Do Parents Need To Let Kids Go Outside More?

let kids go outside

20 Jun Do Parents Need To Let Kids Go Outside More?

A UK study commissioned by the National Trust found that children spend half the time playing outside than their parents did. 

The National Trust research showed that children are playing outside for an average of just over four hours a week, comparing unfavourably with 8.2 hours for their parents when they were children.

American children also spend 35% less time playing outside freely than their parents did. 65% of parents surveyed said they played outside every day during their childhood, while only 30% of their children do the same today. 

Children are restricted in going outside by their parents

Research found that primary-age children in Britain are losing the freedom to play independently and typically are not allowed to play outside on their own until two years older than their parents’ generation were.

While their parents were allowed to play outside unsupervised by the age of nine on average, today’s children are 11 by the time they reach the same milestone, according to the study, which says not enough adventurous play could affect children’s long-term physical and mental health.

“The reasons are different, with social changes, safety fears, technology and traffic growth all arguably playing a part. However, the end result for all too many children is the same: boredom, isolation, inactivity and poorer mental and physical health. The consequences for their development and wellbeing should not be underestimated.”

Dr Tim Gill, Chair UK PLay Safety Forum

This image below shows very clearly how the boundaries for the areas children are allowed to explore on their own have been gradually narrowing over time.

let kids go outside
Map showing how far four generations of kids were allowed to go outside

Children get huge benefits from exploring and outdoor play

Playing outdoors, and roaming and exploring, allows children to develop self-confidence, independence and self-esteem. They also become aware of limits, boundaries and challenge in their play.

When children are used to playing outdoors, they are more likely to:

  • try new activities
  • engage with others
  • solve problems
  • explore the natural environment
  • make friends
  • show resilience

Screentime has replaced outdoor play

The average American child spends about 4 to 7 minutes a day playing outside and over 7 hours a day in front of a screen.

Parents, who are concerned about the amount of time their children are spending on screen-based activities, could consider reviewing the amount of time they let their children play outside. If children’s physical horizons are narrowed then they are likely to try and expand them digitally.

Simple steps to encourage outdoor play include;

  • Invite their friends to play outside.
  • Provide safe places to play and explore.
  • Agree boundaries to roam and extend those with age.
  • Send children on simple age-appropriate errands to encourage independence
  • Get outside toys and games.
  • Make an outdoor activity jar.
  • Design a nature scavenger hunt in your neighbourhood.

Gently monitor the amount of time your children are spending outside and set incremental targets to increase it. Replace your focus with getting them off screens to a focus on spending more time in nature – turn your attention to the positive habit change you want to see.

My Brain Has Too Many Tabs Open by Tanya Goodin

My Brain Has Too Many Tabs Open

For more about how the digital world is impacting our wellbeing. Out now on Amazon and in all good bookshops.


Do Parents Need To Let Kids Go Outside More?
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Do Parents Need To Let Kids Go Outside More?
With children and young people spending less time outside and more on screens - is it actually parents who are to blame?
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