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How Far From Home Do You Let Your Kids Play? July 23, 2011

Posted by geoff in News.

The Daily Mirror had a little article about the generational differences in the leash given to children at play. The grandmother, now 56, used to range up to 5 miles from home. The mother (36), only 1 mile. The daughter (9) must play within eyesight of her mother. This, despite the fact that the probability of abduction is very, very small.

Similarly, the NYT recently wrote about playground safety, noting that safety nazis are undermining the point of playgrounds.

The old tall jungle gyms and slides disappeared from most American playgrounds across the country in recent decades because of parental concerns, federal guidelines, new safety standards set by manufacturers and — the most frequently cited factor — fear of lawsuits.

Shorter equipment with enclosed platforms was introduced, and the old pavement was replaced with rubber, wood chips or other materials designed for softer landings.

Fortunately there are sane voices starting to be heard:

“Children need to encounter risks and overcome fears on the playground,” said Ellen Sandseter, a professor of psychology at Queen Maud University in Norway.

“Climbing equipment needs to be high enough, or else it will be too boring in the long run,” Dr. Sandseter said. “Children approach thrills and risks in a progressive manner, and very few children would try to climb to the highest point for the first time they climb. The best thing is to let children encounter these challenges from an early age, and they will then progressively learn to master them through their play over the years.”

Playground play teaches important life skills (from American Gladiators)

As we insulate our children more and more from life’s perils, we can expect a fundamental change in the way they view and interact with the world. We are sacrificing their self-reliance, courage, and initiative for our peace of mind.


1. MCPO Airdale - July 23, 2011

We used to wander all over the place. I remember swimming in the B & O canal, playing pick-up games of baseball, fishing the Delaware and walking miles of railroad tracks. That doesn’t even include the days we spent exploring the woods, building forts, damming the creeks, playing war and walking the fields of neighboring farms.

Today, I rarely see kids even riding bikes or playing ball.

2. Michael - July 23, 2011

Today, kids get sent to Calculus Camp or something.

I’m proud to say that both my kids were tent camping while they were still infants. Daughter Michael was still nursing her first time out. She got a bit of altitude sickness because we were camping pretty high up at Yosemite.

3. Michael - July 23, 2011

Actually, I think I am responsible for Daughter Michael getting a look at more buff naked men than she will ever again see in her life.

I took her into a shower at some park, maybe Sequoia, in order to clean us off (this was between diaper changes), and the place was crowded with good looking young hikers from Germany.

4. scott - July 23, 2011

I think kids today are afraid of the woods.

5. Michael - July 23, 2011

I fear you are right, Scott, and it’s a damned shame.

I used to love wandering into the woods, finding out what was just a little further on, maybe getting lost and a little scared for awhile.

6. Michael - July 23, 2011

Of course, it helps to have a few Boy Scout skilz. Like, if you are totally disoriented, you can use the sun (or moss on the trees) to tell you the general direction of your house.

7. Michael - July 23, 2011

I mean, back in the day, when I was a young lad, you could be standing somewhere in the middle of the Chequamegon National Forest at sunset next to a deer you killed and tracked the blood trail, and you could be thinking to yourself, “Fuck, I have no idea where my car is.” You just had to figure that out. You needed a compass.

Today, you just pull out your cell phone.

8. Michael - July 23, 2011

The Boy Scouts used to have on honor lodge called the Order of the Arrow for seasoned campers. Maybe they still do, I don’t know. It was for older boys, and it was a big deal. The initiation ritual back then (in Michigan) was basically getting lost in the woods.

You got inducted by being “tapped out” at a campfire. OA members walked through the crowd at big summer camp campfire and tapped you on the shoulders if you had been elected. Then you were led into the woods with your sleeping bag on a circuitous path so you had no idea where you were, and assigned a patch of earth to spend the night. You stayed there by yourself until morning when they picked you up.

Then you spent a day of hard labor (normally, maintenance work on the scout camp trails), and a strict diet. For breakfast, I was given one match and an egg. It was expected that I would know how to collect some wood and cook that egg with no utensils. Never mind that it had been raining the night I was out there.

9. Michael - July 23, 2011

Re: Cooking an egg with no utensils:

Puncture both ends of the shell with the matchstick so it does not explode. Then grill it with low heat over your small bed of coals, turning occasionally. When egg white starts to ooze from the holes in the shell, it’s done.

10. scott - July 23, 2011

Michael we went to a lake after work yesterday with a couple of friends. It was 102 degrees and we had the place to ourselves.

30 years ago it would have been a crowded and noisy place.

We have been there about 5 times this year and only once did we see anybody under the age of 40.

Same with hikes in the woods.

If anyone wants to take over this country all they have to do is cut the power.

11. Michael - July 23, 2011

Scott, are you kidding me? Power? Are you talking about gas and electricity?

You can take over this country if you control SMS text messaging.


12. scott - July 23, 2011

A bad virus is all it would take.

That playground stuff pisses me off too.

The majority of young punks today are going to reach adulthood without ever suffering a bruise or bleeding.

Childhood is supposed to have near death experiences.

13. geoff - July 23, 2011

Order of the Arrow – I’d forgotten about that. I really liked the Scouts.

I lived a pretty sheltered life, but even I was playing in an Austin creek with the water moccasins and leeches. I wandered all over the neighborhood on my bike and walked to school from 3rd grade on. It was no big deal.

14. Lipstick - July 23, 2011

Mr. Lipstick remembers the Order of the Arrow, but not the egg.

15. MCPO Airdale - July 23, 2011

Got a note from a pal of mine not too long ago. He is the Master Chief for training in the Navy. He told me about 20% of the kids coming in to Boot Camp had never done a jumping jack or a pushup. I thought he was B.S.ing me. He assured me he was not.


16. Michael - July 23, 2011

Mr. Lipstick remembers the Order of the Arrow, but not the egg.

Well, he was not in the Bruin Lake District OA lodge.

We were the white hot crimefighting thugs. We could live in the wilderness by eating grilled worms and drinking sassafras tea. We treated our wounded with willow bark and wintergreen.

Everybody wonders what happened to Jimmy Hoffa. It still has not occurred to them that Boy Scouts might have been involved.

17. MCPO Airdale - July 23, 2011
18. Michael - July 23, 2011

Yep, that’s an Ordeal sash.

After a year or two, you can get the Brotherhood sash with a couple of bars.

A weird feature of OA culture is that they sponsored a lot of dance teams that did Native American dances in competitions. Costumes and dances had to be authentic for your tribe.

19. BrewFan - July 24, 2011

Grew up (until I was 13 then we moved to Florida) in a suburb of Milwaukee. Starting at about 10 years old my buddies and I would take the bus downtown to go to movies and to a really cool novelty shop. We would also pack lunches and go on hikes, sometimes to places that were 5 – 10 miles away. Then we would hitchhike home. We survived somehow.

20. Pupster - July 24, 2011

I was Order of the Arrow also, but it was different than what Michael describes. We took a vow of silence at base camp, no talking, and where marched around until after dark and got dropped off with a sleeping bag and two matches. Everyone had whittled a wooden arrow which was worn on a lanyard around your neck, and if you didn’t get a campfire started with your two matches you where given two notches on your arrow. 3 notches meant you flunked, and if you talked, you got a notch. The next day we did manual labor projects around the camp and ate government cheese sandwiches for lunch. Still no talking.

I’m guilty of overprotecting my sons, this article hits my heart. Neither of my boys is comfortable out of doors, but they will put up with my attempts to acclimate them to hiking and camping. They’ve turned into nice young men, but have a very, very strong preference for the creature comforts of home and hearth.

The great outdoors was the place for adventure and excitement in my day, but with home computing, video games, the internet, and cable TV the outdoors pales in comparison with the indoors for this generation. And so it goes, as ChrisP says.

21. Cathy - July 24, 2011

Did the Girl Scout thing, and love the outdoors.

Wish I owned a tent and had a place not too far from home do some decent tent camping.

22. scott - July 24, 2011

Later, when I am floating around with a cold beer in my hand and enjoying this http://tinyurl.com/3jmr5dx

I will take note of the lack of youngsters and shake my head.

Stupid kids.

23. daveintexas - July 24, 2011

That place sure is purty Scott.

24. Retired Geezer - July 24, 2011

Scott, that place looks a lot like the Boise River that winds through the center of town. Narrower with less trees but still kind of surprising for being 100 yards from pavement.
We floated it with Clan Skinbad a few years ago.

Mrs. Geezer and I were Cub Scout leaders back in the 70’s. No camping but we took the lads on a few field trips. Taught them how to tie a Clove Hitch and a Bowline.

25. Cathy - July 24, 2011

Awesome, Scott. Enjoy and stay cool for all of us, will ya…

26. scott - July 25, 2011

“I will take note of the lack of youngsters and shake my head.”

Huh. There was a whole herd of them yesterday when we first showed up. They were loud and annoying but it was still kinda refreshing to spot a youngster in the wild.

27. kevl - July 25, 2011

I wandered far and wide as a kid. Biked everywhere.

My son is a wanderer too; camping, fishing, disappearing. We’re going to Mammoth Cave next month, so I’ll either need a leash or just tell him “meet me back here in 24 hours.”

28. lauraw - July 25, 2011

It really was nice to see a gaggle of teenagers using the rope swing and having good clean fun outdoors.

It was even nicer after they left and a pleasant silence settled on the place.

29. geoff - July 25, 2011

*Cue shot of teens departing*

*Cut to closeup of gnawed-off rope of rope swing*

*Pan to laura flossing*

30. lauraw - July 25, 2011

*laughs nervously*

*nudges Big Jar O’ Thumbs out of sight under desk*

31. daveintexas - July 25, 2011

I went wherever I wanted to as a kid.

My kids, to a degree, but not as much.

32. Today's Yoots - July 25, 2011

*Looks up from iPad*
*Notices Old People babbling*
*Goes back to playing Angry Birds*

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