A survey of American parents asked, “How long could your child play outside before getting bored”? The average answer: 32 minutes.

Many of the parents put the blame on technology. With the latest video games, computers and smart phones available “Duck, Duck, Goose” and “Red Rover” don’t stand much of a chance.

I’ll admit, if the video games I had as a child were as awesome as the latest PS2 games, I probably would have spent more time playing, too. The games we had involved vaguely human looking smudges playing baseball or shooting ducks or whatever. If I could’ve been stealing cars and assaulting hookers in HD splendor, my GPA would definitely have taken a back-seat to GTA.

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But, I think the attitudes of ADULTS are as much to blame for kids not playing outside. When we played, especially in the summer, it was 1.) all day and 2.) mostly unstructured. That is to say, we’d just figure out different things to do WHILE WE WERE DOING THEM. If a group of 10 or 15 kids were out in my neighborhood, I can only imagine the chatter on the Nextdoor App. “Whose kids are these running wild in the neighborhood?” “Where are their parents?!?” And, “Those kids don’t even look like they live in this neighborhood”, because no Nextdoor thread is complete without a least a little racial profiling.

Our parents made us play outdoors but, more importantly, they LET us play outdoors. It would probably be a lot more enticing for Gen Z if they could play in an unstructured and largely adult-free way. Here are some of the crazier games the kids in my neighborhood would play. The crazier part, though, is that our parents let us do it.

1.) Sweet Gum Ball Fights
(This is what the seed pod from a sweet gum tree looks like.)
In the spring and early summer, these things were green and VERY hard. Also, as seen in the photo, they were spiked with thorns like some kind of tiny, arboreal mace. They hurt, but not all that bad. The way the game worked was you had a bunch of kids one side, a bunch on the other and some kind of “neutral zone” (like a driveway) in the middle. Also, thousands…and I do mean THOUSANDS…of these little green maces everywhere. Sweet Gum was a very popular tree in my neighborhood.

The most interference we ever got from a parent was, “You kid’s make sure you don’t hit my pickup with those damn sweet gum balls! I just had it waxed!”

Now, THAT’S the kind of parental indifference we need to get back to!

2.) BB Gun War
Every male kid in my neighborhood had a B.B. gun. Every kid also had access to safety goggles or a welder’s mask because ours was a blue collar neighborhood. In BB Gun War, you’d split up into two teams. One team would go out and hide in the woods and the other team would give them 5 minutes and then come out looking. You shot whoever wasn’t on your team, those who’d been shot would have to go back to “base” and wait until one team was wiped out.

Believe it or not, back then the only things our moms would say was “TRY not to aim at the face” and “Only shoot the other kids. No birds or unarmed children”. Man, this country has CHANGED!

3.) Bicycle Jousting
I know what you’re picturing and you’re wrong. Yes, we would be on bikes and, yes, we would have something kind of like a lance (usually a broom or mop handle). The object of Bicycle Jousting was the sidle up alongside another kids bike and jab the “lance” into their front spokes. If done perfectly, this would result in the other kid going ass-over-head onto the street with relatively little permanent damage (to the bike AND the kid).

So, parents, if you want your kids to play outside more you’ll have to do your part: butt out and LET THEM PLAY!

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