Scary fun: Why kids should play in the dark

Nighttime games can liven things up—and maybe boost mental health.

Not long ago, Quynh Tran, her husband, and their two daughters, 11 and 14, skated under a Castro Valley, California, highway overpass after dark. They watched their shadows grow up the sides of the concrete walls and pretended the shapes were monsters eating each other. “It's really neat having that experience when no one's around,” Tran says. “And it's a different feeling when you do it in the dark.”

Playing in the dark can be a great way to take advantage of warm summer evenings or long winter nights while also mixing up routines—something many of us desperately need. Plus, having fun with the lights out can feel a little bit risky, and that’s a good thing for kids. Do it outside, and you might bolster your mental health, too.

Over the last several decades, kids have become less independent, says Abigail Marsh, professor of psychology and neuroscience at Georgetown University and author of The Fear Factor. For example, a study found that in 1971, 55 percent of British kids under 10 were allowed to walk alone to places other than school, while that number shrunk to nearly zero by 2010—a percentage that Marsh confirms is likely similar today.

More for your family

Let kids lead a nighttime hike
Take kids on a backyard safari
Need a new idea to keep kids entertained? Try stargazing.