But the Outside World is scary and dangerous, I can't send them out there!

In this week's instalment, we explore the real and imaginary fears that parents and caregivers have about letting their children engage in free play outside. 

Simply put, fearful parents create fearful children and your child is way less likely to be hurt or abducted or [insert your fear here] than they are to develop anxiety, obesity and other health problems by not going outside. 

Children want to experience nature - 81% of children want more freedom to play outside -  but nearly half of children say they are not allowed to play outside unsupervised and nearly a quarter are worried about being outside alone (Marketing, 2009). 

92% of Canadian children say they would choose playing with friends over watching TV, yet only 7% of Canadian children are meeting national physical activity guidelines, which recommend one hour of moderate to vigorous physical activity daily (Active Healthy Kids Canada, 2012).  While vigorous physical activity is possible inside, children are far more likely to play vigorously outside (Vanderloo, Tucker, Johnson, & Holmes, 2013).

So why are children not busy playing outside?  Because parents are worried about them.  Children are statistically extremely unlikely to be abducted, yet this is the number one concern parents have about letting their children play outside alone (Carver, Timperio, & Crawford, 2008). 

The vast majority of children in Canada who end up being classified as missing children are youth involved with the child protection system who have a history of running away.  Of those children who are abducted, most of these are taken by non-custodial parents or family friends. 

Yet the fear of abduction causes many parents to limit their child’s unsupervised outdoor play.  Another common fear is that children may get hurt outside. However children are also exposed to many health dangers indoors.  And as it turns out navigating the lumps and bumps actually teaches children a lot about risk assessment and helps to develop their coping skills, both of which are extremely valuable assets later in life.

In Canada between 2009 and 2011, 31.5% of youth aged 5 to 17 were overweight or obese (Active Healthy Kids Canada, 2012).  The rate of childhood obesity in Canada has increased 2.5 times in the last 30 years (Hodgson, 2011) and in the developed world childhood obesity is now the most common health issue affecting children (Rabbitt & Coyne, 2012).  Playing helps decrease anxiety in children and playing with other children teaches them important social skills, and builds creativity and innovation.

One day every child will become a young adult and will have to do things like cross the road on their own.  It is much better for you to give your children the skills to manage these situations, rather than avoid these situations. 

We need to re-evaluate risk in children’s lives and realize that the risk of terrible things happening to them today is very slim, yet the risk of bad things happening to these children in the future as a result of not playing and exercising and having some bumps is much worse and much more likely.

Active Healthy Kids Canada, A. (2012). Active Healthy Kids Report Card. Toronto Canada: Author.

Carver, A., Timperio, A., & Crawford, D. (2008). Playing it safe: the influence of neighbourhood safety on children's physical activity. A review. Health Place, 14(2), 217-227. doi: 10.1016/j.healthplace.2007.06.004

Hodgson, C. (2011). Obesity in Canada. Ottawa, Canada: Public Health Agency of Canada.

Marketing, England. (2009). Childhood and Nature: A Survey on Changing Relationships with Nature Across Generations. Cambridgeshire, UK: Natural England.

Rabbitt, A., & Coyne, I. (2012). Childhood obesity: nurses' role in addressing the epidemic. British Journal of Nursing, 21(12), 731-735.

Skenazy, L., & Marano, H. (2011). Why parents should stop overprotecting kids and let them play. American Journal of Play, 3(4), 423-442.

Vanderloo, L. M., Tucker, P., Johnson, A. M., & Holmes, J. D. (2013). Physical activity among preschoolers during indoor and outdoor childcare play periods. Applied Physiological Nutrition and Metabolism, 38(11), 1173-1175. doi: 10.1139/apnm-2013-0137



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