It looks like helicopter parents are doing a little more harm than good when it comes to their child’s physical health. According to a new Canadian study, children who are allowed to play on their own with friends are physically healthier than kids who are constantly supervised by their parents.
Researchers studied over 1,000 parents of Grades 5 and 6 students from 16 different elementary schools across Toronto. As a part of the study, kids had to wear an activity measurement unit for seven days while their parents had to report how often they allowed their children to roam and play freely without supervision.
According to Ryerson University’s Raktim Mitra, the head researcher of the study, researchers wanted to see how giving children unsupervised freedom would impact their overall physical health.
Researchers found that children who were allowed at least some freedom to go out and play with their friends were 14-19 percent more physically active than children who were constantly supervised by adults.
“Hypothetically speaking, when children are out on their own or with friends, that kind of creates opportunities for them to walk more or go to places or participate in spontaneous play times, which contributes to their overall amount of physical activity,” said Mitra.
According to Canadian health experts, children and youth should be getting 60 minutes of physical exercise daily. However according to Active Healthy Kids Canada, only a small portion (less than 10 percent) are actually meeting those targets.
In his study, Mitra found that “stranger danger” prevented many parents from allowing their children to go out unsupervised. In fact, in the study researchers found that only 16 percent of parents and caregivers would either frequently or always permit their kids to go out solo—while 35 percent said that they never allow their kids to go out on their own or play with their friends without supervision.
“When they’re with parents, (much of) the time, they’re either driven to different activities; and as a result, they don’t get these opportunities for spontaneous physical activity,” said Mitra.
According to children’s fitness expert Mark Tremblay, the results of the study are consistent with previous studies that found that children tend to be more active on playgrounds when they’re unsupervised. He notes that while many parents have good intentions in trying to protect their children from the world’s dangers, he believes there’s no real proof that those dangers have changed over time. If anything, he says he thinks they’ve reduced.
“It’s sort of an irony that in an attempt to be the best generation of parents ever that there’s emerging evidence that the behaviour of the parents is one that’s actually going to accelerate physical problems with their kids in the long run,” said Tremblay.
The best approach, Tremblay says, is to slowly give children more freedom to roam as they grow. Keeping children on a leash will ultimately hinder their development and prevent them from learning the important skills that comes with gaining some independence.
Tell us: How much unsupervised freedom do you give to your elementary school-aged children?