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Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Kids who play outside are more likely to get a job right out of college, or are they?

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A friend recently posted on Facebook a picture of her son climbing a tree with the caption, "I rather want him playing outside." It got me thinking about whether it makes a difference in our kid's future career if they spend more time in the trees, grass, ocean, etc.

I should say first that I think playing outside is great for kids. But, if I look at the benefits strictly from a Headhunter Dad perspective it is not so clear that swinging and jumping and running is going to help them get into college or get a better job.

So, what are the benefits from playing outside?
  • Exercise and health are certainly linked to physical activity. This is based on the assumption that kids will naturally move around more outside as opposed to inside. Looking at my own kids they seem to move around an awful lot inside as well!
  • Vitamin D (sunlight). Can't argue with the body's need for this critical ingredient.
  • Interaction with the natural world. Maybe only if you live out in the country as opposed to the center of Manhattan or Tokyo.
  • Distance vision is better for kids who spend more time outdoors (see study).
  • Another study seems to indicate that playing outside (in green spaces) increases your child's attention span. Also related to getting out in the woods and on the grass is lowered stress.
What are the detriments from playing outside?
  • If our kids are outside, then they are not likely to be doing homework (reading, math, history) or working in internships, or playing piano, or practicing for their upcoming SAT exams.
  • While it is healthy to run around, it is less healthy to break an arm falling off a swing; potential injury could be considered a downside.
  • Sunlight (skin cancer, sunburn...)
I also came across several suggested benefits that I could not entirely agree were exclusive to being outside:

  • More opportunities for creativity and free play. I don't think our kids need to be outside to be creative. I spent hours and hours building mutant football stadiums with legos when I was a kid and think that the 6 arm wide receiver I came up with was pretty creative.
  • More social interaction with their peers and therefore more opportunities to learn social skills. I guess this applies if you are not allowed to have friends inside the house. Does online gaming count as interaction with peers?

Speaking with the Headhunter Dad's Dad the other day about this topic he commented that his normal routine after school was to rush through his chores and then head outside to play with his friends until it was time to wash up for dinner. He will be 80 next year so that puts him at 18 years old in 1954. He went on to earn a Phd and had a very successful career in a multinational company without worrying about internships in HS, volunteer activities, AP classes, SAT scores, or extracurriculars. I have my suspicions that the competition to get into good colleges in 1954 was... well, less competitive. Harvard received a record number of applications that year, 4,000 of which they accepted more than 25%. In 2014, Harvard received 34,295 applications for their freshman class. They admitted, 2,023 a drop down to 5.9%! If it has gotten more competitive to get into the top schools and and top companies are we hurting our kid's chances by encouraging them to play at the park?

Colleges and companies are (generally) not judging our kids by their physical health or how tan they are. Even the jobs related to natural sciences will prefer the bookworm with a published research paper as opposed to the kid who spent her time running through the woods.

Should I be relenting more often to my daughter's pleas to take her to the park? Will it help her get into the college of her choice and subsequently result in a job offer?

Just playing outside does not seem to offer any particular career benefits for our kids. However, if we add a few parameters to their outside adventures, we do start to see results. Playing outside with lots of other kids helps them to develop better social skills. These skills are valuable for both the college and job interviews. Creativity and problem-solving are both high on the list of requirements for new grads with most companies. Our kids can develop these outside but we parents need to step back and give them some room (like pretending you don't notice when they walk past the window with a shovel and hose towards your flower beds). However, I believe that the world has changed from when my Dad was a kid and an understanding of the current college requirements requires some balance. So by all means, send your kids out to the playground but make sure they have time to practice that violin as well!

3 comments:

  1. Larry,
    Well done. One thought. Outside activity may have the benefit of building stamina. These days many jobs even desk jobs require a lot of stamina to keep going for long hours.
    Dad

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    Replies
    1. Good point. We are back to our old discussion though of whether that is an attribute that will kids get a job offer as opposed to doing well in the job. Perhaps if you point out that getting consistently good grades in High School and College requires stamina then it applies. It would be interesting to see whether that type of physical stamina from running carries over to desk work. It may have the opposite effect and make it hard to sit still...

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  2. http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2014/06/for-better-school-results-clear-the-schedule-and-let-kids-play/373144/

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