June 30, 2008

Where are the children?

Of all the things that make me feel as though my time was in the past and I don't understand this world today, first on my list is the absence of children playing outdoors in suburban neighborhoods.


Here in Madison, I go for walks past 20 or 30 blocks of houses — good-sized houses with lovely yards and neat sidewalks. Big shade trees line streets that are too narrow to attract any through traffic. And I don't see any children playing. I see an occasional toy vehicle like the one in the photograph, but not one child. No one rides by on a bike or a tricycle or scooter. Swing sets are empty. No one is playing hopscotch or jumping rope. There are no ball games or frisbees. No kids are running around and yelling. Nothing! Where are they?

It's like Episode 1 of "The Twilight Zone": "Where Is Everybody?" That aired in 1959. A man arrives in a town and finds it devoid of people. The story wouldn't even work today. You wouldn't understand what was so weird about a town without people in it and why the man found it so upsetting. You'd just be yeah, yeah, it's a town. So what? What is that guy's problem?

IN THE COMMENTS: Paddy O. said"
No children outside? Excellent. It's quiet! I can now get to all those great books I've been meaning to read. I can sit outside on my hammock and read and read and read. I have stacks of books I can now focus on. Hooray!

Oh no! I just sat on my reading glasses. Alas...
ADDED: National Review's Lisa Schiffren responds here. Like many of the commenters on this post, she speculates that the children are involved in scheduled activities or indoor pursuits (like TV and video games). But she also thinks the birth rate is low, especially in Madison, which she says (correctly) "is very blue."

Shiffren then says a few things about abortion. I tend to think that the people who can afford to live in these nice suburban houses are competently using birth control and making their own free decisions about how many children to have. That may be why they send their kids to various planned activities. (Many commenters mentioned camp and pools.) It makes me wistful to see all the unused beautiful yards, and it's less sad if the kids are doing good things like camping. It's more sad if they are staring at TV and computer screens all the time.

And although it's really sad if the birth rate drops too low, but it's still good that people plan their family size, and I would not assume that that they achieve their goals by using abortion.

More importantly, it is incorrect to think that the incidence of abortion correlates with support for abortion rights. It doesn't! Look at the statistics. I haven't clicked on all 50 states, but I clicked on a lot of them and haven't found one with a lower incidence of abortion than Wisconsin's. It may be that people who support abortion rights are well-educated and realistic, that is, better at running their own lives and not getting pregnant by accident.


k said...

You are completely right, Ann. If they aren't in daycare (not that I'm objecting.. my kids were, too), then they're at soccer practice or piano lessons. And when they actually ARE physically home, they are looking at TV, playing video games, or waiting for their Mom to arrange their next playdate. No Mom nowadays says, "You kids get out of here! Go out and play!" It's just too dangerous!! A UMW law professor might walk by and ABDUCT you! I have seen her walking by!! And I have no idea what she's all about!! Besides, I have some Pilates to do, and you need to be quiet for 45 minutes or so, so I can have some time to do them. And then my Tai Chi.

veni vidi vici said...

I'll never forget in some undergrad philosophy class, reading a Todd Gitlin (iirc) essay where he cited a study that found people who rely heavily on television for their news and "view of the world" believed their neighborhoods are far less safe than they actually are (this was in the late 80's, and has anything changed?).

I think what you have observed is a manifestation of that sentiment.

It makes me think of kids nowadays always wearing elaborate helmets and joint-padding just to ride a bicycle around on their driveways. I always throw up a little bit in the back of my mouth when I see such lily-livered behavior by parents; irrationally scared of things that were unremarkable in their own childhoods. Strange world.

Ann Althouse said...

These neighborhoods I'm talking about are incredibly safe.

Ann Althouse said...

I really don't think it's that the parents are afraid to let the kids play outside.

k said...

So... do they have no children at all?

Kathy said...


There are *some* parents who throw their kids out the door, because I am one of them. I put mine in the backyard, and usually go out there with them, because mine are still little, but my goal is to have them outside for hours each day. Of course, they don't see any *other* kids outside even when we go out in the front, but that's why we have a weekly park day with some other families.

But to do what we do requires
a) me being home with them
b) them being homeschooled (so we have the time available during the day--if they were in school I'd be running them back and forth and then trying to get their homework done each afternoon/evening; we could still get outside but less)
c) us forgoing many extra activities

I think it's worth it, but I seem to be in the minority. Even many homeschoolers can't manage to make it to the weekly park day.

Zachary Paul Sire said...

They're all inside reading Althouse.

I just housesat in a suburban neighborhood in Huntington Beach this weekend and can say the same thing...there were no kids playing outside.

But when I got back to my hood in Long Beach last night (at 10pm) there were tons of urban children running around outside, playing and shrieking, with no parental units in sight.

Poor kids don't have fancy indoor games (and they probably don't know how to read).

Padre Steve said...

They are all inside watching cable and playing xbox. Not good...

Ger said...

Judging by the shadows in the photo I think one reason may be:

"only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the mid-day sun"

Mrs. Isabelle Itskowitz said...

If I see kids running wild, out of doors, I immediately call Department of Children's Services. The better neighborhoods are always quiet and tranquil. Screaming kids in the middle of the street = Ghetto.

In upscale neighborhoods, children are stashed neatly inside, or in backyards. Garage doors are shut, and nobody congregates on front lawns.

The worst is when you see a pick-up truch in the driveway, or a car parked on a front lawn = blight, and that type of thing lowers property values.

m00se said...

Blame Xbox and paranoid mothers - paranoid about too much exposure to the sun.

Of course, they could all be at the doctors office getting their vitamin D deficencies diagnosed, too...

Ann Althouse said...

When I lived in Brooklyn, my apartment was above a playground, and in any kind of good weather, in the daytime, there were kids playing and yelling. I also saw lots of kids in strollers in Brooklyn. I don't like to see kids that can walk stuck in strollers too much, but at least they were out and part of the community.

Ann Althouse said...

And it certainly isn't the case that the kids are in backyards. I could see the backyards too, and I would have heard the kids there.

James M said...

Where are the children?


It appears that the Wisconsin birth rate is lagging behind the U.S. average. Assuming that Madison is even lower than the rest of the state, the answer could be that there are a lot fewer children in Madison than in other areas of the country.

Even then, few children want to play outside by themselves on a hot summer day. Unless there are a couple of siblings or nearby neighborhood kids, don't expect to see an only child outside having a tea party by herself.

MadisonMan said...

They're inside avoiding all the mosquitoes!

Simon said...

Ann Althouse said...
"I really don't think it's that the parents are afraid to let the kids play outside."

Perhaps they're afraid to tell the kids to play outside.

Simon said...

(It's easier to acquiesce and let them do what they want, which is usually electronic.)

reader_iam said...

My kid DOES go outside, every chance he gets, and I'm not overprotective at all in that way (which is amazing, I suppose, in certain ways, but there it is).

The only thing is, he's the only one out there.

Windbag said...

Kids play Wii, X-Box, and other games these days. Or they're on-line. My kids will go outside and play on their own, mostly to bounce on the trampoline, but also to ride bikes and hike down to the creek (about 1/2 mile away). We do have to kick them out of the house often, to get them to realize that there's more to life than the Wii and funny YouTube videos. My guess is that most of the kids that are absent in the safe neighborhoods are behind the walls, entertaining themselves with electronics.

Mrs. Kay Somersby said...

You can see the backyards from the street? Oh dear, what kind of a neighborhood is this?

In the better neighborhoods the backyards are completely obscured by lush foliage and bougainvilla. If you've got a clear view into someone private backyard.....I shudder to think what else is completely visible from the street.

No wonder the parents hustle to get their kids out of that neighborhood !

sandy shoes said...

Well in this case, any children have clearly rolled out of the picture. Check the yard to the left.

I'm one of the parents whose children are outside in the backyard (I wave my arms around and holler like Kermit the Frog: "Will you get outta here?! Out out out out out!"). Either that or we're at a playground or somewhere. Do Madison's kids and parents meet up at playgrounds? I sort of hate the playground scene, but kids dig it.

Mary Gee said...

Gee, I wonder if there could possibly be a correlation between kids not playing and the upsurge in childhood obesity.

I remember the 60s and Twilight Zone, but maybe I have blocked the memory of men walking around in jump suits?

nina said...

It's the wrong question, Ann. Where are the people? Where adults spill onto the sidewalks and streets, so do the children. We live in a culture that values no spilling out onto the street of anyone.

Paddy O. said...

No children outside? Excellent. It's quiet! I can now get to all those great books I've been meaning to read. I can sit outside on my hammock and read and read and read. I have stacks of books I can now focus on. Hooray!

Oh no! I just sat on my reading glasses. Alas...

sean said...

We are not getting much of an answer, though there surely is one. Are the schools out in Madison? Is this a neighborhood of elderly professors with no children at home? Alternatively, is it a neighborhood of middle-class two-earner families? In which case, I presume the children are at camp, either day camp or sleep-away camp. Do upper-middle-class children in Madison go to sleep-away camp? (That is where my daughter is now.) Those are the primary possibilities that come to my mind.

MadisonMan said...

It looks like the neighborhood S. of Mineral Point Rd to me, near QP -- were you walking to La Brioche?

There should be kids living in some of the houses, but of the families I know in Madison, many have sent kids to camps, either outside of town, or to day camps in town, like UW Sports Camps or things like Camp Shalom. Or, since this was the first reasonably nice day in a while, they were all at the pool.

There is no shortage of kids in Madison on the near west side. The school bus picks up about 35 K-2 kids in the 3 stops near my house.

Ann Althouse said...

Sean, of course, school is out for the summer. And I'm talking about a miles-long walk, so it couldn't have been some odd enclave of old people. Plus, there were some swing sets and empty kid vehicles. These are exactly the kind of houses and neighborhoods that people choose when they have kids. And it's true that some of the kids might be away at camp, but I do these walks all the time, not just today. The kids are always missing.

Michael_H said...

There aren't a hey of a lot of families that can afford to live in Madison (high housing costs, killer heavy property taxes) without both parents working to pay the monthly nut, especially in the areas near the University and the lakes.

The kids wind up in daycare or Grandmacare, where the lowest cost vendor sees to their needs.

Want to see more kids playing in the backyard? Demand lower property taxes and reasonable development requirements so young families can enjoy the 'luxury' of having a stay-at-home parent.

AJ Lynch said...

What rocks have all you been hiding under? People send their kids to camp of course. If they don't they end up being alon like Reader's youngun.

I suggest parents organize "neighborhood" camps and the Moms or Dads each volunteer to be camp counselor for one week of the summer and their home serves as camp for the week. Then the parents could save some loot, the kids stay home with the neighbor kids and Ann won't feel Madison is kidless.

Of course this is such a great idea it will spread across the country and put a bunch of camps out of business.

And I bet Reader would be the first to volunteer!

MadisonMan said...

Do you see a difference in your walks on weekends? Of course, Saturday morning all the kids who swim in the summer are at meets.

It's always something.

reader_iam said...

AJ Lynch: I wasn't thinking specifically of summer; in fact, it was rather the contrary, the current season notwithstanding.

You ought not assume too much, in either direction. You may not know what you think you know.

Pogo said...

From 2002: "Meanwhile, the state’s birth rate has remained below the national average since its last peak in 1980.
That year, the birth rate (15.9 births per 1,000 population) equaled the nation’s. Wisconsin’s rate declined over the next two decades, falling to 14.8 in 1990 and 12.7 in 2000. Nationally, birth rates climbed to 16.7 in 1990 and fell to 14.7 in 2000.
According to recent estimates, the state’s birth rate will fall to 12.1 per 1,000 by 2025. The national birth rate, meanwhile, is expected to remain above Wisconsin’s at 13.5 in 2025."

The answer? This is more Stuff White People Like.
What do they like?

No kids, or "maybe just one".

They are cared for, like an exotic plant, rather than raised, like so many million boomer weeds were.

They put off kids "until they're ready". Then find they cannot, without in-vitro fertilization,.

They have every convenience imaginable.
They want for nothing. Well, nothing electronic.

They are often the only kid on the block. Or if not, the age difference precludes playing.

Their days are scheduled, scheduled, scheduled.

None would know how to start a pick-up game of baseball. If they play baseball at all, it is with the proper equipment, a coach, and an umpire.

Any gaggle of kids you do see are not white, but we aren't supposed to notice that, or mention it, or think anything about it at all.

And indeed, high property taxes redounds in fewer kids. Who knew tax policy actually affected fecundity? Try San Fransisco, the City That Hates Children.

Like Europe, they are the first generation of humans who forgot to make the next one, or found it not worth their time.


Beth said...

At least a couple of them are in the hallway in front of my office, hanging out while their professor moms (and one dad) hold office hours. Kids have changed. I was telling one 8-year-old son of a colleage about the new Insectarium and its bug cafe where he could eat fried bugs and he freaked out. I told him not to get so upset, that he'd almost certainly already consumed bugs unintentionally, and he cried. I went back in my office and shut the door. Kids today!

Pogo said...

"Results: The general statewide birth rates and birth rates for Wisconsin white teens were lower than national rates, while birth rates for black, Hispanic, and American Indian teens were well above national rates from 1998-2002. Disparities between births to minority adolescents and white adolescents were higher in Wisconsin than in the United States. Although teen birth rates in general have declined nationally and in Wisconsin, rates among Hispanics in Wisconsin have increased during the 1995-2002 period."
Wisconsin: Targeting High-Risk Populations
Sarah L. Ashby, MD; Patrick L. Remington, MD, MPH; Murray L.

"Dane County Live Births
# Births...5,306....5,995


Dane Co.

Glenn Howes said...

This is not answering Althouse's question at all, but I was recently in San Francisco for Apple's developer conference and was reminded of my dislike for that uniquely child unfriendly city. Took the cable cars past block after block of yardless houses, searched the multi-story mall on Union Square for a non-existent toy store, and went past a small fenced in childless park with a sign banning adults unaccompanied by a child.

There aren't a huge number of children in my little corner of New Hampshire, but they are out and about late in the afternoons of summer on their bikes and scooters or shooting hoops on the street.

AJ Lynch said...

Good teaser Ann now I gotta go find the rest of that episode.

Joshua said...

Their days are scheduled, scheduled, scheduled.

I wonder whether the days of the hyperscheduled childhood and the "soccer mom" aren't on the way out.

The thing is, most of these kinds of activities (soccer practive, piano lessons, etc.) require the kids to be constantly schlepped from place to place to place. I just don't see how that sort of lifestyle can be maintained by most families in the era of $4+/gallon gas.

veni vidi vici said...

Yeah, sure, most parents aren't afraid to let the kids play outside...

when supervised by a hovering parent.

Things were (and still are) different in the suburb of the border city in Canada where I grew up, by contrast to the Cleveland suburb where I finished high school, in this "where are the children" sense. I think there was a real/factual difference there, but I'm not sure how much, given that my "new kid-ism" in Ohio made things like random friends dropping by, etc., non-existent, whereas in Canada it was commonplace among my group of friends, most of whom had come up from kindergarten through high school together.

Actually, perhaps that latter bit explains something: when parents are flipping their houses every few years or moving because of work, how much of a "neighborhood feel" can ever develop to where kids from different houses/families will spontaneously want to play together outside?

Being a safe or unsafe neighborhood has nothing to do with it. Fwiw, my earlier post references people's perceptions, and how they differ from their reality.

Joe said...

It's yuppies; overeducated liberals who take every tiny news story and blow it out of proportion. I wouldn't care except these same assholes aren't satisfied with fucking up their kid's lives, they insist on making other parents and their kids miserable.

The amazing part is that today's American children are healthier and safer than any children in the history of mankind.

reader_iam said...

The amazing part is that today's American children are healthier

Well, there is that whole allergies thing, which, I think, has caused people to look in the wrong direction.

and safer than any children in the history of mankind.

That's pretty much true. Which, of course, makes the paranoia both less explicable, and also more.

Think about it.

reader_iam said...

I really wish people WOULD look more closely at that "allergies thing." And not from the perspective of MORE purification and protection needed (with, perhaps, the exception of sharply, sharply cutting back antibiotic use for your average baby, toddler, pre-k'er, kindergartner and even 1st-grader).

Then again, what do I know? What could I possibly have been observing over the past 25 years, and especially the past 15? Not to mention the past eight.

Jim Howard said...

Is it true to say that Madison has been run by liberal Democrats for years?

When this happens to a community one side effect is that young people are priced out of the housing market.

Could it be that people in the age group that has small children can't afford to live in your neighborhood, due to years of anti-growth policies?

When upper class liberals take over an area they use zoning, development bans, and high taxes to restrict their towns to other well off white people.

lurker2209 said...

Well I walk about in Seattle and almost never see children. Even in the park they seem sparse. But then you expect that sort of thing in Seattle; we have more dogs than children here.

reader_iam said...

And that's just limiting my observations to my adult life.

Chip Ahoy said...

I took this and this a couple days ago. But your point is well taken.

Donna B. said...

I think you'd have to everybody's ideas in to come up with the answer.

Although I can't see it applying in Wisconsin, in Phoenix it would almost be child abuse to send your kid out in the middle of the day unless it was to the pool.

I remember when I first heard the term "play date" and had to told what it meant. I thought... ick.

ricpic said...

It's a status thing. Nobody, young or old, is supposed to just hang out anymore. Organized. Everyone has to be organized.

And kids that hang out might become...ARTISTS!!

reader_iam said...

Or, God forbid, a second-grader who might be described (at the end of report card comprised overwhelmingly of "H's") as a: "wonderfully talented and divergent thinker."

Which isn't to say he isn't seen as a nuisance, and an annoying challenge. (For some good reasons, but mostly not--see "annoying challenge."****)


So it goes!

***Should anyone jump to the wrong conclusion, said kid is also seen as well-socialized and a good, even eager, citizen. It's just that he's not quite ... well, you know ... the word's not quite DOCILE, but well, you know ... .

reader_iam said...

The late-middle school or higher vocabulary, and the lower middle-school+ grasp of science concepts were a source of enjoyment, however; except, of course, when they weren't.

reader_iam said...

Sorry, folks, I'm just really frustrated by a lot of things these days, which is just life. I know that. It's my problem, and I know that as well. It's just that some things pierce more than others, and what can I say about that?


ricpic said...

Some things pierce
But all things pass...with time.
It also helps to raise a glass,
That makes the pierce less fierce.

reader_iam said...

Nina: Yes.

blake said...

They just got tired of all you old people yellin' at 'em to keep off their lawn and to keep the noise down, and God-help-them-if-that-baseball-dents-your-car.

Seriously, what's so freakin' great about outside? Is there any greater waste of time than just being outside (unless it's "hanging out")? They're not acquiring any academic skills, certainly, and what social skills they might be picking up are dubious at bet.

I hear this all the time, this idea that children should spend virtually their entire day away from their parents doing whatever they feel like and can get away with. Isn't it convenient that the optimal parenting strategy is one that requires the least amount of effort for the parent?

By that logic, none of us should be >>>here<<<, we should all be at a bar somewhere, taking our chances arguing politics and sharing photos with whatever random people happen to wander into the same bar.

I admit to having all the same reactions I've read here to "play dates" (Carlin did a bit on that) and over-scheduled kids, but I've also experienced the dawn-to-dusk running wild and I think it's ridiculously glorified.

George said...

All of the above are correct: Wii, Global Warming, ticks, Xbox, gluttony (which seems related to single-parent homes), traveling sports teams, working parents....

My bugaboo is the legalization of school activities and obsessed parents who hang out in classrooms and on playgrounds:

If my child picks up a stick on the elementary school playground, she is punished and must walk laps. (Sticks are weapons.)

If my child throws a ball at another child, but does not bounce it, she may be punished.

If my son does not wear his ID card to school, he is punished.

If my daughter does not make the school team, the coach tells other girls, in a group, to tell her why she did not make the team.

If boys roughhouse on the playground, they are told to stop.

If they play in the woods near school, they are told to stop. If my child makes a bow-and-arrow in the woods, she is really punished.

If a child wants to play late after school on the playground, she cannot do so, because only children in the afterschool program can use the playground (for liability reasons), and even if none of them is on the playground, no one else can be on the property.

(And, of course, there are economic reasons why kids are over-protected. When you have fewer, parents are more likely to view them as investments to be protected, not offspring to be tested physically.)

Mom said...

Reader, what does "H" stand for?? I have seen "I" and "S" and "O", "P" and "F", "E" and "G" and "N" -- but "H"? Happy? Hopeless? Hilarious???

Jennifer said...

They're all in my neighborhood. And, it's pretty awesome.

Joaquin said...

Every morning I drive by the entrance of a very nice neighborhood in North Raleigh.
The entrance is crowded by about 15 cars driven by mothers/fathers with kids in the back seat. These people drive their kids probably no more than 5 blocks to the school bus stop at the entrance of the neighborhood.
When the bus shows up, the kids jump out of the cars and get on the bus and then the parents start the cars and drive back (5 blocks) to their house. This neighborhood is so safe it's ridiculous, yet the kiddies can't walk the 5 blocks and wait for the bus.
Everyday I just shake my head.

Pogo said...

Jim Howard is also dead-on correct:
"Could it be that people in the age group that has small children can't afford to live in your neighborhood, due to years of anti-growth policies?"

The lack of children in wealthier perdominantly white neighborhoods isn't a bug, it's a feature.

MadisonMan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
MadisonMan said...

The lack of children in wealthier perdominantly white neighborhoods isn't a bug, it's a feature.

So what are these mammals in my neighborhood that aren't as tall or heavy as adult humans, but seem otherwise to look very much like them?

(I'm sorry to puncture your theory with actual data)

Pogo said...

I'm sorry to puncture your theory with actual data
Althouse's post stands in stark contrast to your observation.

It is uncontested that San Fransisco, perhaps the most liberal of liberal towns, has a dearth of children. Their schools are threatened for that very reason.

Why is that?

In Dane county, as the data I posted above showed, there has been a marked decline in childbirths among whites, who, I would guess, make up the majority in Ann's neighborhood. Moreover, I suspect the housing is out of reach for most young families, unless they only have one child.

About half the families in my neighborhood are black or Hispanic. There are quite a few kids running around. A scattered few are white. But I live in a "poor" neighborhood, according to city guidelines, anyway. In the wealthier enclaves, which are primarily white, there are fewer kids, because whites are having fewer kids. It's pretty simple, I'd say.

gophermomeh said...

20+ years ago we bought a house on the near-westside of Madison, right across the street from a city park. As a young family, we saw it as our extended backyard. To this day, with the windows open or sitting on the front stoop, to hear or watch a new generation of young kids is a real treat.

I can also say, that in my weekly runs through our and the next door neighborhoods, I see plenty of kids in front yards, driveways and sidewalks.

MadisonMan said...

Madison != San Francicso.

It's not just my observation about children. My kids' middle school -- which serves the neighborhood Prof. A lives in and also the neighborhood she likely was walking through when she took her pictures (those pictures are not from Prof. A's neighborhood) -- is full. As in, students from outside cannot transfer in. There is no room. You can still transfer into the feeder schools -- for as little as the last 3 weeks of 5th grade -- and get into Hamilton Middle school, however.

You see the question Where are the children? and apparently think there aren't any. I see the question and wonder what the kids are doing that keeps them from being in the picture.

Pogo said...

Both may be true. It's not exclusive, as my first post delineated.

It depends on the neighborhood.
The US has burgeoning minority births, and falling caucasian births. These groups often do not live by each other (exceptions exist, certainly: my neighborhood, among others).

Hence, speculating about the cause for children's absence, one could say, as in Europe, in some neighborhoods, there are simply fewer kids.

In others, the kids are in organized settings, and no longer roam free as in yesteryear.

In still others, the old rules still apply, and yard rats scamper unsupervized, as where I live.

The data posted above support this, I think, especially inasmuch as neighborhoods are quite often segregated by social class and by race.

froggyprager said...

Lots of the kids are at the pool (mostly Shorewood).

Also, Madison families with young kids (like mine) seem to cluster in very limited neighborhoods. Obviously you will find a few scattered all over but moved from your 'hood (sort of) to the Hillington Green area (less than a mile away) and our streets are overflowing with toddlers. There are a few other such areas around town but much of the city (west side at least) is full of empty nesters. With people living so long there are many homes without kids in Ann's neighborhood for 20 years or more. That is why we moved.

Gretchen said...

My four kids spend hours in the afternoon and evening out in the yard, until the mosquitoes drive everyone inside. They're not free-ranging, and they do need one of us out with them- the oldest is 7, and our yard isn't fenced- but they love spending time whooping it up outside. There's tons of kids outside in our neighborhood- but we're in Verona, not Madison. Maybe that's the difference.

Richard said...

About 30 seconds before you arrive, the mothers yell, "OK, kids, inside! That weird lady with the camera is coming up the street. You can go back outside after she's gone."

MadisonMan said...

until the mosquitoes drive everyone inside.

Aren't they horrible? We have too much shrubbery and trees in the yard, great resting places for skeeters, so I can hardly go out during the day either. I saw two kids walking their dog yesterday and their legs were a sea of bites.

PatCA said...

Taranto of the WSJ always talks about the Roe effect in the birth rate: those to the left, supportive of abortion, tend to have smaller families, thus the empty upscale communities in suburbia.

BTW I just got back from France, where I was struck by the (delightful) sight of French babies everywhere. Every woman I saw has one in the stroller, one by her side, and one in the oven! Vive la France

Robert said...

I think this has a great deal to do with housing prices, taxes, and great schools. I live in a Minnesota exurb that is newly developed (5-10 years for most homes), where lot prices were cheap and most homes have walk-outs and access to ponds. This neighborhood is loaded with children. It's a running joke that when we emerge from hibernation during winter, each home seems to have three or four new offspring. And there are roaming packs of kids, enough to have pick-up baseball games. I haven't seen that since growing up in Milwaukee. I have been asked to be the single, angry old man who disciplines the kids (yeah, I'm 39...ancient to children) because, so I'm told, kids listen to neighbors who are "strangers."

Meanwhile, in the eight years I've been here, the property tax rate has been THE SAME. Even home values were adjusted upward only twice (one small jump, one quite big alas). The school district is safe and excels. Crime is extremely low. Prime mating conditions for homo sapiens.

former law student said...

I've noticed this for the past 30-some summers. Kids sleep in, and when they get up, it's too hot outside to play. So they stay inside, in the air conditioning. It's exactly as Ann says -- no children. Even before xbox and wii, they'd play GI Joes and Barbies. Even when I was a kid, there would only be two of us shooting hoops at the school down the block.

Playing with water is the only thing that will get kids out of the house on a summer afternoon. Or just turn off the air conditioning.

As far as SF goes, there are tons of kids -- but they're almost all Chinese. White people are not breeding in SF. Part of the problem is that the average house is well over a million dollars -- few young couples make that kind of moolah. Visitors should realize there's an excellent toy store right across Market street from the Crocker Galleria: Jeffrey's Toys. http://www.yelp.com/biz/jeffreys-toys-san-francisco

Other SF toy stores are in more boutique-y areas, or (ghasp) out in the neighborhoods where the kids live. Yelp says there are 72 stores selling toys in SF, not counting Good Vibrations-type toys. http://www.yelp.com/search?rpp=10&cflt=toys&find_loc=San+Francisco%2C+Ca

Dust Bunny Queen said...

They are all inside playing World of Warcraft and annoying the heck out of me.

Seriously, we have taken the fun out of childhood, scaring the children and over protecting them from any scrape, bump and learning experience.

ModSconnie said...


Huge mosquitos that can carry kids away. They are everywhere. My kids play outside for 5 minutes, then are dropped off at the door by a swarm of engorged 'skeeters'.

Paul said...

Patca: "BTW I just got back from France, where I was struck by the (delightful) sight of French babies everywhere. Every woman I saw has one in the stroller, one by her side, and one in the oven! Vive la France"

And how many of them are not Muslims?

anonymous said...

Where the children? At summer and day camp so we adults can !@#( work to pay for everything.

Bill said...

When you were a kid, the propensity to be kicked out of your house by your exasperated mother was directly related to how many siblings you had, and their age ranges. When folks only have two kids, or if they're four years apart in age, the noise may not reach that breaking point. Also why poorer families had more outdoor kids; they have more kids period, so the noise level follows. I had two sisters very close in age; if there was a spat about clothing or some other possession - look out.

Mike Ex said...

You should come to the my subdivision in Sun Prairie. There are lots of kids playing outside.

The newer subdivisions have more kids. Thats why Sun Prairie has to keep building more schools.

Schorsch said...

Sorry to hear that you observe this in Madison. I had hoped this disturbing phenomenon was limited to the Southwest and California, where I've spent the last few years. In my Midwestern hometown, the streets were always lousy with children. Friends my age who grew up here, though, never played outside as kids. It seems this trend has also spread from SoCal, like so may other horrors.

Ann Althouse said...

"In Dane county, as the data I posted above showed, there has been a marked decline in childbirths among whites, who, I would guess, make up the majority in Ann's neighborhood. Moreover, I suspect the housing is out of reach for most young families, unless they only have one child."

That may be true of my immediate neighborhood, but I went on a 2 mile walk, which included some less expensive places.

amy said...

They are all in my neighborhood apparently! We live in a nice little track-home-type neighborhood with a nice new elementary school in the middle. There is a constant stream of children walking, riding, roller-skating, etc to and from the school playground area all summer long. Kids building skateboarding ramps. Playing tag and basketball in the drive way. My son can't wait until I let him run off out of our yard (he's only 4.. don't trust him just yet.)

Roux said...

They are inside playing video games or at events (baseball, dance, soccer, etc... ) organized by their parents.

Pogo said...

" Well I think its fine, building jumbo planes.
Or taking a ride on a cosmic train.
Switch on summer from a slot machine.
Yes, get what you want to if you want, cause you can get anything.

Well you roll on roads over fresh green grass.
For your lorry loads pumping petrol gas.
And you make them long, and you make them tough.
But they just go on and on, and it seems that you can't get off.

Oh, I know we've come a long way,
Were changing day to day,
But tell me, where do the children play? "

Mitigate said...

-Putting on my old man hat-
I think it is a lack of creativity and an over-regulation of safety. If a kid has to be strapped into a full suit of armor, so that he is safe, the reward of play comes tumbling down. The time to get ready is annoying, and the risk, of yes injury, is part of the high. Make the set-up more involved than grabbing a stick and remove the reward for creative (yes, sometimes mildly dangerous) play, and the outdoors becomes just someplace to sit.

I can remember finding and then playing with beehives and trying to outrun the resultant swarm. Mostly we succeeded. When we didn't, well it cost a few stingers, but my fiends and I became remarkably adept at pulling them out before mom saw them. Catching bugs, reptiles, anything that was mobile, same thing. Part of the fun was that you did not know exactly what was going to happen.

Fer crying out loud. A broken arm used to be a badge of honor among my friends.

-sigh, takes off hat-

Wacky Hermit said...

My children are inside because if they play outside in the yard without me, childless curmudgeons call the police, and I can't be out there and clean up the house at the same time.

ElvenPhoenix said...

Well, the kids were down at the neighbor's house playing wii, then they were outside on scooters...now they're hanging out at the computer playing one of those on-line games.

Keep in mind that none of the kids currently in my living room actually belong to me. The baby is asleep upstairs and my other daughter is with her other parent, and my stepchildren will be picked up shortly by their dad.

What I have currently are a niece & nephew, and four neighbor kids, along with the aforementioned sleeping baby. Which is pretty normal. Sometime there are more neighbor kids present. Tomorrow it will be the aforementioned kids, plus three stepchildren & middle daughter-child.

It's Texas, it's hot, and they only go out for short bursts. If we want them out during the day we have to pull out the slip-n-slide, hose, and water balloons. Assuming that we're not on water restriction due to the drought.

Later in the afternoon, when the weather cools, they may go down to the creek, which is in the backyard. They can't go too far down the creek, though, as there's a property owner that screams at them if they wander close to his yard.

We live in a northern suburb of Dallas. Our neighborhood would be considered middle-class, and it's mixed race. The fact that all the kids currently in my living room are Caucasian means nothing, as sometimes it becomes a veritable melting pot - usually on weekends.

When you combine the oppressive heat with the number of indoor amusements (wii, guitar hero, youtube...)there's no wonder, at least around here, that they are NOT playing outside during the day.

As a neighborhood we have frequent "parties in the driveway". A number of us will pull out lawn chairs and hang out while the kids go crazy on bikes and scooters.

I have to admit, we seem to be a bit abnormal. I'm not aware of any other friends living in a neighborhood like ours.

blake said...


I gotta ask, with all that, why would you subject them to school?

kcom said...

I ride long distances on my bicycle through all sorts of neighborhoods in my city at all different times of the day and year and I've been remarking to my friends for years about the lack of children on the streets. I can go through entire suburban neighborhoods and not see one. My personal guess is that they are inside playing computer games and the like but that's just a guess.

I think it's a different world than the one I grew up in but maybe it was just an illusion. Maybe when we kids congregated together it seemed like a lot but someone passing through the neighborhood wouldn't have taken much notice.

Kevin said...

I'll add a twist: where's the horny teenagers? I live near a large, beautiful wooded park nestled among a suburban community. On lovely evenings walking in the park it always surprises me that I'm always virtually the only human in the entire place after dark.

Must be hundreds of teenage boys and girls within walking distance of the park, and seems to me they're missing an excellent opportunity for a bit of romance under the stars. I'm sure I would've made good use of that place, back in the day.

Schorsch said...

Kevin asked "Where are the teenagers?"

I can answer that one. The cops give teenagers in the park at night a really hard time these days. Sure, it breaks up the vandals and the drug users, but it made finding places for...romance quite difficult when I was a teen. A young guy and a girl aren't there to do any harm to the park, but I was threatened with arrest several times by humorless thugs.

MadisonMan said...

but my fiends and I

Excellent typo....or is it?

1970_baby said...

I guess the Madison City Council passed a one-child rule when we weren't paying attention.

Random Numbers said...

Maybe the parents are just too snooty to let their kids embarrass them by acting like kids.
In the mobile home park where I live, you see kids outside all day. They skateboard down the street, ride bikes, play ball, and generally act like kids. Everyone around here is careful to watch for children when they are out, because the kids will be there. I love it. It reminds me of my own childhood of running wild and getting into mischief.

Timothy said...

The kids are all here, in Brooklyn. We got 'em like roachs. How many you want? I'll round them up and give them to you.

Maddad said...

Check the garage, my kids are always in the garage.

Could be the pool or VBS also, it's VBS time here.

1970_baby said...

I am one of those parents who doesn't think its safe to let kids run around unsupervised. I skated and rode my bike all over the east side of Madison in the late 70's and my parents had no way of knowing where I was from breakfast until supper. NO WAY would I let my kids do that now. I have probably been manipulated by the horror stories in the news, but it worked and I won't allow it.

Mitigate said...

Madison Man...

but my fiends and I

Excellent typo....or is it?

Was a typo, but works either way. Maybe the slip is more telling. Getting into trouble, that was one of the better risks.

MadisonMan said...

1970_baby, you do know where the kids are -- you call them on their cell phone.

This doesn't mean that I don't routinely think my kids have been hit by a truck, or have choked to death on candy when I'm not around. But I try very hard not to impress my phobias on to them. Childhood should be carefree.

My daughter pulls the What if I'm attacked? card on me sometimes when she is somewhere not home and wants a ride home and I want her to walk or bike. I tell her to be alert and it probably won't happen.

Peg C. said...

In my very diverse neighborhood about 60 miles north of NYC, if it's not actually raining my development is full of kids of all ages and colors playing on lawns, in the street, in pools, and playing catch with dads or gardening with moms. When the rain is warm you can sometimes see a little one rolling in the water along a curb. The house across the street is ground zero for all the kids on my cul-de-sac. It can get extremely noisy but it gives me cheer. There ARE kids playing outside!

None of my neighbors appear to want their kids growing fat and introverted inside with TV and video games. Good for them.

Maybe there is something good about diversity after all (certainly nothing positive about the idiotic corporate cr@p I have to put up with).

JimmyH said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
JimmyH said...

I think the culture has shifted from one of feeling safe to one of feeling unsafe. These feelings are unfounded, to be sure, but parents fear either the abduction, the assault or the murder of an unattended child; or they fear government reprisal caused by others who are fearful for the parent's children’s safety and well being by proxy.

The fact is that we are in a very safe country during very safe times and we're more scared than at any point in our history. It's Bizzaro World and it is taking its toll on society. Irrational fear based on exaggerated headlines of 1 in a million critical incidents lock us and our children up instead of the criminals.

And the police are no help. They’ve been morphed into a for-profit cottage industry that would rather toss Joe Lunchbox’s car on the side of the interstate looking for an empty beer can than patrol neighborhoods or seriously investigate the harm done by crimes of burglary or vandalism that crack the foundation of suburban society.

It’s not that we’ve not made investments to assuage our fears but that these investments are wasted on non-value-added pursuits where we arrest, prosecute and incarcerate the remote potential to do harm to others instead of focusing the extra money on hammering people who have really done harm to others. In the process the unreasonable arrest, prosecution and incarceration of marginal improprieties turns reasonable people who know right from wrong into people who have little respect for authority; nor should they. Many times their jobs and families don’t survive this run-in with the bullies in blue then we sit back and wonder why Joe Lunchbox’s out-of-control son or daughter is disrupting class while sitting next to your little precious Nathan or Sophie.

And the cycle continues because as this non-value-added investment gobbles a larger and larger slice of the private and public resource, the value added segments like education, altruism and the simple benefit to society of wealth at large suffer.

As is often the case… reality is not always as it seems and the cure is, many times, the cause.

David said...

This is Wisconsin.

It could snow at any moment.

The kids know that.

trathkopf said...

I'm a stay-at-home dad, and I kick my kids out of the house and make them play outside every day. On our street there are a bunch of kids, and if my kids aren't already out playing, the doorbell is ringing asking if they can come out. If they are going to go inside someone else's house, they are supposed to come and let me know.

We live in the suburbs, but it's a suburb of Anchorage, Alaska and sometimes I think that when we moved up here, we moved back 20 years in time, too.

I'm not too worried about heat (it's currently 63) or the sun (nobody up here gets enough vitamin D as it is). My biggest concern is that my girls saw a black bear walking across the neighbor's driveway last week.

Orion said...

My mother wrote an article on this very same topic that I posted on my blog - She compares how things were raising my brothers and sisters and I in the 1960's and 1970's to today...

Here's the link to the article.


Orion said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kathy said...

They're not acquiring any academic skills, certainly, and what social skills they might be picking up are dubious at bet.

Actually, they are acquiring academic skills, especially the young ones. As it turns out, small children, say ages 9 and under, don't need a lot of "sit at the desk" time but rather need lots of large motor activity (especially the preschoolers) and the kind of visual activity you get if you're, for instance, looking for bugs outside (but not what you get looking at a worksheet to see which items match).

Not to mention that being outside, playing in dirt, is good for your immune system (as reader_iam alluded to).

I supervise mine when they're outside, but with a hands-off approach. I'm just there to prevent utter mayhem/bullying/destruction. Sometimes I'm in the house--but we purposefully bought a house with a great view of the backyard from the most-used rooms.

Ann, as for them being in camp and that being a good thing, it depends on the camp. I think these days camp is usually more structured activities just like daycare, and often indoors.

And for those talking about mosquitoes and the heat--I live in Texas, so I know what you mean, but we still manage. First, you turn up your thermostat. Mine spends the summer at 82 degrees. That way the house isn't so much cooler than outside (although for most of the summer it's still a 20 degree difference). Then, you try to find shade outside. Our yard is very shady, but there are also parks (which unaccountably always cut down all the trees around the playgrounds here) or even state parks. We go to the state park just to spend the morning walking the trails through the woods, feeding the geese, looking for interesting birds/bugs/lizards. And for mosquitoes, Avon has a line of bug repellent/sunscreen that works pretty well and doesn't have to be immediately washed off.

Steve Ingeman said...

It's so true! I returned to America after a 2 year absence and decided to go out for a walk on the same day that I arrived. It frightened me that I didn't see a single person or child anywhere! I was beginning to think that aliens had abducted them!

Bernard said...

Ann, for once I'm surprised to see most people agreeing with you. I live in an upscale neighborhood in a suburb of Memphis, and we have lots of kids playing outside.


blake said...

Actually, they are acquiring academic skills, especially the young ones. As it turns out, small children, say ages 9 and under, don't need a lot of "sit at the desk" time but rather need lots of large motor activity (especially the preschoolers) and the kind of visual activity you get if you're, for instance, looking for bugs outside (but not what you get looking at a worksheet to see which items match).

Actually, if you're serious about their development, there are programs you can do that allow you to both improve and measure said development. The first five years are the most critical.

Worksheets are not the alternative to playing outside.

Not to mention that being outside, playing in dirt, is good for your immune system (as reader_iam alluded to).

Some of us keep the inside of our houses dirty enough for that.

I'm not really disagreeing with people so much as I'm suggesting that this is an unchallenged assumption.

Things are different now. Some things for the better, some for the worse.

In my neighborhood, there are some kids, and they sometimes play outside. The parks are packed, though, most of the day. And most of the kids have scheduled activities as well as free time.

I just don't think it's that big a deal.

bjm said...

There are plenty of kids playing outside in our Bay Area neighborhood. Shooting hoops in driveways, chalking up the streets, skate boarding and bicycling into the evening.

Our burb offers clubhouse activities, a pool and playground. It's chockablock most summer days and weekends year round.

I assume that gated access and security patrols give parents more comfort in letting their kids roam around the neighborhood.

There does seem to be many more of the little future taxpayers this summer. What with gas flirting with $5 locally and that we are about ten miles out in the countryside. Parents may be loathe to drive their kids into town when they are already paying for neighborhood resources in homeowners dues.

The price of gas is altering my driving habits and I'm sure many parents are simplifying or eliminating daily trips too.

Barlycorn, John said...

Hows about the network of stay at home moms who knew everybody else's kids and could be counted on to keep an eye on them, even if they strayed bicycle distance are now all working moms, and so it is far to dangerous to leave your kids out unsupervised? Hence the increase in supervised and scheduled activities.

I played pickup baseball til we couldn't see the ball anymore, but never outside window view of some neighbor or other who had known me since babyhood. This is such a luxury now it is unimaginable, and almost unrememberable.

Bill Adams said...

America has yet to face the Great Terror of the Eighties, worse in some ways than McCarthyism but rarely even mentioned. (Did any victim of McCarthy serve as much jail time as Amirault, or the other railroaded daycare folks?) Today's thirtyish parents grew up "knowing" that hundreds of thousands American children were abducted every year. Every media outlet trumpeted these fake figures (50,000 was about as low as it would go); you would often see them on the side of the morning milk carton, under the picture of some lost child. Even today, if you tell people that the actual annual figure for abduction by strangers (not by one's own parent in a custody fight) is barely in three digits, they will look at you as if you are crazy.

I do see kids fourteen and up out on skateboards, but younger children in "better" neighborhoods are never unsupervised. The Great Fear has been thoroughly internalized, only us oldsters who had free childhoods seem to think it at all strange.

Nahanni said...

Kids play outside in my neighborhood. They also do things like have Lemonade stands, sell Girl Scout cookies and such. One little boy specializes in growing Serreno peppers and goes through the neighborhood selling them door to door. The kid does grow very nice peppers. On really hot summer days like today it is quiet outside, not because the kids are not out but because they are down at the neighborhood pool.

When these kids are playing outside a couple moms are sitting out in lawn chairs chatting and riding herd.

Kirk Parker said...

John B.,

We weren't remotely that sheltered: in 4th - 6th grade we'd routinely walk almost a mile to the high school for the summer band program, bicycle 1.5 miles to the local pool, and make many unsupervised trips of similar range during all seasons to visit the local woods, empty lots, etc. Of course all the local mothers were mostly at home, and everyone in a couple block radius knew who everyone's kids where, but our range extended far beyond that.

Mrs. Winifred Waverly said...

Lemonade stands are magnets for strangers to drive up and rob the kids of all their money.

Best to have a lemonade stand in the backyard, and parents can recruit customers (of their liking) indulge the kids.

Furthermore.....why are there even sidewalks? The better neighborhoods don't even bother with those. The front lawns extend all the way out to the curb. Sidewalks are nothing more than an invitation for vagrants and loiterers to intrude on residential solice.

Aren't there any guard-gated communities in Madison? The better neighborhoods are always private and gated off.

Devertt said...

I live in the Fox Cities (Wisconsin) and there are always a lot of kids playing outside in the evenings. During the day the high number of 2 income families (larger homes) may explain the abscence. We are also starting to see more kids per family, 4-8. These are mostly white or mixed race families.

PatCA said...

"And how many of them are not Muslims?"

From my limited observation, and within the city, about 95%.

Nunyaa said...

To Zachary Paul Sire who said this:

"Poor kids don't have fancy indoor games (and they probably don't know how to read)."

Interesting assumption on your part.

For Mrs.Isabelle Itskowitz who said this:

"If I see kids running wild, out of doors, I immediately call Department of Children's Services. The better neighborhoods are always quiet and tranquil. Screaming kids in the middle of the street = Ghetto.

In upscale neighborhoods, children are stashed neatly inside, or in backyards. Garage doors are shut, and nobody congregates on front lawns.

The worst is when you see a pick-up truch in the driveway, or a car parked on a front lawn = blight, and that type of thing lowers property values."

Would much rather have my kids running and yelling, playing outside being kids than inside and developing stuck up attitudes.

TheTrixter said...

OC southern California native here. We were out of the house as soon as Mother would allow us to escape. We did not return until the street lights came on (neighborhood code for all children to return home for dinner)and during the summer returned outside again for games of hide n seek.

We felt unsupervised and were unaware of any hovering adult presence. If we needed a drink you got it out of the closest hose. When you needed a bathroom we'd all convene at the nearest kid's house and he or she would get mom's approval for a collective bathroom break..'kay the boys sometimes got a pass on using a real bathroom. We were supervised though because if you did something or participated in some totally unsocialized behavior, or seriously injured someone, or hurt someone without reasonable provocation, your mom knew when you arrived home later and addressed whatever corrective counsel was needed.

And we ALL had cap guns of one type or another...such a cool smell...and we killed monsters, bad guys, enemies in our imagined war strategies. It was OC in late 60's pretty WASP demographics, okay, totally WASP. I was pretty much the only girl and Japanese too and boy was it a total blast! I received this beautiful babydoll as a present and my astute father noted my less than enthusiastic expression after the female relatives all went off... he asked me what was up. I demonstrated what a particularly lousy weapon the doll made. That afternoon I became the owner of the coolest repeating, 4 cap roll holding air rifle in the neighborhood..still have the gun but not the doll.

I make my living counseling families. I have spent many hours instructing parents that our children are not hothouse flowers (unless they choose to raise them as such) and specialize in children improperly identified as hyperactive. Most not hyperactive just expected to remain quietly seated and passive for inappropriate lengths of time and then not allowed to express their need for competition, aggressive outlet and just kidness on the playgound. The 'rules' on playgrounds are for hothouse flowers.

I also do presentations to the various professional organizations,alumni groups, service clubs, etc. encouraging our educated, prosperous parents to procreate. Our country needs children. The 3-4 child family needs to make a come back in this demographic. Japan is in trouble and will be the 1st nation to clone a human...they are not making enough children to sustain their culture for much longer. America may be headed there as well in our future.

I am so happy to hear of all those neighborhoods with a thriving mob of children with attentive but non hovering parental units in their lives too.

Ann, we could post your picture as a MISSING sign all over our nation in most of our affluent neighborhoods.

MadisonMan said...

Aren't there any guard-gated communities in Madison?

Not that I know of actually in Madison. There is one north of Lake Mendota, between Middleton and Waunakee, with a golf course, and I'm blanking on the name.

inmypajamas said...

I live in Austin, TX in an upscale professional neighborhood with white, Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Hispanic families. The kids are out in the morning and in the late afternoon. I walk our dog after 8:00 pm because of the heat and I always see tons of kids out at our pools, bball court, on skates or just running around. I know that many kids, including mine, are away at camp at various times but there seem to be enough at home to keep the neighborhood lively at night.

I do agree that there is much more time spent in front of electronic entertainment than in years past. I grew up in the 60s/70s and my house was one of the few where we were allowed to play inside (I was kind of popular as a consequence). Most moms threw the kids out after breakfast and they could only come in to use the bathroom or eat lunch. We spent our time outside playing pickle (baseball game), tag, building forts and roaming far and wide "exploring", an activity that is verboten today.

As to birth rates - I have noticed that Catholics (at least in Texas) have started having bigger families over the last 10 years. We have been members of various parishes over the years and the influence of the wider cultural onus against having more than two children (vs. the Catholic ideal of large families) is fading. Many families at our church and in our neighborhood are adding third, fourth and fifth kids (one has 9 and one has 14). It may scare the rest of the US that Texans are busy breedin' but you can't blame us for the population decline.

former law student said...

the Catholic ideal of large families

I am not aware of this ideal. Except for Irish Catholic families from the 50s, I don't know anyone born after WW I who was a member of a large Catholic family. Three is the biggest family I know, with two by far the most common. People born before 1919 grew up on farms, where every kid added to the labor pool, which explains the generational difference.

Which reminds me: the biggest change in family life over the last century was the switch from family as producing unit to family as consuming unit. I think kids would feel better about their situation in life if they were responsible for earning their share of the family income, instead of just spending it.

dustbunny said...

former law student,

I grew up during the 60s-70s in a Catholic community that had plenty of large families. Large families had seven kids or more, small families had four or fewer. We had a medium-sized family of six kids...and we felt sorry for kids who had no siblings. What an awful way to grow up, with no brothers or sisters to play with! We didn't have too many only-children to feel sorry for, though. I can think of only two or three families who had only one child. This was true for the non-Catholics as well.

I married an only child and he assures me that he had plenty of adventures growing up. Probably helps that he grew up in town where there were neighbor children to play with.

I would have had more children (I have two) except that I started late. Maybe that's another reason there are so many smaller families...fewer child-bearing years after marriage.

Kathy said...

blake said:
Actually, if you're serious about their development, there are programs you can do that allow you to both improve and measure said development. The first five years are the most critical.

Worksheets are not the alternative to playing outside.

I wasn't suggesting that worksheets are the only alternative to outside. The statement was made that outside wasn't valuable because it didn't help children acquire academic skills, and I was responding to that. However, your suggestion that I should implement some formal program to make sure my preschoolers are prepared rather than going outside with them and helping them learn to explore the world around them and giving them time to play freely *outside* is interesting. It strikes me as similar to saying that we should get on the treadmill (where performance is measurable and the experience is controlled) rather than going hiking. There's so much more to hiking than just the walking part, just as there's so much more to kids playing outside than just the specific skills they are developing (the ones that are measurable and replicable).

And no, this isn't just a bunch of fogeys nostalgically wishing for a by-gone era that exists only in our imaginations. (And I think that's the idea that's got you annoyed.) Research is showing that outside time (and all that that idea entails--free play, interacting with nature, rough and tumble, etc.) actually supplies some important components for children's development. I suppose I could replicate most of that indoors in some way, but even if I thought that my replication would be better than a pale imitation of the real thing, why would I want to when going outside is pretty easy to do?

In any event, being outside is important in its own right:

Mother Nature: Raising Healthier Kids

Is it time to let children play outdoors once more?

No Outdoor Play 'Hurts Children'

The Value of School Recess and Outdoor Play

Those are just a smattering from a quick Google search. Looking on Amazon will reveal several books full of more support for the idea that going outside is important to children's healthy development.

Kathy said...

People born before 1919 grew up on farms, where every kid added to the labor pool, which explains the generational difference.

I'm sure there is a grain of truth in this, but it sure isn't the whole story. However, it gets pulled out everytime someone wants to argue that smaller family sizes are the way things ought to be. Perhaps they are for some families, and I wouldn't suggest anyone should have a larger family than they want, but many non-farming families have been large both historically and today. Often people had large families for religious reasons (because they felt the children were a gift and should be celebrated rather than avoided--I'm not making a moral judgment here but just describing the point of view) or simply because they enjoyed their children.

If you read old literature, you'll see the common type of the happy poor family with lots of kids, generally looked down upon by the well-to-do but often rising above their circumstances because of their love and devotion to each other, or some such.

blake said...


None of those four articles actually presents anything like science. A lot of opinions, lamenting that "hide-and-seek" isn't anyone's favorite game any more, etc. etc. etc.

However, your suggestion that I should implement some formal program to make sure my preschoolers are prepared rather than going outside with them and helping them learn to explore the world around them and giving them time to play freely *outside* is interesting.

If only that was what I had suggested! What I said was, if brain development were your concern, there are better ways to assure it than sending your kids outside for 12 hours a day.

Funny thing about outside: One critical phase of human development is creeping on hands-and-knees. The eyes are focused on the ground about 18-inches away. One theory is that this stage of development is what makes reading and writing possible: The brain learns to see at that distance.

As a result, you'd expect to--and do--see a lack of written language development among peoples who don't put their children on the ground. In places where "outside" is really, really dangerous, parents carry their kids constantly and written language doesn't develop.

So, I'm not arguing that outside is bad necessarily, but I am arguing that the complaints are unconvincing. I spent lots and lots of time outdoors. Most of that was wasted.

Of course I could say the same thing about school.

Part of what we're seeing is a concern for their children's welfare that previous generations thought unseemly. Yes, well, these were the same people who thought you could spoil a baby by holding it.

I'm gonna need some hard proof about what is allegedly gained by unlimited random outside play before I believe this is anything more than "Why, back in my day...."

MadisonMan said...

Here in my Madison neighborhood, well we have 2 kids, so do the people across the street. Next door? Three. Within two blocks there are 4 families with 4 kids, one of which has 5. Two of those are practicing Catholics. These are all school-age kids. The block next to mine on my street is mostly older -- kids out of the house. But for families with kids -- and there are few childless families near me, two or three is more common in my neighborhood than one.

That gated neighborhood is called Bishop's Bay. I knew I'd remember eventually :)

Kathy said...


Sorry; my quick scan of those articles left me thinking they at least alluded to real research. I know there is some, but with four small kids I have only so much time available to track that stuff down.

I knew what you meant about the brain development aspect. I was merely pointing out that outside time did have some tangible benefits.

As to crawling, I put my little one on the ground. I didn't with the first one, but now I don't worry nearly as much about what might get eaten when I'm not looking. lol

Kristo Miettinen said...


Pardon me for asking an impolite question, but what is the median house value in the neighborhood that you walk in?

I bet you it is more than $250K.

I live in a neighborhood where I have to drive really slow when returning home from work because of all of the kids playing street hockey, and the driveway basketball games that could overflow into the street at a moments' notice. We live in pleasant but modest homes, most assessed for less than $200K.

I know a number of other suburban neighborhoods where parents coddle their kids too much. My favorite example is the area that my college roommate lives in, where parents drive their kids from the house to the end of the driveway (less than 100 yards) and then wait there with their kids for them to get on the school bus every morning. A big money neighborhood, for what it's worth.

Money allows people to isolate themselves from reality, and they come to irrationally fear it. Think Howard Hughes on a mere millionaire's budget. We need not be poor, but having merely ordinary means goes a long way toward keeping us grounded.

Kristo Miettinen

Kathy said...

Ah, here's one of the links I was looking for:

Old-Fashioned Play Builds Serious Skills

It's not specifically about being outside, but being outside can often facilitate the type of play recommended.

This one cites other research; look at the section titled "We must provide appropriate, planned outdoor play environments":
Play: Essential for All Children

Notice that some of the requirements for appropriate outdoor play spaces given in the above paper can be much better met in someone's backyard than in a formal playground. (I've never had a playground where children could build their own equipment, although I'm sure there are some.)

blake said...

As to crawling, I put my little one on the ground. I didn't with the first one, but now I don't worry nearly as much about what might get eaten when I'm not looking. lol

Ah, yes, whether to pity the firstborn or the last more? Heh. And certainly I understand as far as having time to debate the topic. There is the far more important matter of actually spending time with your kids.

My objection to your first article, as it relates to this discussion is that "self-regulation" is the very thing parents are trying to encourage, and I think there are better ways than just turning your kids loose.

Socialization-wise, a teacher (of teachers) I know talks about having taught at one of these newfangled Japanese kindergartens. The kids were pretty wild. And then, at lunch, they all sat quietly until the last lunch had been carefully unwrapped, said the (oh, let's call it) "prayer word", and began eating as civilized as you please.

Their parents had taught them manners--good socialization. What were they learning at school from other five-year-olds?

Parents are the first and most important teachers; I think that's something that's neglected in these discussions about "outside".

The second I don't disagree with, I just don't think it directly relates to "best thing for kids is to throw them outside all day".

Surely parents have more to offer than that?

WRJohnston said...

This statement begs correction--

More importantly, it is incorrect to think that the incidence of abortion correlates with support for abortion rights. It doesn't!

Yes, it does! I checked SurveyUSA polling data against abortion stats: in states where less than 50% of poll respondents call themselves "pro-choice", they average 13 abortions per 100 live births. In states where over 55% of respondents are "pro-choice", the average is 22 abortions per 100 live births. Run a correlation analysis and you find there is a decent correlation between support for abortion and abortion ratios (CC=0.6-0.8 for those of you statistics oriented).

In terms of abortion ratio, Wisconsin ranks 37th in 2006 for both abortions by state of occurrence and by state of residence.

Kathy said...

The second I don't disagree with, I just don't think it directly relates to "best thing for kids is to throw them outside all day".

Surely parents have more to offer than that?

Yes, I agree with you. I don't throw mine outside. I go with them, and while I don't schedule their time I do try to moderate it, so to speak. They still need training and civilizing, which is what I'm there for. But the more civilized they get, the less monitoring they need.

blake said...


Yes, exactly!

Katie said...

If there are fewer children, the ones that are there probably congregate at a local park in order to find each other. I know it's hard to find kids for my kids (even with small yards around here!) but if you go to the park, there are tons of kids there.