We live in a time when kids are more overweight than ever, more disconnected than ever, more immobile than ever, and more depressed than ever.
This problem isn’t coming from the public schools.
It’s not the teachers’ fault, it’s not the school administration’s fault, and it’s not the board of ed’s fault.
It’s not the President’s fault.
It’s not the Republicans’ fault and it’s not the Democrats’ fault.
You know whose fault it is?
It’s the parents’ fault.
Parents are to blame for this epidemic.
Parents in the United States are at fault for their kids staying inside, for insufficient recess in schools, for technology addiction and for poor diets.
You don’t want to hear that? You don’t like being called out on it?
For some people this may be coming from a place of total naiveté.
They may not know any better.
They may believe they are doing the best things for their kids.
Ignorance could be 100% to blame for it.
If that’s the case, parents need to be educated.
AND I AM HERE TO ENLIGHTEN YOU.
A large part of parenting is uncomfortable.
It’s supposed to be uncomfortable.
And by uncomfortable I mean frustrating and confusing.
Parenting is probably the most challenging thing you will ever do in your life.
One of the hardest things for parents to either comprehend or acknowledge or accept is that putting your kids in adverse situations where they are uncomfortable is one of your biggest and most important jobs.
You need to teach your kids how to be uncomfortable.
How to tolerate discomfort, how to manage discomfort, and how to overcome discomfort.
By “adverse situations” I am not talking about Hunger Games scenarios.
I mean consistently giving them multiple opportunities to be in situations where conditions are not ideal.
I mean giving them opportunities to work up a sweat. I mean giving them opportunities to be in non-climate controlled environments.
There is one very easy place to begin.
It’s free, and everyone can do it.
What is it?
MY GOD PEOPLE.
SEND YOUR KIDS OUTSIDE.
Life is full of inconveniences and discomfort.
The weather is like the most basic and constant discomfort and inconvenience there is! The weather is a fucking asshole about 50% of the time!
It doesn’t do what you want when you want it to!
And you know how much control we have over that?
Just like we have no control over anyone else in our lives except ourselves.
We can teach our kids to only seek out comfortable situations and conditions, or we can teach them to confront discomfort, to make the best out of it, and to kick discomfort’s ass.
Getting some exercise, not always choosing the easy path, and getting your butt outside are the simplest places to start because all you need to do is open your front door.
We not only make excuses for our kids to stay indoors and do close to nothing, but we have made it the status quo.
Especially at school.
In general, our kids do not get enough outdoor recess time in school.
If they get any at all.
This is the result of two things.
First, it is the result of people (mistakenly) believing that elementary school students succeed most and achieve more later in life when following a curriculum jammed with standardized test score chasing practices. This comes from disconnected and out of touch policy makers and misguided parents thinking kids benefit from being hammered with academics and a rigorous course load starting in kindergarten.
This, in turn, leads to very little learning through play, very little down time, and very little recess.
The second reason recess has fallen by the wayside in the majority of schools here in the US is because parents mistakenly believe their children cannot handle cold or wet weather.
Where did this belief come from?
When did this happen?
I hate to say, “when I was a kid,” but when I was a kid we were outside all the time! Are we the parents to blame?
How did we turn so soft?
I have really great memories of my childhood, being outside from dawn to dusk, winter, spring, summer and fall.
It was the best!
So where did we go wrong? Is it the generation 15 years behind me?
How did any generation let this happen?
I know we didn’t have smart phones and iPads back in the 70’s and 80’s, but we had Atari and we had TV and those things were just as addictive back then.
Every generation has their thing.
When our kids are parents they’ll have to deal with something that hasn’t even been invented yet.
Maybe it’s just the immediate access to everything that has made us seek out literally zero discomfort.
But we are getting closer and closer to those satirizations of people we saw in Wall-E.
That movie is only 11 years old, be we are about 1000 times closer to that being a reality very soon.
We are not teaching our kids that moving their butts and getting outside is not only good for them, but necessary for them.
We have higher rates of depression in teens than ever before, and the number one thing they can do for themselves to help that is to get exercise.
And yet, we don’t teach our kids that.
And you know why we don’t teach our kids that?
Because if we want to teach them that discomfort is a necessary part of life, that doing things that are uncomfortable will help them to be happier and healthier and more successful in the long run, then we have to do those things, too.
We have to move our asses. We have to limit our technology time. We have to have self discipline. We have to get out of breath and work up a sweat and put on a warm jacket and a hat and gloves and go outside when it’s cold or tolerate temperatures above 80° without air conditioning.
Sending your kids outside when the weather conditions are not sunny, 75°F, and 0% humidity is not a punishment.
It is not depriving your kids of comfort.
NOT sending your kids outside in all forms or weather and all temperatures IS depriving them of opportunities to develop resilience, to engage in creative play, to socialize with other children, and to work out all the sh*t that prevents them from focusing when they are in school.
It helps them sleep better, and it helps them stay healthier.
You know why kids get more sick in the winter?
Not because it’s so cold outside.
It’s because we keep them cooped up all day long in germ-infested classrooms and houses.
And we don’t ask them to help clean or sanitize anything while they are sitting, protected in their cozy houses, not getting out of breath or experiencing even the slightest bit of adversity.
But that’s a whole different blog post.
I am tired of my kids not getting the level of activity they need and the mental breaks they need at the elementary level because there are some parents who don’t want their kids outside when the weather is a little chilly.
I live in CT where the average January temperature is 36° F. Of course there are days where the temperature is lower than that and days where the temperature is higher.
Yesterday when I woke up it was 0°F with a windchill of -17°F.
I think it got up to close to 10° yesterday afternoon, but the windchill was still below zero. That’s pretty chilly, especially when compared to our average high temperature.
This past Saturday we had snow which turned to freezing rain and then rain on Sunday during the day, and then the temperature plummeted. And the snow turned into a sheet of ice.
The trees were all encapsulated in ice.
It was really quite beautiful.
Yesterday was Martin Luther King Jr. day which is a holiday here, so the kids had no school.
They were outside sledding at 10 a.m. It had warmed up to 3°F by then. The windchill was still well below 0.
I went out around 10:30 to check on everyone. I just wanted to make sure they were all warm enough.
“MOM!!! THIS IS SO AWESOME!!!” they said.
They were sledding on old school coasters and flying down a solid sheet of ice on top of snow like Chevy Chase on his lubed up coaster in Christmas Vacation.
They were cooperating and laughing and getting tons of exercise and having the time of their lives.
In fact, they were having so much fun that I had to go out an hour later and drag them all inside to eat lunch.
Number 6 and 7 didn’t even take off all their stuff.
They sat at the table and ate their lunch in their snow pants and boots, and then as soon as they were done they put their jackets and hats and gloves back on and went back outside for another three hours.
They were outside for over four hours yesterday.
They didn’t get sick, they didn’t get frostbite, they didn’t die from overexposure.
And this was a day that was significantly colder than our normal temperatures.
YOUR KIDS CAN HANDLE THE COLD.
As the saying goes, There is no bad weather. Only bad clothing.
We don’t have fancy North Face jackets.
All those jackets my kids are wearing?
They are from Costco.
Except for the purple one. That was a hand-me-down from someone — I forget who — and it’s from Land’s End.
You don’t need fancy super expensive clothing to brave the elements.
The boots the kids are wearing have been handed down from one kid to the next for the past seven years. Number 6 is wearing boots that used to be Number 3’s and before that were Number 2’s.
Number 4 was wearing my boots.
Number 7 was wearing boots that began as Number 4’s boots.
They were plenty warm enough in their Costco and hand-me-down attire.
As a matter of fact, they were sweating.
Your kids can handle the cold.
It’s good for them.
Being active and outside is good for them.
It’s not a punishment.
It’s a necessity.
As for the people who are about to claim, “What about the poor adults who will have to supervise these kids outside at recess when it’s cold???”
WHAT ABOUT THEM???
WE ARE THE MOST OBESE COUNTRY ON THE PLANET.
By A LOT.
40% of Americans have prediabetes or type 2 diabetes.
Your kids are not at risk of developing frostbite.
YOUR KIDS ARE AT RISK FOR DEVELOPING DIABETES.
And so are you.
We are making ourselves sick and we are killing ourselves because we are not moving enough and we are eating like shit and we won’t go outside if we have to wear a hat and gloves in order to keep warm.
So to those “poor” adults who are forced to go outside and supervise students when it’s cold?
They need to get outside, too.
WE ALL DO.
A couple of years ago I spoke at a conference up in Canada. It was February, and it was cold.
Normal cold for Canadians.
There was snow everywhere. A lot of it.
My friend picked me up from the airport, and we she had to run some errands and I got to see a little bit of the area.
You know what the schools have up there?
And the kids bring their ice skates to school if it’s their skating day and they go ice skating at recess.
That is so awesome!
Our school district has a policy that the kids don’t go outside if the weather is below a “feels like” 20°F.
This bothers me as there can be many days in the winter when the temperature is below 20° with the windchill, and our kids only get 20 minutes per day outside as it is.
So I posted this question on the Facebook page:
The feedback was quite educational and eye-opening.
Here in Wisconsin, our kids go out if the windchill is above zero. So today it is 4 degrees with out wind and the kids go outside. I live in an area where kids come properly dressed. There s a rule that you can’t go out onto the field unless you are wearing boots and snowpants. If you don’t have them, you have to stay on the plowed blacktop area (which is boring, so kids usually bring their gear).
I live in Minnesota, near the Twin Cities. We go outside until the temp or wind chill is below 0. Kids around here tend to come to school in gear, or get help from community outreach programs to help get them proper gear. We do have a huge amount of hats, gloves, snow pants and boots for kids to borrow if they forget or loose something.
My sister teaches in Pennsylvania. I think they stay in under 30F
I substitute teach at a private elementary & middle school in NW CT and was there today. The kids have to be outside for a few minutes at a time to go between classes or get to the dining hall no matter the weather. So they dress appropriately or bear the consequences. Today, morning recess gave the elementary students the option of staying in or being out. About 25% chose to go out. After school, they didn’t have a choice. Everyone was outside from 3 to 3:30 unless their parents came before then. Not one kid complained about it. In fact, the had a ball sliding down the icy hill on the playground. We were all happy to go inside by 3:30 though. 5 degrees with a windchill is no joke!
NJ here and I feel like my son is NEVER outside for recess! Drives me crazy
And the most shocking of all…
I do not live in a colder temps state. Exactly the opposite. Our district does not let us go out if it’s 50 or below. Kids need to play.
I have a friend who lives in New Hampshire.
Yesterday after I posted a question on the Facebook page asking about outdoor recess policies at readers’ schools, she sent me a message.
Her kids have cross country skiing and snow shoeing for gym class.
HOW AWESOME IS THAT?
Yesterday was eye opening for me.
And maybe a little disturbing.
We are failing our kids.
It doesn’t matter how early your kid can read or how many ways your kid can solve a math problem in second grade if she is gonna put herself in an early grave because nobody ever taught her that she needs to move her butt and get outside and that she actually CAN tolerate all kinds of weather.
We have anxious, obsessive-compulsive, depressed kids who aren’t being taught that getting exercise is the BEST way to combat those mental health issues and that getting outside is something your body NEEDS.
We are punishing kids in school who can’t sit still and focus, and yet we have set up a system that puts them in that position.
I am tired of my kids’ physical and mental health being affected by parents who refuse to do the right thing, the healthy thing, — the life-prolonging thing — because it’s the hard and uncomfortable thing.
It’s time to make a change.
And the change starts right here.