American Children Don’t Play Outside Anymore

(This post originally appeared here.)

I’ve lived out of the United States and in Eastern Europe for nearly two years now. Despite this, there are some things that seem so simple in nature that I simply cannot fathom. The reason for this? The things that were such a part of my childhood are seemingly nonexistent in my home country, but seem to be reasonably alive and well in other parts of the world.

Allow me to illustrate my point.

I’m about to move into a new apartment. For the first time, I’ve picked a place a bit out of the very city center. My logistics will suffer slightly, but I’ll also have quite a bit more peace and quiet (less British stag parties stumbling through my street).

The first day when I signed my reservation agreement, I walked by one of the many public parks in the area. I saw a basketball court, and instantly looked forward to being able to shoot around a bit when the weather got nicer.

But then, I was hit by disappointment. There were throngs of children on the playground next door to the court. I instantly assumed by the number of them, plus the gate around the area, that it was a schoolyard. I’m not joking — on a random Monday afternoon with temperatures in the low 30s, there must have been 40 children all screaming and playing on the playground.

A week later (the day I’m penning this), I walked by the park again on my way to one of my favorite coffee shops in the neighborhood. It was much quieter today, as it’s a brisk 18 degrees Fahrenheit day here in Europe, so the playground was a bit more empty. Well, this time I ventured closer to the park, and, low and behold, it’s actually a completely public space to use.

Now, you might be thinking—big deal. But, let me pose you this question:

How Often Do You See This In America?

The answer, based off of recent experience — not much. When I visited my parents in California over the winter, the weather was consistently in the 60s. I drove or walked by the local park, which has basketball courts, baseball fields, and way more amenities than this Eastern Europe park, every day I was there (three weeks).

Do you know how many kids I saw running around in that park? Throughout the three weeks, probably less than I saw total in that one afternoon last week.

When I was a kid, it was a given. The parks and playgrounds were always full. We played silly games on the playground, played pickup basketball/football/whatever we could get on hands on, and spent as much time as we could outdoors when the weather permitted. And we had the freedom to do so. As long as we stayed within the general confines of the neighborhood, our parents allowed us free reign to do what we wanted provided we checked in when needed.

Obviously, my sample size of this is small. It’s constricted to just the one park in the neighborhood I grew up in. But, from what I hear, this is what the deal is these days. Kids who are 8 years old would rather stay in and play on their iPads than actually go outside and throw a ball around. My fellow ROK colleague Quintius Curtius recently tweeted:

Now, It May Not Be This Forever

I was having a discussion with a British friend recently, and he was asking about the state of girls out in Eastern Europe. While I hesitate to throw blanket statements on entire countries, much less entire chunks of continents—-the simple fact of the matter is that nobody knows.

The EE playground might become a barren wasteland as the next generation of children decide that playing on their tablets is more exciting than climbing on a jungle gym.

As for the girls?

Right now, the girls who are on the young side of things in Eastern Europe at least grew up without smartphones. That is rapidly changing. A girl who has her first smartphone at age 22 versus 12 is going to be a drastically different person. The girls who will be becoming of age in a few years in this part of the world may have very similar attitudes that Western girls have exhibited in the last decade.

And, more to the point, there is a shocking number of girls in these countries that are simply dreaming of a better life abroad in places like London and New York because of smartphones. It’s globalized hypergamy now. While many people argue that we live in the best time ever, it does come with it’s pitfalls. There is just no way to predict what it means now that dating is completely global in nature. There will definitely be some downsides to the local men in less developed countries as their women begin to pursue men who are higher up on the food chain.

But For Now, I’ll Enjoy This

I won’t try to predict how the world will turn out, or what the exact state of an Eastern European country will be in the coming years. I won’t claim to have a solution to the Tablet Toddler phenomenon that seems to have completely overruled America—now a land where children would rather play with a random iPad app instead of going outside and playing catch.

And for now, I’ll just enjoy what I can here. Even if it’s something as simple as a sunny day shooting hoops, while the kids run around on the playground—making me nostalgic about a time that isn’t coming back.

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  • March 14, 2018
  • Kyle Trouble says:

    Reader on Twitter said:

    It’s the parents that are allowing it to happen. My son gets to use his tablet for an hour a day, before bedtime. If the sun is out, he needs to be outside playing with his friends.

    Source: https://twitter.com/TradeGrind/status/973929137726459906

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