Parental safety concerns may prevent children from getting good exercise, according to a new North Carolina State University study that examined how families use neighborhood parks.
Results from the study suggest that children who were monitored too closely by hovering “helicopter” parents were less likely to engage in higher levels of physical activity.
“It’s a catch-22 for today’s parents, unfortunately. Many parents are worried about the safety of their children, so they tend to hover,” says Dr. Jason Bocarro, associate professor of parks, recreation and tourism management at NC State. “The worry is – especially as we are seeing childhood obesity become an epidemic in this country – hovering is keeping kids from running around and playing with their friends and neighbors, and instead maybe sitting in front of the computer or television.”
Based on these findings, researchers including Robin Moore, professor of landscape architecture and director of the Natural Learning Initiative at NC State, hope to provide guidance to parks and recreation departments and park designers about ways to better design public parks. “If children’s play environments are designed for the whole family with comfortable, shady places to sit and observe kids playing from a distance, parents may be less inclined to ‘helicopter’ and impede spontaneous play – which can also be increased by providing lots of environmental choice and diversity,” Moore says.
The research showed that formal programs and facilities – like soccer programs or basketball courts – increase the likelihood of children ages five and up engaging in a higher level of activity. Also, as any school teacher can tell you, the presence of even one or two children with higher physical activity levels will increase those levels in other kids. The study also found that girls were less likely to be observed in parks, and less likely to be observed in higher levels of physical activity.
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