(I think everyone actually knows this, but here’s my list:)
1) More families with 2 working parents.
2) More TV and video game options. Yes, they existed when we were kids, but not as many or as interesting
3) More organized activity options. There are many many more options for organized activities these days.
4) Parents sense (right or wrong) that if not #3, then #2… so “organized activities” is the lesser of two evils.
5) More homework — depends on where you live
6) Parents worried about their kids being kidnapped/abused.
7) More suburban sprawl — hard to get places on foot or bike safely
8) New playgrounds are boring — where are the BIG slides, swings, zip lines and dangerous teeter-totters and merry-go-rounds?
9) New playgrounds are built in inaccessible locations. Rare is the good playground in a walkable location.
10) FORGOT THIS ONE: Divorce rate is higher (meaning more single parents usually meaning more daycare)
Some of this stuff is catch-22/chicken-and-egg stuff. When kids aren’t around and playing in the neighborhood, it encourages other parents to schedule organized activities or plug kids in to the screen too.
– Consider cohousing or moving to a denser/slower neighborhood. Structure matters. When driveways are long and people drive straight into garages, it’s harder to strike up conversations and have kids to run into each other. Amazing neighborhoods with kids running around still do exist, but it’s rare, and sometimes fleeting.
– Playborhood.com — alter your current neighborhood starting with your own house/yard (see also book: “Reinventing Community”) Be the change.
– Move somewhere rural enough that kids can ride around on their own on horses. My wife as well as many other people (in online comments) have had amazing childhood freedom with horses.
KID FIXES (bring the kids somewhere)
– Sudbury Schools — e.g. Sudbury Valley School — as a way to recreate the “childhood of your youth” with like-minded families. Bring the kids to the neighborhood. Nothing beats this!
– Drop-in unstructured camps — e.g. Stow, MA is offering an unstructured camp in Summer 2013. At a playground/huge field/basketball court/pavilion area with “counselors” there to help, but not to “do anything”.
– Skate Parks — My kids get bored at normal playgrounds fast. But at skate parks (with skateboards, bikes, scooters) they can often stay for hours. With lots of different aged kids. Up through teenagers and above. Age-mixing is amazing stuff. (Like at Sudbury Valley School I am always impressed with the older kids and their interactions with the younger kids. They really step up the respect and responsibility. And fun!)
– Lakeside beaches — nearby lakes with town beaches you often get kids playing together who don’t know each other at first for hours (if the parents can stay that long) Ocean-side beaches usually don’t have this same level of intermingling. But sometimes.
– Camps – there are some amazing day camps and overnight camps that are unstructured enough that they give the feel of this freedom and responsibility.
– Family Camping Trips – same idea as kid camps, but with the parents along. Not necessarily seeing each other all day, but together maybe at meals and in the evenings.