Parents worry some neighbourhoods are not safe for outside children's play

Parents worry some neighbourhoods are not safe for outside children's play

Media release — 24 June 2014

Australian children whose parents are concerned about neighbourhood safety spend around two hours a week less time playing outside than children the same age, according to new research by the Australian Institute of Family Studies.

The study – which examined the time use of about four thousand 10 and 11 year-olds – found that heightened risk aversion on the part of parents was curtailing opportunities for children to experience unsupervised time outside as well as physical activity.

AIFS Executive Manager of the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children, Dr Ben Edwards said parents from lower socio-economic backgrounds were significantly more likely to report being highly overprotective, concerned about heavy traffic and the safety of the neighbourhood for children to play in.

“Children in families where parents were concerned about neighbourhood safety spent an average of 20 fewer minutes per day outside, than children whose parents were not concerned. While that might not seem like much, over the course of a week it equates to children spending 2 hours and 20 minutes less time outdoors,” Dr Edwards said.

“Concerns about safety were concentrated among metropolitan families in lower socio-economic areas who were significantly more likely to report being overprotective, concerned about heavy traffic and neighbourhood safety.

“Parents living in rural and regional areas were less concerned about safety and traffic but more concerned about the quality of parks and playgrounds.

“Parental safety concerns impacted particularly heavily on boys. Boys, whose parents did not think it was safe for them to play outside, spent 27 fewer minutes per day supervised outdoors, or around 3 hours a week.

“For girls who spent less time outside overall, there was next to no difference in the amount of time spent outdoors even when there were family concerns. Girls in families unconcerned about neighbourhood safety only spent an extra 2 minutes outside per day.”

Dr Edwards said that while parents rightly remain keen to ensure their children are safe, their risk aversion may mean that children miss out on opportunities to continue to develop and master skills through free-time play and physical activity.

“Given that most physical activity takes place outside, differences of around 2 hours a week of time outside could have significant implications for children’s health in terms of being overweight, their psychological wellbeing and independence,” Dr Edwards said.

“At age 10 and 11 years, parents’ concerns still shape children’s activities significantly and suggest that interventions to target and alleviate these concerns could enhance children’s development and autonomy.”

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