Children whose parents deem their neighbourhood “unsafe” spend significantly less time playing outdoors, potentially putting their physical and mental health at risk.
Research from the Australian Institute of Family Studies found children spent on average 20 minutes a day less time playing outdoors if their parents had neighbourhood safety concerns.
Study co-author Ben Edwards warned the reduced outdoor playing time, which equated to more than two hours a week or 100 hours a year, could have “significant implications for children’s health in terms of their weight, their psychological wellbeing and independence”. The study found boys were far more affected than girls by their parents’ attitudes to safety.
It also found parents in metropolitan and lower socio-economic areas were more likely to have concerns.
Dr Edwards said spending time outside was important for children physically, given high rates of childhood obesity, and developmentally because it helped to promote independence and autonomy.
“It (the research) is not a call for parents to take their children outside and leave them there and not overlook them, but I think what we do see is that parental concerns are impacting (on their children),” he said.
“The call to parents would be just to think twice about what’s impacting on allowing your children to go outside. Is it really that dangerous? Parents have to weigh that up and different circumstances are important.”
The study by the AIFS – the Federal Government’s key research body on family wellbeing – focused on 10 and 11-year-olds in Australia and tracked how they spent their time.
It also asked parents if they believed it was safe for children to play outside, if there was heavy traffic on their street or access to good parks, playgrounds and play spaces near their homes.
Concerns children are spending less time outdoors have prompted some WA schools to encourage outdoor play on school grounds. West Leeming Primary School principal Kim Doust said a trip to Kings Park’s Nature-scape last year had been so positive the school decided to open up a fenced-off area of remnant bushland as a play area.
“The response has been overwhelming,” he said. “Children are building cubbies, playing games and having fun.
“There is increasing concern about shrinking backyards and the impact of technology on kids’ lives and both of these factors are taking children away from nature. We are, therefore, deliberately reconnecting them with nature and believe there will be short and long-term benefits.”
This article first appeared on ‘The West Australian’ on 24 June 2014.