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With kids staying indoors, 'Go out and play' a forgotten phenomenon now

Nikita Jain

Updated: August 27, 2014, 12:33 PM IST
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Stroll down any residential street these summer days and you'll find a curious absence - of children. Obviously, kids live in these places, but they no longer seem to play outdoors.

That's a big switch from the ancient times when I grew up. Back then, your mother practically locked you out of the house, so that she could mop and vacuum undisturbed. Even on the most brutal summer day, my mom dressed my brother and me in light, cotton clothes and sent us out to play with our similarly exiled friends. And whatever the weather, we had fun.

Across the street, one family had built a playhouse, and the neighborhood kids and I used it to fulfill our fantasies: one day it was the stage for a talent show; the next it became a grand hotel, the next a bunkhouse for cowboys and cowgirls. We formed rival "gangs" and built clubhouses out of planks and tin cans in empty lots. Every so often we conducted bicycle raids. We also had non-parentally-approved adventures, going on "expeditions" to snoop on the lady who lived down by the other side of the road in a secluded area. We convinced each other that she was a witch because there was a broomstick sitting outside her door.

When I was a child, the outdoors was something me and my friends had in common. We couldn't wait to get home from school and get outside to play. But there's been a big change since then. Now, when driving back from work to home, I pass empty parks where children used to play football and cricket till dark every night in summer.

With most homes today having two working parents, it's harder for moms and dads to find time to take children outdoors for play.

Another factor in keeping children indoors is the profusion of computer games, social networking devices and electronic distractions which can hold a child's interest. Children are not as bored staying indoors as they might have been in the past, and so motivation to go outdoors is lessened.

To be absolutely certain that the kids are safe, working parents confine kids to the house after school; or they enroll them in an endless series of supervised activities -- team sports, dance classes, tuba lessons, drama and art classes, karate and swimming. For sure, some parents are hoping to produce trophy children. But I suspect that many ladle on the heavy scheduling to keep their kids supervised and out of harm's way.

Nostalgia, of course, has colored my perspective. For sure, back in the olden days of my youth, kids got run over by cars. They drowned. There were kidnappers and predators. And some neighbors had their eyes on the street too much -- complaining every time a child ran onto their lawns to catch a ball. But it seems as though we have lost something important for our kids. And it's not clear how we can get it back.

First Published: August 27, 2014, 12:33 PM IST

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