Why are we organizing our kids so much?

The data confirm what I have long suspected:

Childhood’s outdoor pastimes are declining fast and the rate has accelerated in the past decade, especially the past five years, according to the National Sporting Goods Association (NSGA) annual survey of physical activity.

Since 1995, the portion of children ages 7 to 11 who swim, fish or play touch football has declined by about a third. Canoeing and water skiing are down by similar amounts.

The relationship between kids and their bikes is especially telling. In 1995, 68% of children ages 7 to 11 rode a bike at least six times a year. Last year, only 47% did. The sales of children’s bikes fell from 12.4 million in 2000 to 9.8 million in 2004, a 21% decline, according to Bicycle Industry and Retailer News,an industry magazine…

Children today tend to get outdoor exercise by appointment.

Soccer participation has been unchanged in the past decade – about 28% of kids age 7 to 11 play the sport. Soccer leagues and soccer camps are in full bloom this summer, although non-organized soccer games are uncommon.

Organized outdoor activities have kept kids moving. They are declining but much more slowly that unstructured outdoor play.

Little League participation has fallen to 2.1 million children, down 14% from its peak in 1997. But overall baseball playing – pick-up games, catch, pickle – has declined nearly twice as fast, the NSGA surveys show.

Here is the full story.  Now how about some hypotheses? 

1. Escalation of a signaling game.  You have to get those kids ready for college now.

2. Reference frames are relative, and an initial slight increase in parental paranoia has fed upon itself and has been bumping up safety and control standards for many years.

3. Suburban sprawl is a tax on spontaneity.  And as more kids get trapped into planned networks, it becomes harder to go it alone.

4. Parents have always wanted to exercise such control; only now has the ongoing growth of civil society provided the requisite institutions.

Any other nominations?


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