Three stories about activity and children: Connecting the dots and asking questions

Story 1: How Overparenting Makes Kids Overweight

A study just published in the journal PLOS One is the first to prove a link between helicopter parenting and obesity: Between ages 10 to 11, the researchers found, maternal overprotectiveness “was associated with a 13 percent increase in the odds of children being overweight or obese.”

Warning: Story contains awful photo of fat kids enjoying food, watching tv, sitting on the sofa. Because we all know thin children never do that!

Story 2: Why I Walked to School Alone and My Kids Never Will

It’s no secret that raising kids today is nothing like it was a decade or two ago.

In fact, many moms say there’s no way they would let their children do what their own parents gave them free reign to do as kids.

“I remember taking the city bus with friends and riding to downtown Atlanta when I was 11 or 12, maybe younger,” said Samantha Gregory, a single mom of two children. “I would never let my kids do that today.”

Story 3: Risky play and skinned knees are key to healthy child development

Here’s what kids at play have always liked to do: Race, climb, wrestle, hang, throw, balance, fence with sticks, jump from heights and gravitate toward sharp objects. Ideally, while escaping the watchful eye of grown-ups.

 Here’s what today’s kids hear when they’re even flirting with such pursuits: Slow down, get down, put that down. No throwing, no sticks allowed, don’t jump from there. Don’t touch, that’s too dangerous, be careful. And for goodness sake, don’t go anywhere without an adult.

In the last generation, adults have been consumed with protecting kids against all odds. But now, some child injury prevention experts are warning too much bubble wrap may be thwarting healthy development.

“The way we’re treating children isn’t conducive to raising kids that are going to be independent and able to get out in the world and manage risks for themselves,” says Mariana Brussoni, an associate professor at University of British Columbia.

A few thoughts:

  • Most of the news articles that talk about children, risk, and inactivity look at the costs of parental over protectiveness in terms of the adult the child becomes. They tend to focus on a single outcome: Will the child turn out to be fat? I think that misunderstands the risks of inactivity. Thinking more broadly we might wonder about the future adult and risk aversion, health outcomes beyond weight, comfort in the outdoors, or losing out on the pleasures of sport and play.
  • We also need to think beyond the goods that occur in adult life and ask more broadly about the childhood goods on which our kids are missing out. It’s not just that they’ll suffer as adults if they aren’t allowed to play outdoors and walk to school. It’s also the case they’ll have worse childhoods and that matters too. See my paper, “The Goods of Childhood, Children’s Rights, and the Role of Parents as Advocates and Interpreters” for more on this. It’s a chapter in Family-Making: Contemporary Ethical Challenges , Françoise Baylis and Carolyn McLeod (editors), Oxford University Press
  • Why the focus on moms and mothering? So much of this research looks at “overprotective mothers” and it’s as if fathers play no role at all in parenting. Blame the mothers. Of course.
Image: Two children in silhouette playing with a stick on a hill


5 thoughts on “Three stories about activity and children: Connecting the dots and asking questions

  1. Thanks for the article round-up. I really like that you brought up the focus on mom’s in particular–I have wondered that too. This topic is another big focus of mine since I have a 9 year old and work very hard at trying to figure out the right balance of being too risk-adverse vs. letting him go. Of course, that’s a different problem vs. getting too little activity. I think showing by example, making sure we move, and how to do it safely, and show them why it’s important to be active every day, and be outside everyday, is so important. And of course eating well, and proper nutrition. So many kids have this issue I think because so many parents do too…it needs to be taught right from the start. Will read the articles, again thanks!

  2. This is an important article. I love how you focus more on movement than just nutrition. As a mom of a 3 year old, it has been easy for me to provide healthy meal options and snacks, just by not having any of the other junk in the house!

    Limiting TV time and allowing her to explore our yard, play in our veggie patch and let her imagination run wild has allowed her to really blossom into an amazing kid. As long as I can see her, she’s out of serious harm’s way, and she’s having fun, then she’s good to go!

  3. Reblogged this on Otagenki and commented:
    I really feel for the current generation of kids. The climate of fear really is keeping kids housebound and inactive. If children were raised like they were in, say, the ’70s, when parents would tell their kids “go out and play” after they finished their homework, there wouldn’t be a need for efforts like the Otagenki Project. The children of the parents who wrap their kids in bubble wrap will one day need to relearn how to play. It’s sad.

  4. I have to laugh a little about your comment: “it’s as if fathers play no role at all in parenting” because of my husband. He is wonderful and does take a good share of the parenting at our house with our two boys. But, some things I have noticed about his parenting style that both help and hurt the argument. Our boys are 3.5 years and 14 months old and he wrestles with both of them. I think that’s a little young in my view to be tossing them on the couch and wrestling around with them (although it’s gentle). However, when the boys get “hurt” doing normal kid things like falling down, skinning their knees, bonking their heads, etc from exploring and taking risks, it tends to happen when I’m around (because I stay home with them) and then I get blamed for them getting “hurt” all of the time. I do admit that I let my kids take risks. I think it’s good for them to learn. I would never let them do anything dangerous enough that they could seriously get injured, but if they run on the sidewalk and trip, big deal, a little soap and water takes care of it. Then, my husband is super over protective when it comes to playground equipment. If the kids are up on a piece of outdoor equipment they’ve been on a million times without me, Dad is within fingers reach of them at all times while I’m down on the ground encouraging them to climb through tunnels etc. I actively play with both of my kids, but I’m not about to hover over them. My parents never did that to me and I have the scarred knees to prove it.

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