There has been so much press regarding the declining outdoor activities of children coupled with the steady incline of computer activity and general couch potato-ness in youngsters. This piece in The Guardian presents a study of English children, determining that today’s 10-year-olds don’t have the physical strength of the previous generation. The number of sit-ups 10-year-olds can do declined by 27.1% between 1998 and 2008. Arm strength has fallen by 26% and grip strength by 7% and while one in 20 children in 1998 could not hold their own weight when hanging from wall bars, one in 10 could not do so in 2008. The article points to “modern living” as the culprit but also alludes to overprotectiveness of children as a possible factor. Today’s 10-year-olds are engaging in less outdoor play in part because they live in a computer-centric age — but also because half of them aren’t even allowed outside.

Dr. Gavin Sandercock, a children’s fitness expert at Essex University, noted that the decrease in children’s strength is probably due to a lack of rope-climbing and tree-climbing. These activities have conditioned children to build upper body strength and support their own weight.

The Guardian writes:

The fact that 10% could not do the wall bars test and another 10% refused to try was “really shocking”,

[Sandercook]

added. “That probably shows that climbing and holding their own weight was something they hadn’t done before.”

But these statistics raise the question of how many of these kids are even permitted to climb trees or scale rope walls. I can’t even recall the last time I saw a kid climb a tree without being harangued by their mother to get down.

Tam Fry of the Child Growth Foundation observed that fear of lawsuits on school playgrounds also keeps kids from climbing:

Climbing trees and ropes used to be standard practice for children, but school authorities and ‘health and safety’ have contrived to knock the sap out of our children…Falling off a branch used to be a good lesson in picking yourself up and learning to climb better. Now fear of litigation stops the child climbing in the first place.

I wonder how many children of “free range” parents have trouble hanging from wall bars.