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playing_homespun_7_30RISMEDIA, July 30, 2009-(MCT)-Joy Passatta loaded her two children, a 12-year-old daughter and a 6-year-old son, onto their bikes on a hot summer morning. They rode a mile to swim class, where the kids burned off more energy in the pool. Then they biked home.

Later, she had more active plans: a T-ball game and a mile-long walk with the dog.

And despite all that, Passatta still worries that her kids don’t play outside like she did growing up.

“We rode bikes everywhere, and we knew everyone in the neighborhood,” the Roseville, Mich., resident said. “At night, you’d hear my mom scream down the block, ‘Hey, the street lights are on, come in already!’ You don’t hear moms screaming for kids to come home anymore. In the summer, I don’t think I was in the house at all. At least part of the day, my kids want to watch TV and play the Wii.”

Her kids are not alone. It’s no secret that even in the warm, sunny days of summer, children don’t play outside like they used to.

U.S. children spend 50% less time outdoors than they did 20 years ago, says the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan. The lack of running or biking or splashing around in the sprinkler is one likely factor in rising childhood obesity rates, said education professor Rhonda Clements, who conducted a 2004 study, “An Investigation on the Status of Outdoor Play,” for Manhattanville College in Purchase, N.Y. In it, 85% of mothers reported their children spend less time playing outside than they did growing up.

And obesity is not the only concern.

“One of my fears is that next generation won’t appreciate the outdoors,” Clements said. “Summer vacation used to mean you could get outside and play with your friends. This generation, when they won’t experience that, they won’t see the need for public parks. When it comes time to say, ‘What do we need for the city, more parking spaces or a new public park?’ they’re going to vote for parking spaces. The next generation is the one I personally worry about most.”

What’s keeping kids indoors? No doubt, technology plays a part. With video games, hundreds of TV channels, DVDs delivered to your doorstep, endless Internet browsing and clips of hilarious cats on YouTube, kids have many more entertainment options than previous generations.

But Clements said fear plays a role, too. With tragic headlines in the media, parents are often reminded about the danger of letting kids roam free. So, Clements said, they tell their kids they can’t play outside alone. And that carries a dangerous message of its own. “You don’t want to become the hovering parent,” Clements said, “so protective and fearful of letting kids go outdoors and making use of play spaces.”

Jill Kathan’s daughter is 2, but the mother from Livonia, Mich., is already conscious of trying to encourage her to be active and play outside. She takes her outdoors every day for walks, wagon rides or just to play in the yard.
But she admits that as her daughter grows, she isn’t sure how comfortable she’ll be letting her ride her bike around the block on her own.

How to get children moving
-Set a positive example by having an active lifestyle yourself.
-Make physical activity part of your family’s daily routine, such as a daily family walk.
-Provide equipment that encourages activity-sporting goods, jump ropes, water guns.
-Be positive about what physical activity your child does.
-Make it fun and suited for your child: That might mean a structured activity like Little League or free time to ride a bike.
-Institute “no electricity time,” when the kids can’t turn on the TV or video games.
-Busy parents who can’t supervise their kids outdoors could form playgroups and take turns playing baby-sitter.

(c) 2009, Detroit Free Press.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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