a NASA/military base near Mountain View, my 4, 6 and 7 year olds routinely ride their bikes to the other side of the airfield — pretty much all over the place and the NASA and military cops just wave at them. The entire enclave is like that: kids can explore and do whatever and as long as they don’t try to leave the base. They’re not only safe, but everyone around her keeps an eye on everyone else. My 4 year old thought he was going to ride his little scooter to downtown Mountain View and the gate sentries stopped him and pointed him back to safety. I point this out as a contrast to their school neighborhood in Palo Alto: if they roamed around like that there, they’d likely be run over by a Tesla, hit by a bus or some Palo Alto matron would call the cops and have me arrested for negligence. This isn’t meant to be too political, but in very “rich white liberal” places, the propensity for collective freak outs over “neglect” is much greater than anything I have experienced living in more “red” or minority areas. Anecdotal certainly, but it does feel like areas like Palo Alto or Upper West Side NYC would be more likely to call CPS/Police or kids that weren’t properly ensconced in their Mandarin or ballet classes.

As a liberal, I hate to admit, but you're totally correct here.

For one thing, military bases are not at all representative of regular USA; they're operated by the DOD and rules there are entirely different than in civilian places, and are largely up to the discretion of the base commander, not the local police department and courts.

Also, the way things are in small towns ("red") is completely different than in both urban areas and also in rich suburban areas. Where I expect people to call the cops is in the rich suburban areas, which aren't exactly what I'd call "bright blue", they're really their own weird version of purple (lots of Republican voters in those places, but they're not like the Republicans on military bases or in small town USA).

Agree with this, I wonder some times if the top 50 schools put on their entrance requirements "We prefer students who have spent there early youth camping, playing energetic games with friends, and pursuing exploratory activities." If that wouldn't create an entire cottage industry of 'get kids out of the house' services.

People would still manage to spin these into highly competitive activities that constantly need to be monitored and controlled :-(.

That's pretty much it. Then it would be a matter of maximizing the "having fun" scoring rubric and then back to piano lessons and remedial math!

Sounds like the Boy Scouts. Although, still worth it

> Children under the age of 10 taking the trains by themselves or with friends, even in Tokyo.

that has a lot more to due with safe transit. I would NOT send a 10 year old kid to take BART or MUNI by themselves. In fact i literally know a couple who's 12 year old son basically got intimidated into giving away their iPod on MUNI.

This kind of thing happens on the Berlin or NYC systems and kids seem to survive. That's the city environment.

> In fact i literally know a couple who's 12 year old son basically got intimidated into giving away their iPod on MUNI.

While I'm sure the financial loss was irritating, if this is the worst that comes from letting children ride transit alone, I'd consider it an acceptable cost. Depending on the details, it could even make for a good learning experience.

This is the attitude that leads to people shitting on the street and shooting up in front of police being acceptable. San Francisco is a special place.

I'm not defending the caper! I just don't think the incident by itself should be enough to bar the child from riding public transit. (Additional details, such as how the child was intimidated, might change that assessment.)

This kind of shit just does not happen in Shanghai, where I live. People get pickpocketed but I have heard of exactly one incident of violent robbery in six years here and they were professionals after a great deal of money, not petty crime. Equally this just does not happen in Tokyo.

You may not have defended what happened but if you don’t think it’s acceptable either my reading comprehension or your writing needs work.

> You may not have defended what happened but if you don’t think it’s acceptable either my reading comprehension or your writing needs work.

I think they meant 'acceptable cost' from the perspective of a parent deciding whether to let their children use public transport unsupervised. Meaning: despite the risk, it's still worth letting them roam free. (Not meaning: it's socially or morally acceptable that people sometimes intimidate and rob children.)

A kid getting robbed is “acceptable?”

Really depends on what actually happened, in my childhood plenty of bullies would do similar stuff, in addition to the regular beatings.

I mean, the "lunch money stolen by the bully" is a trope to this day and is pretty much the very same thing like a stolen iPod.

While it wasn't nice, it at least taught me a couple of things about life and gave me more confidence when dealing with high-stress/tension situations and the ability to mostly recognize them before they fully escalate.

> A kid getting robbed is “acceptable?”

I agree that it's a big deal (and perhaps more to the point, in a place where this happens, it's unlikely to actually be the worst thing that happens). But I don't think Wowfunhappy meant 'acceptable' in the way you might have read it. I think they meant it is outweighed by the benefit of being free to travel alone.

I was on a business trip to Japan for over a month, and in that time I got to know a few of my associates on a pretty personal level. We talked a few times about this exact issue, and I wondered if in the younger generation there was any erosion of the language, or inability to write the language, particularly Kanji, with the mass adoption of technology. They said that many schools and parents prevent the use of computers and tablets until high school.

Europe is behind - but it goes in the same direction. It is not that this is very new - my father (in the 1950s) used to wander whole day in the forests, I did not have exactly the same freedom (in 1980s) - but still a lot of it, a few years ago when I let my 5 years old daughter to go outside alone (we live in a fenced off condo, a couple of hundreds of meters long) then other parents wanted me to stop this because their children wanted too.

I suspect this may be the result of a lower fertility rate - if you have less children, you're bound to spread your affection/attention across less children meaning that you get "overly attached" to the ones you do have.

It’s nice to make this just another problem with ‘American isolationism’, but I’d say this is true in the U.K. too after years of pedophile scares in the media.

It’s not isolationism, that’s been around forever and this fear for kids thing is more recent.

I’d argue it has a lot to do with the increasingly far-flung suburban housing that most people live in, and how dangerous the roads are.

1. Parents don’t want their kids getting hit by cars.

2. As they get older parents let them walk around the neighborhood —— but there’s nothing there except boring locked houses and front yards that, if you try to play in, you’ll get yelled at or worse.

3. The sprawl means even in these burbs there often aren’t many other kids around.

This terrible sprawl creates the reality that if you want your kids to get to hang out with other kids, or go to school, or go to a friends house, or do ANYTHING, you have to drive them there. And that’s such a time suck it’s not realistic to do all the time. Thus the helicopter parenting shuttling kids from one activity to another and then when exhausted saying “just watch Netflix.”

> During my recent trips to Japan, I also felt that same vibe. Children under the age of 10 taking the trains by themselves or with friends, even in Tokyo.

It's my understanding that it's a big part of their process of growing up - as it should be. There are actually TV shows in Japan secretly filming and celebrating young kids' first errands. It's adorable really.

edit - here it is: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e5k5XTZy0rA

Japan is more isolationist than America, aren't they? They don't allow much immigration at all.

Japan is homogenous. (Generally speaking) Americans are isolated against not only the world but also each other as a result of sparely populated areas, car culture + tech (no interaction with others), and media feeding the average American fear stories all day.

Robert Putnam studied[0] the civic engagement and social trust of diverse/homogeneous societies and found that factor alone sufficient explanation. Fewer Americans live in places as sparsely populated as those our ancestors did.

[0]: http://archive.boston.com/news/globe/ideas/articles/2007/08/...

> isolationism

Don't mention the R word.

All these stories on raising children confuse the issue and keep parents in paralysis.

If you want to take the pressure off - tell parents their kids won't be left out like millennials are. Give them a safety net. Let parents know their kids will have a pretty good life. On the other hand, if they know their kids will be in a dog-eat-dog world where even hard work gets you nowhere - they're going to raise their kids with a zero-sum game theory.

I have to disagree. You want to take the pressure off, you need to take the pressure off. Make it clear that I'm not going to have my kids taken away and/or thrown in jail because they're biking around downtown a mile away from me, or because I left them at home while I went grocery shopping or something.

I don't find myself questioning whether I should let them go because I'm worried that they might not get into Harvard or that they may not make as much money as me, or because I'm just so consumed with worry about inequality or something so abstract. I'm worried about them being taken away or me going to jail. Instead of being a black swan event (and we can't get it below that), it's merely "fairly unlikely", which for such a disastrous outcome isn't really unlikely enough.


Just in case anyone else feels tempted to click on that link it describes two incidents in which children from the same family were investigated for neglect by CPS. In the second incident the children were taken from a park where they had been dropped off by their parents by the police and then sent by the police to CPS. No attempt was made to contact their parents and they only found out that the police had taken their children by calling 911.

No one was fired for either incident.

It might not result in jail or kids being taken away, but it can absolutely lead to an investigation - as your link demonstrates. It might be FUD, but imagine the unshakable FUD that would result from the deeply invasive and strung out process of being investigated for an unsubstantiated claim of neglect.

jerf is accurate that the current system stacks pressure against parents and not in a nice way.

Even if it's FUD, it literally doesn't matter. It's what people think is going to happen. People need to stop thinking that's what's going to happen. It's going to be difficult to make people think it's not happening, though, when it manifestly is and does.

I'm already aware it's a low-probability event. The problem is, low probability times catastrophic outcome still leaves something that I worry about enough to affect my life. It needs to be a lot lower.

Even if it's FUD, it literally doesn't matter. It's what people think is going to happen. People need to stop thinking that's what's going to happen.

Aside from the fact that it’s never happened, and the whole scare is based around one family and regional government? Maybe I would help if people stopped raising the FUD level by claiming it’s a rational fear? After all, people are scared of many things that don’t exist, and the response isn’t usually to fan the flames of those fears with bullshit.

To be clear, the precise probability of this is demonstrably 0, it’s like saying you won’t let your kids out because you’re afraid aliens will abduct them. Rational people don’t then point to that fear as a societal ill, and certainly don’t spread the fear of it around online.

And yet someone relating a swarm of cop cars when they arrived home in: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=18984211 .

Why does it seem that everyone who writes articles like these seemed to have a national forest in their back yard as a kid?

Most kids don't have "an expansive wilderness" to explore. Most of them have miles and miles of residential streets to "explore" in Baltimore.

I grew up in a suburb. It's important to remember that kids are closer to the ground. Shrubbery. Slates and what burrows beneath. Trees—the texture of the bark and the vestibular effects of climbing. Ice on the ground in this season, the smell of gasoline and grass in another, and the detritus of illegal fireworks after a holiday.

Seeing strangers. Seeing new strangers. Seeing the same old strangers every day until those strangers are recognized as neighbors.

Just being in that world is an experience of wonder and learning.

This was such a beautiful comment. Thank you. You should write more (maybe you already do!)


Do you know what happened during the housing boom in the US? The 1950 to 1960 was one of the biggest housing explosions in the US. As well as one of the biggest population explosions with the population growing some 20% in those 10 years. This [1] is the population of the largest cities in the US in 1950. This [2] is their population in 1960. You might notice something quite interesting. The population of nearly all major cities declined!

The housing boom was not people building up residential areas inside of well developed cities. It was people accepting some sacrifice and moving outside of cities into areas where previously there was nothing. This is a big part of the reason why housing was so cheap. It also helped keep city housing prices low since it had a [quite extreme] depressing effect on demand.

The reason I mention this is because when you build houses in the middle of nowhere you don't often have to go far to find more nowhere. Everywhere you look is just row and row of cookie cutter houses, then a 2 mile bike trip and you're in the 'wild lands'. Lots of children got to grow up in these exact sort of areas. I had the fortune of getting to spend some brief part of my childhood in an area like this, and then most of the rest in an ultra urban area apartment in the middle of the city. Suffice to say, I won't be raising my kids in the middle of a city!

[1] - https://www.biggestuscities.com/1950

[2] - https://www.biggestuscities.com/1960

> It was people accepting some sacrifice and moving outside of cities into areas where previously there was nothing.

The word for it is “white flight", it was publicly subsidized (largely by the GI Bill) deliberate racial segregation acheived through restrictive covenants, and discriminatory lending and real estate sales practices.

"It was people accepting some sacrifice and moving outside of cities into areas where previously there was nothing."

that sacrifice is getting bigger over time. when my neighbor moved into his house in the 70s people thought it's nuts that he was moving that far out and commuted from there. Now this is perfectly normal and maybe a double commute would be viewed as long.

I'm currently in the process of moving my family (including 6 kids) from a 1/3 acre lot in Utah (there really isn't much land here because it's a desert) to a 15-acre farm in Tennessee for these reasons exactly.

I went from a 1/4 lot in a city to a 12 acre lot in the country when I was around 8. My dad gave my brother and I a compass, taught us how to use it and encouraged us to roam the woods as a form of play/exploration. If we got lost, we ended up at the neighbors house a good 25 acres away and they would just call our parents to pick us up.

It was a bit of culture shock when I went to college and found out how restrictive other peers youth were.

Helicopter parenting requires one to sacrifice a lot. It is not lack of sacrifice that leads to it. A lot of it is people unable to tell no to further personal sacrifice (whether for subjective or objective reasons).

We actually moved into downtown for that sort of experience - we live close to the river valley so there will be a ton of area for our kids to explore. The edge of the urban sprawl is utterly soulless - nothing but row upon row of houses, but once you leave that you're in a field, nothing to explore or see, and it's killing our infrastructure as the city grows outwards and outwards and considerations need to be made for transit and road maintenance and utilities.

It depends. In Washington, DC, or its suburbs, probably most locations are within a couple of miles of a stream valley park, or simply a wooded ravine that is public land.

Until recently there were pockets of "interesting" places for kids to screw around . If there wasn't some forested land there was an abandoned factory or dead construction site (e.g. the pit in parks and rec). That sort of stuff is fenced off (or otherwise made hard to access) much more thoroughly these days and people are much more likely to call the cops if they see unattended kids poking around.

True. I remember playing in all of the local construction sites with my friends as a kid. There were nails, wood scraps, tools, and even huge piles of hay used to keep the concrete from freezing at night that we would jump into from the second story of the house. Of course, that was all illegal and likely quite dangerous. But man, it was fun! And the danger part of it was what made it so fun. We knew we shouldn't be there and so we hid whenever a car drove by. But that should be a part of childhood. Exploring and making mistakes.

I do remember getting busted a couple of times. Those were some life-long lessons that I haven't forgotten, that's for sure.

But today, with attractive nuisance laws so strict and the liability associated with those laws so severe, no wonder kids are locked indoors for most of their formative years!

While a low probability to fine someone who did, I did grow-up on island in Alaska (Kodiak) with endless (well up to the ocean) of forests, mountains, and rivers to explore right outside my backyard.

I nearly ended up living there. It's a place that actually is unsafe:


I suppose that the situation is fine once you and several friends are old enough to bring a couple rifles with .300 Winchester Magnum or better.

The risk to children in Alaska is of abuse from their family, not the wildlife.

Kodiak bears are pretty rare to see. Saw one in my 6 years living there. I heard plenty mountain biking, but they don't bother you as you aren't a predator nor their prey.

It doesn't matter, really. The important part is being outside, exploring physical reality.

I wonder how much of this is really the "good old days" effect. I recall reading about research fairly recently that suggests we forget the bad things first, and that is why there's nostalgia for the "good old days".

I mean it is true that kids go outside a lot less these days, especially American kids. We're immigrants, and we often go to a nearby lake in the summer. Easily 80% of families there are Latino and Russian. I wonder where native-born American parents take their kids, if anywhere.

But I also wonder whether it's such a big deal. From what I can _factually_ remember from my own childhood, my "time outside" was rather haphazard and I got into all sorts of trouble (including starting smoking at the tender young age of 8 - this lasted for a few weeks until my parents found out). I very much doubt this was significantly better for me than staying at home.

It's definitely incredibly easy to forget boredom. As you experience boredom, time slows to a crawl, but you don't remember much later since memories are discrete events. I would wager that a lot of outside time is actually quite boring but romanticized in hindsight.

And yes, much of my (memorable) unsupervised outside time was spent jumping off roofs and shooting things with BBs. Kind of like video games except with a decent chance of physical injury.

But then again who cares what I did and why do I use my personal experiences as a standard for others?

I was a very free range kid.

In grades 3-6 I remember spending hours meandering around Seattle's Beacon Hill area on my way home after school. It was great fun exploring under freeways, urban forests, abandoned buildings, etc., by myself or with a friend or two.

Today these areas are mostly unauthorized homeless camps filled with garbage, human waste, and used needles.

When I was older (middle school) I recall about half-dozen times creeps in cars drove up to me and asked me to come party with them or do some swimsuit modelling. Gross.

My kids grew up in different world than I did. Thus they had a much different childhood. I can't imagine letting my two girls roam around like I did.

edit: typo(s) and word order ffs.

> Today, however, if I were to learn that my young kids had left the house in the early morning by themselves to rock climb, explore the forest and encounter heaven-knows-what out in the woods, I’d probably start hyperventilating.

Why? WHY? I don't understand this sentiment at all. What is the matter with people these days? Parents are suffocating their kids because they can't get over their own paranoia.

As another commenter wrote: parents, just let fucking go.

Because you are inundated with news/social media telling you about all the sex offenders in your area, human trafficking gangs abducting kids, and so on. Reality is these were all there before, and the probability of being a victim is exceptionally low, but most people suck at risk evaluation and understanding statistics...

I don't think it's only this. People passively contribute to this with their shock at hearing that another parent has let their kids run free. It may have started from media-stocked paranoia, but it has now blossomed into society-nurtured paranoia.


Discussion about a six-year-old kid:

Grandparent: "Where is __?"

Parent: "Oh he's out on his bike with his friends."

Grandparent: "By himself?"

Parent: "No, with his friends."

Grandparent: (shocked silence)


I happily live in Japan, where this paranoia has yet to strike, so letting your kids run free from a young age is fairly normal. But I'm afraid that it soon will, and there will be no turning back.

Totally agree - there is a bit of a feedback loop as media shapes the cultural expectations. It’s really unfortunate because the vast majority of people are cattle and just follow the herd - no independent critical thinking. Worse is when someone does stick their head up to buck the new norms, as you say, people are ready to guilt you or question your judgement.

Society was encouraged by policies that remove kids from danger (eg transport them in a metal box instead of walking. Don't trust anyone! Stay away from roads!) in place of removing danger from kids (eg road calming measures and shared streets around towns and schools, or pointing out the vanishingly small chance of stalkers and sex offenders being strangers outside institutions or family).

Thus letting go becomes seen as irresponsible parenting and so it escalates.

We chose to resist this trend with our kids as much as possible and to hell with what anyone else thought.

Do you have kids?

Yes I do.

While I agree that kids could stand to get out more, I think everyone here is painting an absurdly rosy picture of the past. I'd like to know what percentage of kids used to spend their time doing hard labor or if their latchkey existence left them feeling so uncared about that they turned into nihilist assholes. Don't get me wrong – in a perfect world, kids would play outside 8 hours a day, but I have a hard time getting past the selection bias presented in the video.

Except there is hard empirical data showing that something is actually going wrong. Like rapidly rising teenage anxiety, depression and suicide rates.

Has sampling bias been ruled out? With people more open to discussing public mental health in recent years, certainly more people have been seeking treatment and diagnoses have probably improved. I would assume historical data strongly under sampled people with mental health issues due to the great stigma and misunderstandings about these diseases.

exactly, data that is not about play does not preclude a potential predominance of play, especially relative to the past

While I generally agree with the sentiment in this thread and article, it's all gut feeling at this point.

The causal relationship is still to be proven, though. There are countless other factors at play.

> Like rapidly rising teenage anxiety, depression and suicide rates.

Are those symptoms indicative of there being an issue with the kids, or are those the same symptoms in all age groups?

I gather that it seems to be a growing issue amongst the younger demographics [1].

[1]: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/11/magazine/why-are-more-ame...

This is part of the basis for a recent book by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt. Here's the article that later became the book by the same title: https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2015/09/the-cod...

Also a relevant article by Lenore Skenazy & Jonathan Haidt with a similar thesis: https://reason.com/archives/2017/10/26/the-fragile-generatio...

I love how all the suggestions are right in the "helicopter parent" wheelhouse. No "kick them outside and tell them you don't care what they do, just be home for supper."

Yep. That's what my parents did with us. "Just be home for dinner." We'd eat dinner and then run back outside for another 3-4 hours of "night games" in the cul-de-sac. Maybe on Tuesday nights we'd come in for the Cosby Show or something. But that was rare. :-)

People are afraid to let their kids play outside, and even if they did, there is no one out there to play with because all the other kids are in the house in front of a screen.

5 O'clock news: Are your kids outside? They are about to be murdered. Then raped. Then murdered again.

6 O'clock news: Hear about how one child out of 70 million in the US was viciously attacked by strangers because they went outside.

10 O'clock news: Did you send your kids outside? You probably just murdered them!

I have 6 kids. We don't allow video games in the house - except Tetris, since that seems to be good for developing intelligence.

It can be hard for them to relate to other kids, who only want to talk about Fortnite, which my kids know nothing about.

So many things concerning about your comment. What is the difference between getting lost in a good movie, book, or game? There isn't much difference between having some friends over for settlers of catan vs a 40 minute game of Mario Party. I grew up with blue collar parents who did everything they could to steer me away from games and technology. It damaged my relationship with them and to be honest I still carry a degree of resentment.

Had my parents tried to harness my interest in games and technology and maybe looked into programs like these (https://www.lifewire.com/kids-programming-languages-4125938) then things might have been differently. Instead they did a great job of alienating me and forcing me to take interest in things that I had no interest in doing.

All things in moderation, a teaching which I would argue has much more value than trying fruitlessly to shelter your kid from things you have little to no understanding of. I can understand not letting your young kid play games with violence or shooting, or online games, but a household ban on video games isn't going to curb any interest your kids have in technology. My passion for games and technology is the sole reason for my success in life. Your son or daughter could take that interest in games into so many other fields. It could motivate them to master math, physics, or to pursue one of many STEM fields.

I don't have kids (yet) but I do understand the worry. Especially with more modern games-- they are designed to be addictive.

I'd have no problem letting my kid watch a movie they like because they'll probably watch it once, be done in 90 minutes, and move on. On the other hand, knowing how I can fall victim to 4 hours of YouTube without realizing makes me weary of letting my hypothetic future kids freely do so themselves too. These companies are optimizing for time spent and for fighting your self-control, which in a kid who is just developing his habits, I can only assume could potentially have negative consequences.

All things in moderation, I agree, but I can't blame parents for choosing to moderate certain things by simply disallowing them. CocaCola in moderation is not unhealthy, but I thank my parents for straight out forbidding it: it could've been a non issue, sure, but I also know plenty of people who crave a soda with every meal.

I understand what you are saying, but you may be arguing from a marginal case.

Not every kid who would prefer to play video games is going to grow up to be a professional game developer or programmer.

Correct, but to deny them an interest like that based on fear is a very narrow minded approach.

The fact that many parents are worried about their son or daughter playing video games but are fine with them playing contact sports speaks volumes about their priorities. As a society we need to focus on encouraging our kids to be comfortable with who they are and supporting their interests. Just because all you wanted to do was run outside and play from morning to sundown does not mean that's what your kid wants to do. I'm not saying giving your kid free reign to play xbox all day but plenty of games out there encourage problem solving and critical thinking (and teamwork) on a deeper level than a word problem about how many watermelons Janet can carry to her car ever will.

That being said, everything in moderation.

> plenty of games out there encourage problem solving and critical thinking (and teamwork) on a deeper level than a word problem about how many watermelons Janet can carry to her car ever will

This. My son has a particular interest in redstone circuits in Minecraft - elaborate sets of switches, pistons, trap doors, lighting, etc. It's quite remarkable to watch, especially when a friend gets involved to test it out and help tinker.

Man, we used to play outside from morning (dawn is really early in the summer) till lunch, then from after lunch till 9:30pm.

We lived in the country so we rode bikes, built tree forts, explored the woods.

We shot bows and arrows and ran around with pellet guns, took apart old lawnmowers that never got put back together, sorry... :-(

From thirteen on, I had little joe jobs pumping gas, washing cars watering plants at a nursery.

Later on I worked at a farm. I can still back up a forty foot trailer on a dime. I also learned to jury rig almost any mechanical thing, because equipment was always breaking down.

Replying to myself because I thought of more stuff.

Some kinds had mini bikes, when we were about eight, but my grandmother forbade me from riding one, but she did let me drive her car when I was about 12 to go visit my friends.

Also we'd go camping by this nice place near a waterfall with just two wool blankets. We'd take some cut hay from a nearby field to stuff under the first blanket and cover ourselves with the other.

I have a ten year old boy who plays Fortnite. I'm actually impressed with the quality of interactions he has with his friends when playing. They collaborate on strategies together and communicate effectively as a team, all while laughing uproariously and making memories together.

Yeah, Fortnite and Minecraft seem to lead to pretty positive interactions. Seeing 6-8 kids all in the same Minecraft world makes it pretty clear that there's just as much creativity and social stuff going on as, say, playing with Legos.

We don't permit passive stuff (YouTube) or the Skinner box games, but that's not because they're screens, it's because they're shit.

They even learn social competence for example when playing with random other people they talk about what characters there are, how you communicate with people effectively or give feedback/criticize effectively.

It may be hard and you may be viewed as "that weird restrictive parent that won't even let their kids play fortnite", but that doesn't make you wrong. Good stuff, glad parents like you are out there.

it doesn't necessarily make them right either; there's always a tradeoff. when I was a kid, I was allowed to spend as much time as I wanted on the computer (I dunno why lol), but I could only watch thirty minutes of TV/movies per day and my parents refused to get a console. my parents were always very conservative with what I was allowed to watch, so what little I could watch was 2-3 years behind what my median classmate was watching in maturity level. when I was 8/9, all my classmates were obsessed with james bond. I asked my dad when I could watch james bond too and he said "maybe when you're 14". I know my parents had good intentions, but it meant that I couldn't really participate in most of the conversations my classmates had at school. I essentially lived in a culture shifted back several years. it was extremely isolating. on the other hand, I did get real good with computers and make a good living from coding now.

You should read this article about Fortnite: https://char.gd/blog/2018/fortnite-is-the-new-hangout-spot

Apparently it's more of a "place" than a "game", so your kids are going to be left out if all of their friends are bonding and hanging out in the game.

My parents never bought me a video game console, and I'm actually very grateful for that. I would play computer games occasionally but I was much more interested in learning QBASIC and making my own games, music, and animations. I also spent a lot of time outdoors with my friends and cousins, building treehouses and riding bikes, etc.

Video game consoles weren't connected to the internet, and I was an only child, so I would have just been playing single-player games by myself. That would have been boring and a bit lonely, so maybe that's why I don't really like games. But it was always fun to go to a friend's house and play Super Smash Bros, GoldenEye 007, Crash Bandicoot, etc.

I think you should reconsider the blanket ban on video games, because Minecraft and Fortnite can be very social activities. Maybe have a time limit of an hour per day.

Somehow I doubt they're really that ignorant about Fortnite and other games, unless you're severely restricting their time/contact with other kids.

I have come to believe there's another issue involved, which is that all of the adults are in the house in front of a screen. I mean, even if you're afraid to let your kids play outside, maybe you can watch them while they're outside, but that requires the parents getting out of the house. Playing in the woods with your parent watching isn't quite as good as playing there alone, but it's better than sitting in the house.

As an aside, I think it’s interesting that we prioritize play time for children (or want to) but seem to think little of play time for adults. I think play should be a lifetime avocation, but where I grew up in California this isn’t much of a focus for adults.

I watched a lot of TV when I was aged 10-13. Then I discovered the internet and spent a lot of time on that. I'm 28 now and life seems to have worked out. I wouldn't say I'm maladjusted.

I also did outdoorsy stuff, climbed trees, climbed mountains, went canoeing etc as a child. Those things are memorable, but they probably only made up 2% of my free time. Mostly it was indoors - reading, watching TV, surfing the internet, chatting to people online.

In the early 2000s there wasn't tablets, but there was internet and internet culture. There wasn't Youtube, but there was funnyjunk. This feels a lot like the classic cycle of fear for the children of today.

ofc you wont say that, that's cos you have https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self-serving_bias

This is not to undermine what the article says, but I think I am lucky that my kids have access to a nice environment that allows playtime the way we think it should be. I live in a condo in Bangalore, and one thing that is very common in condos here is that kids play in the common areas and elders also meet every evening starting 5PM(ish), until sundown. This is the only reason why I have declined job opportunities elsewhere that may have given me better financial rewards, but would have taken away the above from my family (kids and ageing parents).

I grew up in the 80s and some seasons, I spent every waking hour I could in front of computers and video game consoles, starting with a C64 and an Atari. Perhaps children obsessing over a video games has become more widespread, but it’s not new. If someone threatened to take away my Sega Master system in 1987, I would have seen that as very dire.

The decline in playtime for all is a major concern. It is difficult to find a group to play any pick-up sports e.g., basketball. Even adult leagues are difficult, as no one really commits, just shows up when they can, if they have nothing else better going on.

My sister has a 5-year-old son. I asked her what toy I should get him for Christmas. She said, "Oh, he doesn't play with toys anymore. He only plays video games." I was aghast. A 5-year-old who ... doesn't like toys? It can't be healthy. And the really sad part is that my sister doesn't see a problem.

ofc it's healthy

there's no extensive evidence that it's not healthy, and by default everything is 'healthy', if the kid is happy, along with the various other metrics, then they are healthy

games can be a toy, but most video games are not toys, and almost all are designed to be competitive. toys are not competitive things

play is not about it being healthy or not, it's about if play is desirable or not


as 'kirion25' wonders in their comment, the problem is that almost nobody knows anything about play

for example one person mentions activities/functions that is leisure, and not everything within leisure is play (play is a subset of leisure)

nobody knows if there's any decline or incline in play, where's the extensive evidence that of play's claimed decline?


I dunno. Playing with toys is an important way to build and practice fine-motor skills, and that won't happen by touching a screen all day.

Is there a corresponding decline in the quality of adult playtime? Is the always connected 24/7 on call lifestyle of parents the root cause? I have to imagine there is some hypocrisy in living that lifestyle and expecting your kids to do otherwise. What about taking electronics away from the parents first?

As a child I spent my afternoons with an air rifle in the African bush on my grandfather's farm. Good times. Now I spend 12+ hours a day in front of a computer.

Ha, exactly what my wife told me when I shared this article with her.

This honestly scares me so much. I have a 14 year old brother. I've tried very hard to make him workout, join a soccer team and try to draw in his free time. But there are no kids running around outside, they don't ask each other to hang out. They don't do anything.

Urban planning contributes to this problem. It makes no sense to let the kids roam outside when you cannot get anywhere without a car.

It's weird how no one disputes the term quality in the title. Why is technology-based playtime not considered "quality"? Doesn't it demonstrate a biased view of the issue?

Don't get me wrong, I also think there might be a problem in how kids grow up nowadays. But in my opinion, it lies more in the variety of entertainment offered to youth, rather than mobile phones/internet/video games being bad.

I grew up staying out past sunset daily, rain or shine, playing street hockey, building ramps and forts until I was in highs school. My wife is from Italy and having lived there I see guys my age who are just as street smart/adventurous and well rounded but grew up in apartments with a very different childhood. Americans think our experience is so special :/. That is the phenomena

This view seems to be highly dependent on where you (and your kids) live.

If there's a sense of a community, kids do have chances to play together and outside. The parents too have a reasonable feeling of safety for their kids. It goes without need to prove that most parents would rather have their kids learn an autonomous way of playing as soon as possible. This should free the parents' attention for their own 'playtime'.

However, if such community does not exist, so goes away that sense of security and those helicopters go hover.

The author's nostalgia likely relates to that community. Was it in early suburbia or a quiet village where 'everyone knows your name'?

In present day metropolises, despite the density, the residents feel more apart. Meanwhile, the suburbia closed inwards.

But kids being kids find ways to adapt... to their parents way of living. If anything to change, that should begin with the parents' view of their own 'playtime'. Camping, or being outside playing? Please, just find fun chances to step out, the kids would follow!

I had both experiences of a forest and urban area. I lived in western MA backed by woods up until 4th grade. Then I moved to the San Fernando valley. I think starting around age 6-7, I walked/biked everywhere, usually to a friends house, or a park/woods to play.

I also went to a magnet public school for middle/high school. It seems in as if everyone sends their kids to private school in San Francisco now which seems crazy to me. Did schools get that bad in the past 20 years?

I signed up to take Taekwondo with my daughters. We have a ton of fun both in class and practicing forms and kicks at home. It's a great source of confidence and pride for them. Some of the classes are self-defense / anti-bullying oriented, too, which is nice. It's a really fun parent/child activity that I'd recommend for anybody.

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