Parental Fears About Safety Prevent Kids From Being Active Outside: Report

A Canadian report suggests parental fears about safety prevent kids from active outdoor play. (Thinkstock)Over-protective parents who prevent their kids from playing outside are doing their children more harm than good, says a recent report from Active Healthy Kids Canada.

For the sixth consecutive year in a row, Canadian children received an "F" in the area of Physical Activity, with only 7 per cent of kids meeting the recommended 60 minutes of physical activity per day.

The reasons for keeping kids indoors vary. But for many parents, the fear of letting their children run around unsupervised outdoors seems to outweigh the risks associated with a sedentary lifestyle.

The report states:

While current crime rates in Canada are about equal to what they were in the 1970s, the increase in news coverage of crime has fuelled parental fears of letting their children outside. 82% of mothers cite safety concerns and almost half of parents cite fear of exposure to child predators as reasons they restrict outdoor play. 58% of Canadian parents agree they are very concerned about keeping their children safe and feel they have to be over-protective of them in this world.

Dr. Claire LeBlanc -- a physician at the Montreal Children's Hospital and chair of the Canadian Paediatric Society's Healthy Active Living and Sports Medicine Committee – agrees that this parental fear is unwarranted.

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"The statistics of abduction in Canada were no greater than they were 20, 40 years ago," she says.

LeBlanc says that while children who live in certain urban centres in the United States may be at higher risk of inadvertently getting caught in a violent situation, the likelihood of the same thing happening in most Canadian cities is low.

She insists preventing children from playing outside not only contributes to a sedentary lifestyle which puts kids at risk of obesity, Type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure, but that it also prevents them from participating in creative play, a vital part of child development that allows kids to engage in more youthful interactions with friends and family members.

"Creative play is a very important aspect of utilizing your imagination — something that some of our current computer-based games do not really allow children to do just by the nature of how they're set up," she says.

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LeBlanc cites some examples of ways parents can get their kids moving outdoors without sending themselves into a spin of anxiety.

"Going out and walking the dog as a family, going out for a bike ride as a family, going out for hikes as a family … these are all useful ways that the parents can still play a supervisory role, but also gain the benefits of being physically active with their children."

Some other sobering figures from the Active Health Kids Canada report:

• 46 per cent of Canadian kids get 3 hours or less of active play per week, including weekends.

• 63 per cent of Canadian kids' free time after school and on weekends is spent being sedentary.

• 92 per cent of Canadian children said they would choose playing with friends over watching TV.