Kids Freaked Out By Grass, Squirrels and Playing Outside

Hi Readers — A fellow named Brian sent in this note about kids and nature. It sort of dovetails with a study just released in England that found an alarming percentage of kids are spending so much time indoors, they can’t identify things in the natural world anymore, including daddy longlegs. I’m no huge fan of spiders, but daddy longlegs seem like they should be part of everyone’s childhood, one way or another. (Just not laying their eggs in Bubble Yum.)  — Lenore

No Child Left Inside

by Brian

Last year I had the opportunity to work at an Outdoor Education facility in Texas. It was an amazing job and I do miss it.  We took fifth graders for four days and taught them about conservation and ecology, but mostly we just had fun.  A few things struck me while working there:

First, very few of these students had ever been outside before. Really. Unmanicured lawns and overgrown trees were exciting to these kids. They’d encounter a squirrel and freak out.

Second, and scarier: The kids were afraid of EVERYTHING. Dark roads? Check. Not being able to use their flashlights on an illuminated pathway? Check. Sitting on the ground during daylight hours? Yup. The worst were the things they had been warned about by their parents: Wolves and bears and other large animals that NO LONGER even exist in this part of the country and haven’t for decades, if not a century or more. We spent the week teaching these kids not so much about the water cycle, as planned, but that nature (and the world in general) shouldn’t be feared.

One of our activities was to boat our group of kids out to an island and let them have free play. Yes, we had some rules. They had to (sorta) stay within sight of an adult and have a partner with them. You probably won’t be surprised by their initial reaction: they did nothing. The first ten minutes were spent staring at each other. Absent direct adult instructions these kids had no idea how to play.

Third, and worst: I’ll just give examples here. One student was sent with a suitcase full of little plastic bags. Each bag was labled “First Night Pajamas,” “Second Day Outfit,” “Extra Shirt, Second Day.” I’ve never seen a kid smile so big as when I told him to just throw his dirty clothes into his bag. This child had zero ability to think for himself.

Another of my students came from an extremely low-income area. (Actually, most of them did). He arrived with his classmates on Tuesday. He was a little homesick, but nothing bad. Day two went fine, homesickness was easily dealt with. He was integrating fine with the group and was enjoying himself by lunch. Day three, Mom arrives out of no where and takes her son home. Her reason?  Her SON couldn’t handle being away.  He would be home in less than 24 hours, but HE couldn’t cope. Now, our facility is over two hours away from their school. His mother hired a cab to take her to our facility and back. We priced out the trip from the company website: $400+, because mom couldn’t deal with her lack of control.

Worst of all, there were kids we never got to meet — friends the students would talk about whose parents refused to give permission. Kids whose names we’d call out, only to be told by their classmates that their parents had pulled them off the trip at the last minute.

Working at this facility made me a believer in your cause. Thank you.  –Brian

76 Responses

  1. My daughter played with a Daddy-long legs for ages the other day – and yes we had the where is Mummy-long legs and baby-long legs conversation.
    Viva the revolution.

  2. My god. My… my GOD, that’s the WORST thing I’ve ever read!

  3. Wow, that’s just horrible. I feel bad for those kids.

  4. Link to the UK report? Or a link to a report on the report?

  5. Wow, depressing. I get the fear that leads to this, I don’t agree with giving into it, but I get it. What I don’t understand is how all enveloping the control and protection becomes. I mean, forget about the kids for a minute. How do these PARENTS stay sane?

  6. I sure hope this is exaggerated. I mean, not that I want him to be a liar or anything… but if it isn’t an exaggeration, that is just horrific and frightening.

  7. Wow, that’s scary!
    There is an “urban legend” in my area, that city kids don’t even know that milk comes from cows. This situation seems very familiar to that. I never knew people were actually that scared.

    I grew up in a house with a large garden, and learned from an early age which plants were edible.
    When I went to daycare at age two, the teachers were horrified that I was eating the clovers in the grass. (Apparently, I liked clovers back then?) They were scared that I was going to eat something poisonous, in spite of my mother’s reassurances that I knew which plants to eat. My mother (a botanist) even searched their playground to see if there were any poisonous plants – there weren’t.
    The teachers were still so terrified they kicked me out of the daycare centre.

  8. This is Brian, the author of the letter. I would love to say I exaggerated, but not so. The first battle on the first day was always getting the three or four (of 9-12) students to sit on the ground with the spiders, the pine needles, the insects.

    As for squirrels… I now dislike them. The kids want to point out every squirrel that happens to be in their vicinty.

    But it was the attitude of the parents that always got to me. The child who had his bags labeled. They weren’t just hand written notes. Each large plastic bag has an 8 1/2″ x 11″ sheet taped to it with the words at least 2″ tall. This child had never had to think for himself. He’d be given a task, he would give a feeble attempt, then look at me. He fully expected me to come and fix it. I don’t blame him at all. I blame mom.

    Then there are the parents who call for weeks in advance, asking question after question. Or just come up and your the facility. That happened a couple of times that I know of.

    No, no exaggeration. How sad is it when you ask a group of twelve kids if they’ve ever roasted marshmellows over a campfire and no one raises their hand.

  9. Were these inner-city kids? Did I miss that line? Because I have never come across children like these in my life. Every child I know gets dirty on a regular basis.

    Maybe my suburban experience is too rural to compare to this situation.

  10. Yikes – sad stuff!

    The thing which particularly worries me is that these poor kids are going to grow up to be doctors and teachers and soldiers and investment bankers. If their moms let them, anyway… If they haven’t been allowed to develop any kind of their own responsibility by this age, when DOES it start?

  11. That’s pretty much my factory farm kids nightmare. The husband and I are both pretty indoorsy but I refuse to raise children that are that sheltered.

  12. Daddy Long Legs are not spiders. They are arachnids, but not spiders. I learned this from my children, whom I am trying to raise as free range as possible.

  13. I dunno, low income kids from urban areas aren’t really representitive of kids in general. The lack of experience with nature isn’t that surprising to me. If they’re from low income families they probably don’t have the money to get out of the city much.

    The mother coming to get her kid is a little sad though.

  14. I’m not convinced that living in the city explains away any of this. The mother coming to get her son? The labeled clothing bags? I mean, come on, inner cities have squirrels. And children from anywhere should be able to play on their own without an adult telling them what to do.

  15. Forget the wild outdoors thing. I´ve started a campaign at school, asking teachers to allow my children to play in the playground even if it is raining. I mean, they have their raincoats and boots, and even the three year old is perfectly capable of putting them on and everything. But no, the staff is worried that they might get wet (they don´t shrink, you know, I told them). So they cram them in the corridors and hypnotize them with some “educational” movie instead.
    Anyway, on our way home I allow them to jump in the puddles and splash with all their might (always screaming “beware, here I come” before). All their classmates are green with envy…
    P.S. My children are the only ones who didn´t catch a cold all last winter. Maybe it´s a superstition, but I think nice, fresh air has something to do with it, dampness or not.

  16. I’m glad there *is* this outdoor center and a chance for the kids to have some of these experiences. We need more of that. I also find it completely believable, I can see some of the same in my suburban Northeastern US neighborhood.

    Things could be different. I spent a chunk of time recently in Zurich, Switzerland. The kids in the schools there all have one day a year at an outdoor center – a “wood school”. But, at least in my experience, they get outdoors much more than that. This isn’t the place to go into a lot of detail, but one story… My son and I frequently came across classes of preschoolers and K-ers out in the woods (the distribution of city center/housing and open space is different there) regardless of the weather. Won’t ever forget walking with my son in the woods in a fine drizzle and seeing a class of preschoolers walking around gathering wood. The adults had a fire going and a tarp strung up, they were clearly all out for the day. They all seemed quite happy too.

  17. That is just sad but I’ve heard stories similar to that. I grew up in the city (in Chicago). My kids are city kids but they benefit from have family that live in rural areas (as did I as a kid). Plus Chicago has a lot of great forest preserves around the area. Since my kids were babies we have taken them for hikes in the woods. I remember when my oldest first saw a Daddy Long Legs. She was almost 3 and about had a heart attack. There were dozens of them crossing the path we were on. She practically climbed up my husband like a cat and screamed and screamed until we left. My middle daughter used to try and pick them up, lol. She had no fear.

    I’m probably more fearful when we go for our hikes. I’m worried about ticks and poison ivy (not that it matters if they get either but I don’t want to have to deal with getting rid of them, lol). My kids just run through the forest like wild animals and I’m constantly telling them to stay on the path (so they don’t disturb the rest of the woods…it’s the rules of the parks).

    When I was 17 my family had this huge family reunion at this old Young Marine Camp that my aunt’s husband partially owned. This place had barraks and bathrooms and a huge mess hall/kitchen. There were places to set up tents, etc. It had been used for many years for young boys to learn about living in nature but had fallen into disrepair.

    My uncle was selling it so it was our last chance to use it. Most of the family showed up including 1 cousin I hadn’t seen since I was little. He brought his daughter with him who was 6 at the time. This girl had a hard time integrating into the family. Her mother was a neurotic nut (literally, he divorced her shortly after that and retained full custody of his daughter) and she had never been allowed to get dirty…ever. When we all sat around this huge bonfire one night and she was afraid to sit on the stumps and sat on her dad’s lap despite him telling her it was okay to get dirty (it was hard to avoid because it was humid and damp and rained at night…everything was always wet and muddy).

    Then the marshmallows came out. All the little kids went nuts running around finding sticks to use. She just stared at us confused. It wasn’t that she didn’t understand the concept of roasting marshmallows (she didn’t). It was that she had never even seen a marshmallow before, yet alone eaten one. her mother didn’t allow her to have sugar.

    The family just went nuts. She was terrified to even try a plain marshmallow. She took one bite and gave it back saying she didn’t want it. Her mother had her so paranoid about sugar she couldn’t eat it.

    I felt so bad for that kid.

  18. Hi, I don’t have kids, but I grew up very free range . . . more so even that other kids in the 70’s and 80’s, and so much more than kids today that I am horrified and convinced they will be utterly helpless when they leave home. I already see it in my youngest co-workers.

    About the “urban legend” about kids not knowing milk comes from cows, I believe it.

    When I was in college I did a research trip to India with a bunch of other American students. One of them was from NYC, who I will call K. K was afraid of animals. All animals. She had never seen anything bigger than a dog that wasn’t in a cage, and wild and feral animals scared her to death. In a country were cattle an water buffalo wander the streets, not to mention feral dogs, this was a problem.

    The milk came up when we were preparing “American” food for some Indian friends. Namely, fettucine alfredo. I asked K to get some milk (or cream if she could find it) in town. She came back to unsteadily present me with a bucket of white stuff. “It came out of a buffalo!”
    “Great, that means its creamier, perfect”
    “No! No! You don’t understand, they squeezed the buffalo and it came out!”
    I stared at her for a moment, and said, quietly, “K, just where do you think milk comes from?”
    “The grocery.”
    “What about those cows on the packaging?”
    “Yeah, yeah, I know, but I guess I always thought they were, um, allegorical.”

    K would now be in her thirties. At the time, I thought the whole thing was funny (as were many of K’s encounters with animals). New Yorkers!

    Now it frightens me. An entire generation may be growing up just and frightened, helpless and ignorant of the world around them. K was a very intelligent, well-educated young woman, and the rest of us chalked it up to growing up in Mahattan. But now, when it seems that all kids, even ones who don’t live in NYC are being raised this way . . . yikes!

  19. I had both my girls at an old-fashioned, 1950’s style camp this summer. Complete with a dedicated mud pit, zip-lines into the river, home-made slip N slides, constructed from plastic sheeting, a hill and a hose, and a hundred other things that most other facilities would have banned by now. I didn’t even know places like that existed any more. My children came home with clothes and bodies that were filthy almost beyond recognition. And great big grins. And lots of cool memories.

    I was grateful beyond words for it. They may spend ALL summer there next year.

    But I believe, fervently, that many city-dwelling kids may never have experiences like that. I also had my youngest at a day camp at the local zoo that was mostly populated by well-heeled suburbanites. She came home neat as a pin, every day, as did all her “camp”mates.

    Nope, Brian is right: our society is “sterilizing” a lot of our kids, and it is a very sad state indeed.

  20. I was so happy with the cub scout camp my boys went to this summer. They came home absolutely completely filthy every day. Now that’s a good camp!

    Not that I ever have a lot of problem with my kids being afraid of dirt. They can (and have) found dirt in church for heaven’s sake.

  21. When I went to daycare at age two, the teachers were horrified that I was eating the clovers in the grass. (Apparently, I liked clovers back then?) They were scared that I was going to eat something poisonous, in spite of my mother’s reassurances that I knew which plants to eat. My mother (a botanist) even searched their playground to see if there were any poisonous plants – there weren’t.

    We visited a children’s garden weekly last summer, they had a special free program for preschoolers. At one point Evangeline, on my back (so maybe it was the year before last that this story occurs) picked nasturtium and I told her she could eat it. So she did!

    Busybody: She’s EATING a FLOWER.
    Me: Yeah, I know!
    Busybody: No, you’re not listening – she’s EATING it.
    Me: Yeah. I know.
    Busybody: No, she’s EATING it.
    Me: Yes. She’s allowed to do that. It’s a nasturtium. It’s edible.
    Busybody: But she’s EATING it!
    Me: I gave it to her to eat. It’s fine.
    Busybody to a staff member: That woman’s letting her baby EAT a FLOWER.
    Staff member: Oh! Yeah, it’s edible!
    Busybody: Well, I didn’t know that!
    Me: Uh….

    So, I have this book on parenting advice through the centuries. (Not actual parenting practice, but parenting advice and manuals.) It’s interesting to note the cycle between extremely permissive parenting (well past FRK into neglectful at times!) and extremely “helicoptery” parenting (at some times a lot more extreme than what we’re seeing now). It’s actually a real relief to read it, because it makes me remember that all these situations we’re in now will, eventually, end and a “new” way of doing things will appear.

  22. That’s one of the saddest things I have ever heard of. Fortunately my FIL is determined that my kids will receive an education on bugs and critters and such things…because of my girls’ second cousin who is 11 and won’t walk outside without shoes because she is scared that the ants will bite her feet. For reasons unknown to me my MIL told that same thing to my four year old last spring, so she wouldn’t even walk from the sandbox to the porch without her shoes…I was so irritated that she would say such a thing to my child, but that phase didn’t last long, thank goodness!

  23. Uly, this book sounds really interesting. What’s its name?

    Regarding the story – yup, that pretty terrified me. I can’t imagine growing up without contact with nature.

  24. Dream Babies. I’m not sure it’s in print anymore, and it misses the last 30 years of advice altogether (being printed 30 years ago), but it’s still fascinating.

    Tracelp, I can do you one better. My sister’s husband’s mom told my nieces that they had to actively avoid mice and raccoons because they’ll run up and bite you. The fact that nothing could be further from the truth has been hard to drill back into their heads. That doesn’t beat the time she told them that if water gets into their ears they’ll go blind, though….

  25. Oh, I forgot why I came here.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/04/us/04school.html

    Apparently there’s some controversy over a speech by Obama about “stay in school, study, work hard” being aired to kids in school. It’s socialism! Or something….

    But it’s also relevant with this one quote:

    And Chris Stigall, a Kansas City talk show host, said, “I wouldn’t let my next-door neighbor talk to my kid alone; I’m sure as hell not letting Barack Obama talk to him alone.”

    What the heck kinda neighborhood does he live in where his own neighbors can’t talk to his kids????

  26. I grew up in rural Texas. When I was a kid, manicured lawns freaked me out.😛

  27. My daughter went to Girl Scout camp last summer. She decided to wear the same pair of socks all week. I was thrilled! 🙂

    http://picasaweb.google.com/lh/photo/0IAM_C83T8lT_GXYCsk3Mw?feat=directlink

  28. Re: grown ups telling kids stupid things:

    When I was 2 I got tubes in my ears… At my toddler swimming class three seperate adults (parents, instrucors, etc) told me that if I got my ears wet:

    1. It would really really hurt.
    2. I’d go dead.
    3. The water would leak into my brain and kill me.

    My mother only found out these things had been told to me recently. Needless to say I’m still uneasy about water.

    I suppose it’s good that people try to help, that whole takes a village thing, but sometimes grown ups have no more sense than the toddlers.

  29. I’ll admit my kids go pretty nuts when they see squirrels. But that has more to do with wanting to chase them and wishing they could pet them. They’ve been warned off from trying to pet any wild animals, but that doesn’t mean they don’t talk about wanting to.

    I can’t imagine taking the time to tell my kids what to do all the time, and I work at home, so I’m with them quite a bit. We have a closet that is currently the secret entrance to Neverland and the backyard is apparently populated by fairies. How can you not give kids enough freedom to come up with such things?

    And I won’t discuss how often I’ve had to deal with mud and dirt being tracked into the house. If I ask my husband for a carpet steamer for Christmas this year, that’s just a sane reaction.

    And I wouldn’t trade the mess for quieter kids.

  30. I’ve done a lot of work in gardens with kids – especially inner-city kids, but also with suburban kids who are scared (by their parents, natch) of anything wilder than a manicured lawn. But yes, a vast majority of the cable TV/ X-box generation have it on absolute authority that if you are around plants taller than two inches a snake will bite you and you will die. Also, all bugs have fatal bites. I’ve seen a dozen fourth-graders run screaming out of the garden because a flock (herd? covey?) of dragonflies had decided to visit and eat some mosquitos.

  31. We have that same program for fifth graders in our school district. I’m in Texas, so maybe it is the same program.

    Last week I was at a beginning of the school year PTA breakfast and one of the ladies I met had an older son. She was telling us all about how she went (as a volunteer) to the adventure camp with her son when he was in 5th grade and how much fun it was and telling us we should definitely go with our kids when they are in 5th grade.

    I kept thinking, “I don’t want to go with my kids, that would totally change the experience for them if their mother is there.” It’s supposed to be 4 days in the “wilderness” without your parents.

    I understand that they need some parent volunteers to serve as chaperones, but we are fortunate to be in a school where volunteers are never lacking. It is actually competitive to “get” to volunteer for events like this at school. I’m all for volunteering to help out, but I’m not going to deprive my kids of one of their few chances to be independent.

    If I want to go camping with my kids, we go on a family camping trip. This is not a family trip, it’s a school trip.

  32. Uly- I haven’t actually looked into it myself, but I had heard that the problem was that what Obama wants shown in schools is basically propaganda encouraging them not to question the government and government officials.

  33. I hadn’t really thought much about how disconnected kids are from the natural world until one of our kids’ preschool teachers mentioned how great it was that we taught our kids about nature. “Are we that unusual?” I thought.

    But maybe we are.

    We have taken the kids hiking since they were old enough to be stuck in carriers on our backs. (They are now 4 and 5.) I have always made an effort to show them all sorts of cool nature-y things. Last summer we kept snails and clams as “pets” (and they were a lot of fun to watch, really), and this year we’ve been collecting caterpillars and watching them transform to butterflies. (Two to go!)

    Our oldest was able to identify about 12 different species of birds at our feeder when she was only two. Right now we’re working on identifying trees by their leaves. (Heh. I also ate some nasturtiums yesterday from our garden, but the girls thought they would be too spicy and wouldn’t try them.)

    But the thing is, I guess I always thought this was normal. I was taught (or absorbed) all sorts of stuff before I was even in kindergarten, and it just made sense to expose my kids to nature, too. So it surprised me when the teacher commended me for something that I felt was just . . . normal.

    But I guess what’s strange is that we aren’t all that outdoorsy. We do try to get out as much as possible, but it’s not like we’re all kayaks and rock climbing and mountain biking on the weekends. We’re busy working parents, but in spite of that, it is incredibly easy to expose your kids to nature. It’s as easy as walking to the neighborhood park.

    We have an excellent nature center about 10 miles outside our mid-sized city, and we go there quite often. Lots of educational opportunities and great hiking trails an’ everything. I figured everyone here knew it was there and took advantage of it, but I am still discovering that many long-time residents of Our Fair City don’t even know it’s there.

  34. @Uly, @Banshee

    Yes, that was the case. The part people were upset about was an activity where students would right out how the thought they could help the president accomplish his goals. Parents complained that this was too political a message. (Bush btw made an almost identical speech to school children during his term and people on the opposite political complained.)

    The Whitehouse responded by changing the wording of the assignment to “how can you accomplish your achedemic goals” and saying theyed pipe out the text of the speach 2 days in advance to give parents a chance to review it.

    Some parets are still suspicious and most of the schools mentioned in the story are offering alternate activities for children whose parents don’t wand them to see the speech. At least one school has said it will not be shown at all.

  35. *write, not right

  36. We have a mom that we know who has NEVER let her daughter do a sleep over (the daughter is about to turn 15). The mom and dad are SO paranoid about EVERYTHING I am surprised the kids get out at all. And the sleep overs crack me up! These are held a peoples home they know! Thier friends (yes, our house too).

  37. There is a fairly complete preview of the “Dream Babies” book on Google books ( you have to look down the page a ways to find it). It is also available on Amazon. Both appear to be a newer/updated edition, 2008, I believe.

    I just skimmed through the first chapter, and was quite amazed at some of the things that were once common parenting practice. Such as swaddling the newborn to a board, and hanging them on the wall, and not changing the baby regularly because it robbed them of their “vital juices”.

  38. I don’t think what Brian describes is down to living in the city. Lack of exposure to unspoilt nature, yes; but fear of bugs and squirrels? No way. My family and I live in a city of 4+ million, and believe me, we have a lot of both. (Also raccoons, skunks, groundhogs, frogs, sparrows, starlings, pigeons, cardinals, blue jays, chickadees, giant cicadas, tent caterpillars, Monarch butterflies…) You can also get dirty and play independently in a city. (Just ask my seven-year-old–unfortunately I don’t have a picture of her last afternoon of Grade 1, when she and two of her friends “washed their hair” in a big mud puddle on the playground. Oops.)

    I agree that a lot of city kids–my own included; the spouse is a bit of an indoorsnik, and it’s harder to get out of the city and go camping, etc., when you don’t have a car–could stand to spend a lot more time out in the woods. But the level of bubble-wrapping and psychological hamstringing Brian describes takes serious and dedicated effort on the part of parents, caregivers, etc. How does anyone have that much time or energy?!

  39. My oldest niece by affection did go through a stage in infancy where she was highly suspicious of grass. She got over it, though.

    Kids can be amazingly paranoid, especially if their parents are. Teaching kids not to be paranoid is a hard sell.

    I admit to packing for a family camping trip this year in little labeled baggies, for myself, for the baby, and some for the older stepchild– I had gotten tired of hearing “I can’t find [x]” and finding clean clothes strewn all over the tent floor, where they then got soaked the first time the tent leaked. Also, it made sure we had dry clothes and made my packing and unpacking much easier. Mind you, we didn’t USE all those items. But since we were taking a 6 month old primitive camping for a week in the woods, I’m pretty sure the baggies didn’t ruin my Free Range qualifications.🙂

  40. For some, just the notion of letting your kids get dirty is anathema! And to be honest, I find myself giving a little inward shudder when I see my kids digging deeply in the sandbox. But that’s mostly because bath time is my least favorite parental chore. : )

    When I do see them getting down in the dirt, I have to hold myself back a little bit and remind myself that this is a Good Thing. A Great Thing, actually.

  41. Agree–this can’t be put down to city life vs suburban vs country, etc. And these kids do sound pretty extreme in their ignorance, even for ‘inner city kids’…

    What I think it all comes down to is that most of us–adult, teens, kids–are increasingly leading ‘indoor’ lives, and unless we have the good fortune to either love the out of doors (wherever that might be for us), or are sent to relatives, camps, vacations that are outdoorsy, or are schooled in environmental concerns, then we just don’t have much exposure to the out of doors.

    A positive note: my kids are much better with both practical outdoor skills, enviromental understanding, and outdoor recreational skills than I was at their age because of how my husband and I have raised them. ***Pats self on back!***!!

  42. Whenever my children show fear of something, our response is to say “Let’s learn more about it.” So when my son went through a phase of being afraid of spiders, we got books out on spiders, caught and watched spiders outside, watched David Attenborough’s _Life in the Undergrowth_, and talked about all the cool things spiders do. The fear didn’t last long in the face of these things. In fact, now we have a pet tarantula named Shelob.

    Knowledge and experience is a cure for almost any irrational fear (and a good many rational ones!). It’s too bad many children will never get the kind of knowledge and experience they need, since they are being told to stay away from things because they’re dangerous.

  43. Add my voice to those chiming in that this isn’t necessarily due to the city vs. country tug of war. They call them “urban jungles” for a reason – wildlife is amazingly adaptive and here in Chicago there is an astounding amount of it. Aside from the typical city squirrels, rats, possums and pigeons, I’ve run into packs of raccoons along the lake shore at dusk, seen rabbits by Wrigley Field and in Grant Park, and even rescued a Peregrine falcon on a downtown street (apparently they love nesting on the skyscrapers); my husband has seen coyotes in parks at night and there was that mountain lion in the city incident last year. You still need to keep an eye out for poison ivy or oak even in the most well-maintained park and damned if my cats aren’t subsisting on a diet that’s equal parts kitty food, pet grass and household bugs (seriously, even if we manage to squash a bug before the cats catch it, they’ll still jump in to lick the thing up, ewww!!!).

    The “kids in a bubble” mentality knows no boundaries – although I do suspect it’s a bit more prevalent in the suburbs than in cities or the country. It seems that in both the city and country, you deal with things like wild animals and bugs because you have to – in a densely packed city, it’s hard to avoid things in your environment, be it people, wildlife or plantlife, and in the country, you’re surrounded by wildlife – but in both cases, you learn to deal with things like bugs or wild animals or plants as a matter of course; the ‘burbs give you a bit more of the illusion of “control” over your environment and what you can be exposed to. Which is sort of a shame because that “unpredictability” of the great outdoors is at least 1/2 the fun!

    Then again, I’m one of those people who read Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods (excellent book!), laughed hilariously at his several-pages-long description of the multitude of things that can kill you on the Appalachian mountain trail (poisonous bugs, snakes, bears, coyotes, mountain lions, rockslides, freak storms, etc.) and thought like his adventure on the trail sounded like one hell of a fun time! For any of your outdoors lovers, check the book out – Bryson puts an immense amount of research into the book on the history of the trail, the many, many risks and rewards of hiking the trail, and weaves it deftly into his personal story about attempting to hike the entire trail. He completely admits to being terrified at points on the hike, but also loved it, learned skills he never would have otherwise, and treasured the experience. Which just about sums up how it seems many of us felt when we were kids playing in the great outdoors and wish that future generations would experience.

  44. @ Jennifer

    I agree with the sentiment, but I would say that knowledge is better with rational fears than irrational fears. For example, if you’re told spiders are dangerous, it’s perfectly rational to fear them, it’s just that the fear is based on false information. I on the otherhand know plenty about spiders, even as a kid I knew most were not dangerous. I am however still afraid of them because they’re CREEPY. I don’t mind bugs, just spiders. THAT is an irrational fear, and knowledge does me no good at all.🙂

  45. An updated version? I may get that!

    About the article – oddly, I really am only interested because this guy won’t even let his kids talk to his neighbor. The politics doesn’t interest me that much!

  46. Ugh, when did the low-income parents become helicopters? I always thought that was an activity for people with time (and/or money) on their hands. I count on poor inner-city youth to be latchkey kids, aka FRK!

  47. On another blog, a mom wrote about her kids having friends over, they pulled some carrots out of the garden for dinner, and the friend kids freaked right out.
    “You can’t eat that! It’s dirty! It came out of the ground!”
    “Where do you think food comes from?”
    “The store!”
    Much like the milk story above.
    Too bad. All little kids should get filthy dirty on a regular basis.
    Our grandson’s preschool is just wonderful for that. They go outside every day, unless it drops below zero, which happens only a couple times each winter. They run through sprinklers, actually MAKE mud puddles to spoosh around in, take long walks looking at all kinds of nature stuff (in a city of 300,000) and all the road work big machines…
    The other day, we picked the little guy up (he’s 3), and his teacher had him run get the ‘friend’ he caught in the garden. Oh yeah… they have a garden… I have many laaaarge zucchini on the counter, waiting for it to cool down enough to bake… anyway…
    He comes up with the little bug house in which there is a very large grasshopper. His teacher informed us that, although she is not fond of insects, he was so enamored of the grasshopper, she helped him chase it down, catch it, and put it in the bug house to observe for the afternoon. We brought the thing home for an overnight… the grasshopper hung out with the fish… then returned him/her/it to the garden the next day.
    Yay for teachers who will chase down a grasshopper with a 3 year old despite their own dislike. Yay for schools that make sure every kid is outside every day. And yay for the parents who send their kids to programs like this one.

    And boo for schools/parents who don’t want their students to hear our president speak. Dubya was all about ‘don’t question your leaders’… I think this guy might be about ‘think! learn! question!’ Oh. Maybe that’s the nature of the fear.

  48. The clothes in ziplock bags is a boy scout thing. It is to keep clothes dry in case of rain My nephew went to a boyscout camp that got flooded and, due to ziplocks, he was one of the few kids who had wearable clothing.

    My 4 year old daughter went to a pumpkin patch last Halloween and spent half an hour looking at mosquito larvae. I was so proud of her.

  49. Thanks, Uly!

  50. @Meagan It’s not just knowledge, but gradual, increasing exposure to the thing. I’m not a psychologist, but I believe that’s the way phobias are treated too. It’s worked very well for us, though it’s probably harder for adults with more ingrained fears. Six year olds are still pretty flexible!

  51. I spent my early years in a suburb of Chicago. Not inner-city, but not the country, either. My father made sure we went camping alot, especially since quite a few of my relatives lived in other states and we never had the money for hotels. Camping rocks!

    To Beanie: I am jealous of your kids! That camp sounds like fun! Can adults go, too?🙂

  52. Curtis,

    I don’t think it was the zip loc bags so much (soldiers use those, too) as the labeling. A lebel for what to wear and when to wear it is pretty controlling unless the kid is autistic or something like that. Then it works very well for them.

  53. That’s pretty frightening.

  54. I was talking to a friend of mine yesterday who works for an elevator company and she said that one of her techs who was out a middle school, said the students were coming up and asking him how to use the elevator! Talk about mind boggling.

    My son is 20 1/2 months old and already has the concept of pushing the buttons for the elevator.

    That and he’s well on his way to eating his “peck of dirt” too His first camping trip was when he was 6 months old. There definitely isn’t going to be any shortage of nature exposure here. I’m all about having him run around and get muddy and have fun. Why deny him the same fun that I got to have when I was a kid.

    Plus it gives you great stories for when they start dating😉

  55. I was talking to a friend of mine yesterday who works for an elevator company and she said that one of her techs who was out a middle school, said the students were coming up and asking him how to use the elevator! Talk about mind boggling.

    Maybe they live in an area without many elevators? Or they were being brats, as kids are wont to do?

    I remember reading about a kindergarten teacher in NYC who found that her (mostly wealthy) students, living in apartments, were well behind on using the stairs. It just never came up in their lives, so she had them practice.

  56. @Lola – I agree with the whole fresh air and getting sick parallel. Unfortunately, I see this with a lot of homeschooling families. Coops are almost always at half-capacity because Jr. had stomach pains overnight or a fever earlier in the week. They tend to camp out in the house for a week or two at any little ailment. Our doctor recently wrote an article saying that he did not believe in making children who stayed home from school for being sick stay in bed the whole time. He said that if they were feeling up to it then running around in the fresh air would do wonders for them. We are hardly ever sick and I think in part it’s because we don’t isolate ourselves in our house and we are always outdoors. We do our schoolwork on the back deck on any day that it is not snowing or freezing.
    This post made me think of one of my favorite books, “Undaunted Courage” by Stephen E. Ambrose (a brilliant author). The book follows the journals of Lewis and Clark. It has many stories of harrowing (and funny) contact with nature and wild life. It is a fascinating read. I read it to my children as a family read aloud, although I did skip some of it due to their ages as it’s a long book and some things would not have held their attention. Maybe if children were exposed to more literature like this it would spark an interest in nature and exploration.

  57. @MaeMae — interesting!

    I don’t know about anyone else, but around here, the rule that if you’re too sick to go to school you’re sick enough to stay in bed is intended to prevent malingering😉

  58. As a parent, even a wonderful program like yours, can be a huge milestone if you have a child who has never felt comfortable at sleep overs. It is normal to be a bit worried when sending your child away for the first time. If the parents and children seem nervous when approaching a new environment, you seem to be justifying their fears when offering such pointed criticism of their discomfort.

  59. […] Kids Freaked Out By Grass, Squirrels and Playing Outside « FreeRangeKids […]

  60. I keep my kids home when they’re sick because I don’t want to get other people sick.😉 They usually then will play a little out front or back if they feel up to it during the day.

    A whole week or more may seem rather long, but illnesses are contageous a lot longer than people may think they are.

    On the third hand, for me it always depends on the severity of the disease, and hte health of the people you’re visiting. I’ll more likely to bring a possibly ill kid to see healthy adults than ones who are immune compromised, for example. Or bring a cold instead of a fever.

    And, since we homeschool, we may even do a little learning anyway.😀

  61. I’ve been flamed by parents like those online, and sneered at by those types in person for years.
    My husband and I committed a horrific crime a few years ago, we took up geocaching with our kids. Not only do we leave the house when its really hot we do it when its raining and sometimes snowing! We throw a bag in the car and off we go to destinations kinda sorta known. We don’t tell any one where we are going and we have no idea when we will return, but off we go tromping through the woods, with bugs and dirt and mud!
    We took them swimming in a volcano, hiking at Timberline, to the top of the stunning Vista House in the Columbia Gorge.
    Geocaching is a treasure hunting game using coordinates and sometimes puzzles to figure out the coordinates. You arrive and stand baffled trying to figure out what evil person has hidden a wee container in the woods and why did you agree to this again?

    No soccer games, no little league, no cheerleading, nope. No micro managed life with mom stalking them with baby wipes and sani-spritz. Mama and Daddy take the little dirt babies (ages 9, 11 and 14 now) out and don’t CARE if they are filthy, even if it stains the van.

    They pick up the random snakes, they know which are which, they try to avoid poison ivy and we all try not to fall but sometimes we are reminded that we are given fatty tissue on the butt to cushion those falls or slides down a mountainside into a huge mud puddle.

    I know I know. We’re horrible parents who occasionally are permitted smiles from a teenage daughter who enjoys hanging out with us, and her weird little friends who ask to come with us.

  62. I love geocaching! It’s the coolest. But don’t stereotype parents who have kids in organized sports please. My kids love playing hockey but they still like to spend time with me and I haven’t bought sanitizer or hand wipes ever.

  63. @uly that’s actually not true. As a child I chased a mouse once and cornered it a hazelnut tree. When I tried to catch it, it bit me.

    I yelled, of course, and ran past my mom who wanted to know what was up, because I had read somewhere that wounds should be cleaned. So I ran home, opened the hot water and scrubbed away.

    The critter actually drew blood, mind you, but the iodine I insisted upon received hurt more.

  64. @uly that’s actually not true. As a child I chased a mouse once and cornered it a hazelnut tree. When I tried to catch it, it bit me.

    You’re correct in that a cornered animal will tend to attack.

    However, what THEY were told is that the animals will come AFTER THEM to bite them – that the mouse will chase them rather than the other way around.

    And that’s simply absurd.

    I never said mice won’t bite if threatened – any animal with sense would when confronted by something big enough to squish them under their foot and no way to get away! I just said that mice won’t run up and bite them, a statement I stand by – you’ve said nothing to contradict that.

  65. @uly yes, you are absolutely right. I was a little jetlagged when I read and commented. That poor mouse didn’t want anything from me and would have been perfectly happy to run away.

    I wonder what makes people tell such stories about dangerous man.hunting mice. I can understand warning about rabies, though, but that can be done w/out implying that anything not human is out to get you.

  66. Oh MaeMae, I don’t mean it to sound like making them all in the same group, just how I don’t fit into any of the “assumed to be normal or average” types of parents.

    My mother was always so over protective to the point of stalking me in adulthood that I swear, if she were parenting a young kid now, she would be the hoverbunny parent (a cross between a helicopter mom and a a psycho little bunny foo foo bopping everything in the head with a rock). Our geocaching jaunts used to terrify her, she would get worked up into such a tizzy that we started sending her pictures of everything to see if she would calm down or explode.

    She calmed down over the years, she now understands that I am not in fact trying to kill my kids, but rather to give them adventures and share with them the wonders that this planet holds for them.

  67. Actually, Peter, mice are extremely unlikely to spread rabies for two big reasons:

    1. Mice are very small. If they get bitten by a rabies carrier (typically an animal much bigger than they are) they usually die long before rabies can be a problem.

    2. Mice have what’s called a “dry bite”, so even if they somehow become infected (already very unlikely) it’s harder (not IMPOSSIBLE, just harder) for them to spread rabies because it’s spread through saliva and there usually isn’t much saliva coming out when they bite, that’s just how their mouths are formed.

    In fact, the one time *I* got bit by a mouse I was told by the professionals that there has never been a case of rabies transmission via mouse in NY state.

    I still had to get a tetanus shot, though. That was a load of fun. HOW many times do you have to say “I’m left-handed” before the nurse gets the hint and gives you the shot in your RIGHT arm? Good thing I kept snatching my left arm away from her, couldn’t move my right arm for a *week*. If that’s what tetanus SHOTS do, I for sure know I never want the real thing!

  68. Which isn’t to say that you can’t get sick from mice. Plague and hantavirus spring to mind. But so long as you aren’t living in close contact with mice and their fleas you’re probably not at risk for plague (there have been a few relatively recent cases of plague in North America, though it’s not really what I’d consider a high risk – though in fairness, it can be spread through the fleas of other mammals as well as mice, and, apparently, through food), and as for hantavirus – New Mexico, the state with the most cases, has still only had 63 in the past 16 years. Stay around from mouse poo and try to keep them away from your house.

  69. Ugh, when did the low-income parents become helicopters? I always thought that was an activity for people with time (and/or money) on their hands. I count on poor inner-city youth to be latchkey kids, aka FRK!

    My godsons come from the inner-city of Chicago. They moved away a couple years ago, which is how we met them. The family has never been off of Welfare and never expects to.
    Their mother is a helicoptor. Getting dirty is bad. Running is dangerous. Playing with two toy cars so they bang in to each other is too rough. The five year old assures me if he gets three mosquito bites he must go to the hospital, if he gets five he might die. The first the thing the two year old says when he meets a dog (we had three large ones when the boys first started coming to us) is “That doggy will EAT me”. He says this from the safety of an adult neck, where he scrambles to escape the dogs.

    I could go on, and we are working hard to remedy this (the boys met their first bonfire, saw their first stars, caught their first cricket, saw their first horse, picked their first apples, tomatoes and cucumbers, played in their first mud puddle, and danced in the rain at our house, where their mother sends them most weekends).
    The baby went to the Emergency room for baby ACNE when he was just two weeks old- I kid you not, and has gone there frequently for similar causes regularly his two years of life.

    A friend of ours who works with inner city families was visiting once when the family was here and we were trying to explain why it wasn’t helpful to freak out over a minor skinned knee. Later the friend who works with inner city families explained that quite often today, in both inner city families and suburban families- THIS sort of helicoptering over health issues IS the way you show you are a good parent. Our friend wondered if it’s because most of the families she works with (and our godsons’ mother) have no experience with less tangible forms of nurturing and good parenting, coming from dysfunctional homes usually with no father present- so they love in the best way they can figure out, the way most visible and tangible to them- they over-focus on issues of perceived health and perceived safety.

    That matches with what we observe of our godsons and their mother. .

  70. Holy Cow! I can’t imagine anything like this happening to my kids, or me, for that matter. From the time me and my siblings were able to fend for ourselves, about 6 yrs old for me, my parents would take us to the desert (yes, the DESERT!) to camp… on MOTORCYCLES. I learned to ride my first MC when I turned 9. Snakes, scorpions, lizards, hornytoads, kangaroo rats, if it’s a desert animal, we found it. No baths, sometimes for a week. No toilets, either, just dug a hole (and made sure to check it beforehand). My parents had no problem making sure we were not afraid of geting dirty or investigating some unknown creature (with careful guidance, of course) so as adults we aren’t scared of our own shadow. Also spent time on the grandparents farm, helping with the milking (don’t stand behind a cow when they fart!) or the harvest; peas, beans, corn, strawberries, walnuts, riding horseback to get out to the fields. My kids were kind of jealous, since the farm is gone and they can’t experience the same thing.

    One good thing for my daughter was when she was in jr. high (diagnosed with ADD), I found a great camp for ADD kids in the Big Bear area (California) that allowed the kids to experience everything about living in the wild. They got to sleep in 3-sided cabins that opened out into meadows, swim in a real pond, canoe down a river (in a REAL wooden canoe), and how to find edible food. It was so awesome, we were going to send our son with his sister the following year but the organization that ran it was unable to get more funding, so they had to shut it down, and in the following years the wildfires burned down the camp. So sad, the kids were upset for days.

    We’ve taken our kids on week-long trips into the California wilderness, travelled extensively to modern and historical places, walked for hours and let them just feel alive WITHOUT hovering or fretting over their every move. They’ve created their own lives from their experiences in life. My daughter is studying pediatrics and my son, videogame design. I’d say they’ve turned out okay.

  71. Why would any one do that to there kids? They would of had A great time. To me it sounds like a lot of fun.

  72. @uly I had an interesting experience the other day. We live in the country, with many cats. It’s not uncommon for them to bring in mice that they haven’t killed, so I’m stuck with getting this terrified mouse back outside.

    One night, they brought in a fairly little one and I heard it squeaking. I went into the kitchen, and it was surrounded by a semicircle of cats. I tried to pick it up with a paper towel, but had to grab it with my bare hand. It was at that point that the little rat sunk his teeth into my pinky! He was small enough that he didn’t break any skin, though I could feel him try to chew on the finger:P I thought about getting him to let go, but it helped to keep him from running out of my hand.

    I let him keep his hold on my finger until I had him outside, and I was able to convince him to let go:)

  73. i dont believe this at all, its completely exaggerated. ive worked with kids now for 10 years aged 4-11 and have never seen this. some kids prefer not to get dirty or physical, but nothing even close to what i read here.

  74. If you’ve never seen a squirrel before, in your entire life, yeah I can see you finding them to be remarkable. There are some regions where kids just don’t get into nature at all.

  75. Thank goodness for scouts! I’m a troop leader for Girl Scouts and my wife is a leader for Boy Scouts.

    While we don’t like how the official Boy Scout organization is discriminatory, we feel the benefits outweigh that issue and our troop is fantastic.

    In two weeks my then 14-year-old son hiked 72 miles, dealt with the raw outdoors and injuries, and had a fantastic time at Philmont, NM. We are taking our 9-year-old Girl Scouts camping and teaching them to cook.

    It’s important to take the fear out of life, otherwise you’re dominated by it and start believing Fox News is real.

  76. […] Skenazy had a recent post at Free Range Kids in reference to a recent British study that found children were so cooped up at home that they […]

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