Keep Them In
Tim Dorsey and Carl Hiaasen, move over – Florida reality again trumps both fantasy and novelistic legerdemain. Perhaps it’s the effect of earthquakes and oil spills (our one year anniversary of the BP disaster) but strangeness pervades the state. Some weeks ago five teenagers in Silver Springs Shore snorted the remains of two Great Danes convinced they would get high, and then dumped the results in Love, Joy, and Magic Lake.
Maybe it is the water supply. The homeowners of Edgewater, Florida now wish to ban children from playing outdoors. Their reason – safety. Fines of $100 will be levered on transgressive tykes.
Particularly disliked by the homeowners association are games of tag, “loud or obnoxious toys,” that perennial plaything of deviltry skateboarding, and, somewhat inevitably, Big Wheels. As one board member explains “They came in and rented in a community that does not have a playground and is not conducive to children. Then they expect the children to play in the driveways and parking lot. You wouldn’t see them playing the parking lot at Walmart or Kmart.”
Perhaps someone will point out to board member Kim Scott that even though some employees have been locked in at night against their will, they don’t live with their families at Walmart.
What’s Really Happening
At first glance this appears as a story of how local people really hate children. Yet much of what is going on is the result of the economic meltdown in Florida, a full blown, financial crisis provoked economic depression that most refuse to call by its real name. Communities that would otherwise try to make themselves “adult only” with no one aged less than 55, now find they can’t readily continue without inviting in younger folks. They resent it, and then make rules to try and get rid of them – without “legally” bidding them goodbye.
The tactic won’t work. People living in the community will fight being forced to leave their kids inside. Yet this incident does bring up many communities’ inability to regard improving the health of their members as a neighborhood goal.
The United States, as a nation, does the same. We don’t even mention public health in national debates – we just talk about the cost of health care. We should be debating the costs of preserving and improving health instead. Which brings up some of the many reasons for kids to play outside:
The Nature of Human Nature
Kids need to play outdoors because:
1. To foster a sense of community. Neighborhoods need to act like communities, where there are young and old and people who don’t look like us all around. The Edgewater vote speaks to the desire, not just for “peace and quiet” but to exclude – and perhaps involves more than worries about noisy kids. Societies that are close knit and have strong social ties produce communities whose members live longer. That includes the longest lived group on earth, Asian-American women in Suffolk County.
2. Prevent obesity – with 20% of children in America obese, you must let them play outside. High fructose corn syrup and misguided national food policies may in part be the reason, but lack of physical activity by a generation entranced by their cell phones and electronic toys is setting up a diabetes epidemic. We will all pay for the giant health care bills that result.
3. Improve immunity. Kids who play in the dirt get less asthma, and seem immunologically more robust – which may help prevent other immunological based illnesses like MS.
4. Make friends. Human social cohesion starts in the womb. Kids need to meet other kids and other adults, so they can play with those their own age and model their behavior on those older and hopefully wiser.
5. Enjoy play. Going outside means a whole new environment – and the freedom and creativity that brings.
6. Get involved in sports. Children are ingenious, and can play in circumscribed places – as they do all over the world.
7. Sunlight – yes, it makes for more skin cancer, but sunlight also enhances mood and resets biological clocks that have been rearranged by children spending so much time inside, around electronic media.
Adults and Kids
Are adults required to be around when kids play? Of course. But they need not always be parents. Remember days when the neighbors knew you? When other mothers and grandmothers, fathers and grandfathers enjoyed watching the neighborhood’s kids?
We need to return to such forms of social enjoyment – for all our sakes.
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