In Kennewick, Wash., Scott “Reptile Man” Petersen helps Mckenzie Tygret, 13, combine a modern pastime with something more icky. (Matt Gade/AP)

Gone are the days when kids spent their summer vacations outside playing with sticks, digging for critters, climbing trees and using nature as one gigantic playground.

Hiding behind the screens of smartphones and tablets, today’s kids are wimps.

Or so says the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Park rangers have concluded that kids (and some adults) are growing increasingly squeamish about bugs and snakes and fish and the great outdoors. “Whether it’s because today’s visitors tend to live more indoor lives than past generations or watch too many TV survival shows, fears of nature are flourishing — in all ages,” said a news release from the agency Monday.

A 2011 study by the Nature Conservancy shows that the government isn’t wrong in its assessment. While 88 percent of 13-to-18-year-olds surveyed said they spend time on the Internet every day, fewer than 40 percent spend significant time outside every week. Why? Because, according to 80 percent, it’s icky.

So the government is here with some helpful tips to get kids over their nature anxieties. (Free child therapy!)

Among them? “Don’t dissemble.” Tell kids there are snakes in the area, but that they rarely come out of hiding when people are around. And “show enthusiasm”: If a kid says something is “gross,” respond: “No, they’re so cool. Wait till you see one.” (We thought reverse psychology — “Don’t you dare touch that spider!” — would work equally well.)

If the government’s how-to-get-your-kids-outside tipsheet fails, the Loop suggests telling detailed stories about your childhood walking to school uphill both ways. That will get them out of the house.

The judge responds

Before the well-attended, but uneventful, hearing for the suspect in the 2012 Benghazi attacks got underway in federal court Tuesday morning, newly minted U.S. District Judge Christopher “Casey” Cooper said he had something personal to share regarding recently published reports.

Actually, as far as we know, there was only one report, by our colleague Ann Marimow, which was posted on the In the Loop blog Monday and reprised in this space Tuesday. The item noted that Cooper had been part of the Obama administration’s transition team and that his wife, Amy Jeffress, a former national security adviser to Attorney General Eric Holder, once ran the national security section of the U.S. attorney’s office that has charged Ahmed Abu Khattala, and mentored the lead prosecutor on the case, Michael DiLorenzo.

Casey said he was addressing the item primarily for the benefit of the defendant. (Who knew Abu Khattala read the Loop inside the fortified detention center in Alexandria?)

“While I don’t have a personal relationship with any of the [prosecutors],” Casey said, “I do want to put on the record that my wife formerly supervised the office that is prosecuting this case.” Cooper said that his wife left the office in January 2008, and he made sure to note this was well before the deadly attacks on U.S. outposts in Benghazi that Abu Khattala is alleged to have helped organize.

“I don’t view this as presenting a conflict,” Cooper said. Neither Abu Khattala’s attorneys nor the prosecutors responded to Cooper’s statement, Marimow reported.

But hey! What about Cooper’s roommate and close friend at Yale being John Rice, brother of Obama national security adviser Susan Rice?

The other Baghdad

Sometimes it’s hard to keep these foreign capitals straight, as Alfonso Lenhardt, a former U.S. ambassador to Tanzania, showed last month at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on his nomination to be deputy administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Lenhardt, a former Senate sergeant at arms and before that a major general with more than 30 years’ service in the Army, was asked by Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) to “talk a little bit about AID’s plan in Afghanistan as we now move to the cessation of combat operations there.”

The agency would continue “to support Afghanistan,” Lenhardt said, “but will do so consistent with the [troop] drawdown. Right now, in particular, though,” he went on, “Baghdad seems to be the focus. But in other parts of the country . . . USAID continues normal operations.”

“But Baghdad is an issue,” he said, and the agency will “watch it carefully in terms” of security.

“The bottom line is, USAID continues to provide support to Afghanistan,” Lenhardt said, and it will do so “until such time as circumstances determine that it is not — no longer safe, feasible to do that. But until that happens, we’re there.”

Ditto for Kabul?

A flipping defeat

Hopeful chants of “I believe that we will win” transition into a solemn instrumental as the score of the U.S. soccer team’s World Cup loss to Belgium appears against a black screen. Then Matthew Barzun, U.S. ambassador to Britain, appears at the embassy of his Belgian counterpart carrying the goods to cook “American pancakes.” Barzun measures and mixes and pours and flips in slow motion as the music soars.

Yes, the U.S. Embassy staff in London filmed and set to music Barzun making good on his World Cup bet. And yes, you should watch it (

As we reported a week ago, when a U.S. victory in the tournament was still a long-shot possibility, Barzun sent Guy Trouveroy, Belgian ambassador in London, a handwritten note offering a breakfast wager. He’d pay up in pancakes if America lost, while Trouveroy would have to, of course, cook some Belgian waffles for the American staff.

On Tuesday, the Belgians got their flapjacks.

Meanwhile, President Obama owes Belgian Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo some White House brew, but there’s no word on when he will pay off the bet. His National Security Council usually takes care of these things, and that operation has been kind of busy.

Di Rupo, whose country’s team fell to Argentina in the quarterfinals, good-naturedly needled Obama on Twitter last week, telling the president “I told you” with a smiley face.

— With Colby Itkowitz

Twitter: @KamenInTheLoop, @ColbyItkowitz