Don't stand between your kids and the great outdoors

Being active in the outdoors is GREAT for a whole bunch of reasons: it can improve creativity and productivity, reduce blood pressure and stress, and provides a daily dose of vitamin D. And for kids, the more time they spend outside, the more active they are!1

The 2015 ParticipACTION Report Card on Physical Activity of Children and Youthurges more outdoor physical activity in an included position statement on active, outdoor play that states:

Access to active play in nature and outdoors—with its risks—is essential for healthy child development. We recommend increasing children’s opportunities for self-directed play outdoors in all settings—at home, at school, in child care, the community and nature.2

However, common parental fears like the risk of injury and “stranger danger” are standing in the way of kids and the great outdoors. In a recent survey commissioned by ParticipACTION, 51% of parents (with children between ages 5 to 17) agreed they are nervous about allowing their kids to play outdoors without constant supervision, and 21 % agreed there is no place for their kids to play safely outdoors.3

It’s no wonder terms like “over-parenting”, bulldozer parenting or helicopter parenting are often used to describe today’s parenting style – a style that somehow believes kids are safer inside, require hovering at the playground, shouldn’t climb a tree, or play with friends even slightly out of their parent’s line of sight.

However, evidence supports the fact that parents do not need to be so concerned. 

The ParticipACTION Report Card included these facts:

  • The odds of total stranger abduction in Canada are about 1 in 14 million based on RCMP reports.2 Being with friends outdoors may further reduce this number.
  • Broken bones and head injuries unfortunately do happen, but major trauma is uncommon. Most injuries associated with outdoor play are minor.2
  • Canadian children are eight times more likely to die as a passenger in a motor vehicle than from being hit by a vehicle when outside on foot or on a bike.2
  1. As a parent, the thought of my kids being badly injured or abducted is legitimately my worst nightmare. But…I do believe it’s important to get out of the way to let my kids play so they can reap all the amazing benefits of outdoor active play – even the risks that come with it. Resisting the urge to say “be careful” when my child runs down the sidewalk or swings on the monkey bars requires a conscious effort. 

Three rules I use to stay out of my kids way:

  1. Bite my tongue. Telling my kids to “be careful” all the time sounds like I don’t trust them or believe they can do things by themselves without getting hurt. Most times it’s best to just zip it.
  2. Pretend to look the other way. I love watching my little ones explore and push boundaries when they think I’m not looking. What they don’t know yet is that I do, in fact, have eyes in the back of my head.
  3. Seek out opportunities or places that allow for freedom. Unsupervised play in the front and back yard, letting kids run ahead on a hiking trail or walk ahead on the way home from school, are all good ways to give kids space to move and explore their environment.

Knowing the facts is a great first step to reducing the tendency to over-parent and not provide kids with the opportunity to be free and active in the great outdoors. And you can learn more by reading the 2015 ParticipACTION Report Card. It’s a first step in an effort to take a step back and let kids be kids!

Sources:

  1. Cooper, A. R. et al. Patterns of GPS measured time outdoors after school and objective physical activity in English children: the PEACH project. Int. J. Behav. Nutr. Phys. Act. 7, 31 (2010).
  2. ParticipACTION. The Biggest Risk is Keeping Kids Indoors. The 2015 ParticipACTION Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth. Toronto: ParticipACTION; 2015.
  3. Vision Critical, ParticipACTION Campaign Assessment, April 2015