'Just Send Them Outside!' — It's More Complicated Than That For Many Families

by Toni Hammer
Veja / Shutterstock

I’ve heard it all before.

“Kids spend too much time inside.”

“Kids these days don’t get out enough.”

“Too much screen time, not enough dirt.”

“In my day, we just tossed our kids outside until dinnertime.”

I get it. My kids would be happier and healthier, and I’d be more sane, if I could say, “Go outside!” and make them play in the sun and the dirt until the streetlights came on.

The thing is, though, that it’s not that easy.

You see, I’d love nothing more than to tell my kids to put on their shoes and jackets and head out into the yard to play and imagine and create a little chaos while I stay inside and work, clean, and catch up on the world news. In fact, they’d love that even more than I would.

But we don’t have a house, which means we don’t have a yard, which means there’s no outside for them to go to. There’s an unfenced strip of grass behind our apartment that they can go to, but even then I have to keep an eye on them to make sure they don’t wander off into the parking lot, or worse, get taken, or worse yet, I get the cops called on me for letting my kids roam free.

Plus, 9 square feet of grass isn’t going to keep two kids entertained for long.

So it’s not that easy.

But my kids are young — almost 4 and 5 — so you may argue that once they’re a little older I could send them on their merry way with a backpack full of Capri Suns and bologna sandwiches. They could just walk their happy behinds to the park.

Sure, maybe I could do that since we don’t live in a terrible part of town, but what about those who do? What about parents who don’t feel safe in their neighborhoods? What about working parents who don’t get home until dark? There’s many variables to consider.

One of our jobs as parents is to give our kids experiences and independence so they grow into well-adjusted adults. And there’s no denying that outside play and freedom are good for their development, maturity, and overall well-being. But our main job as parents is to keep them safe and sound, and some of us just don’t live in places where sending them into the great unknown would allow us to feel confident that we’re doing that job well.

Believe me, I don’t want to be a helicopter parent. I don’t want to raise children who never see the light of day or never feel the grass beneath their bare feet while they play with sticks and balls. I especially don’t want to have kids who don’t leave me alone to get shit done. I want children who look forward to going outside, who enjoy their freedom and autonomy.

That’s not my life right now though. It’s not the life many of us are living. We don’t have the option to tell our kids to just “go outside” until dinnertime despite the fact we want nothing more than for that to be our reality — and theirs too.

So before you start ranting that kids just need to be outside playing, and parents are too overprotective these days or rely too much on screens, please consider the situation some of us are in and do not add to our guilt. Instead, support us and our decisions by letting us know we’re doing a good job. At the end of the day, we’re doing our best, and it’d be nice to hear an encouraging word instead of judgment.