family · gender policing · injury

Would you let this kid jump?: Gender, the play gap, and the protection paradox

This video came across my newsfeed recently. It’s a little girl  kid (I’m not sure if they’re a boy or a girl–see the reader’s comment below) attempting and failing a box jump. The ponytail made me think girl. Watch til the end!


What’s striking about it is that their dad doesn’t stop them. Instead, he encourages the child to keep trying? How about you? What would you have done? I confess I fretted a bit. “Don’t hurt yourself!” Does it make a difference to you if it’s a boy or a girl jumping?

And then I got thinking about it in terms of my work on the “play gap” between boys and girls and between men and women.

Canadian kids don’t move a lot. Very few get enough daily movement.

The grim facts are that Canada’s children just got a D- in physical fitness for the third year in a row. Just 9% of Canada’s children between the ages of 9 and 15 meet the recommended guideline of one hour of activity per day. Experts are blaming the dismal showing on the so-called “protection paradox.” Parents try to keep children safe by not allowing them to move freely between home and school, or engage in active, outdoor play, but as a result our children are leading increasingly sedentary lives. See here.

But of course it’s not just that kids don’t get enough movement. It’s also the case that girls move less than boys. More on that in another post. I promise!

If the protection paradox is indeed part of the story about kids’ increasingly sedentary lives, we might wonder if the protection offered is gendered.

Do we stop girls but not boys from risky physical behavior? I bet we do. I’m still thinking about this and welcome your thoughts and ideas.




7 thoughts on “Would you let this kid jump?: Gender, the play gap, and the protection paradox

  1. I believe this is a boy? Can’t recall his name but he has an Instagram account detailing his athletic endeavors.

  2. Ah, here we go: Arat Hosseini.

    – And, not to lose track of the point of the post – My daughter does gymnastics and thus does quite a few things which have me closing my eyes till she lands. (Far more than my son, who does soccer and baseball and climbs trees but is overall calmer in his physical pursuits than his big sister. (For me parenting is often about not letting my fears box in my kids. :)) Sometimes I observe how people drive, and wonder if/how physicality impacts competitiveness and ambition in, say, the boardroom or academia.

    I agree there can be some bias in how we encourage girls vs. boys to move, but am hopeful that it’s changing for the better with each new generation.

  3. (Apparently I have lots of thoughts about this! 😄)

    It’s also helpful that my husband has always been sporty, so he can counteract my paranoid tendencies. But also he can teach them skills such as pitching, batting, or skiing, which were just not part of my childhood. (Partly due to
    cultural/economic/geographic factors.) So, as with many things, access creates opportunities for the next generation, not just the individual.

  4. I think that we do protect kids too much, and though this video is of a boy, I’m going to talk about how we react to it as if it were a girl:

    I think that we protect girls more, especially from their own failure (and therefore the eventual triumph). That means that by the time they get to me as freshman in high school, boys are more accustomed to athletic failure. That comfort makes them better athletes because they are not discouraged by doing something “wrong” at first. That being said, girls are incredibly coachable — they want to know what to do to get it right, but sometimes a little bit too intensely for it to be helpful.

  5. I’m trying to think about my own sphere of experience and whether I’ve noticed differences in the way girls are coached vs. boys. My kids have done similar things: soccer; base-/softball; aikido. Gymnastics is the one thing my daughter does that my son wasn’t interested in. They’ve each had tough coaches and nice coaches.

    Where I *do* see a difference is that, around middle school if not earlier, girls seem to do less playing – that is, unstructured physical activity with other kids. I see fewer girls on the playground or fields at recess/after school at the elementary level, and my middle schooler says there aren’t any girls playing at recess. Luckily, in our neighborhood all the middle schoolers walk to/from school, so they get a good couple of miles in every day, but that’s not the same as picking up skills/rules, or developing teamwork. I think the elementary school had recess coordinators for a while to help teach kids new games (that in an earlier generation might have been taught by older kids). But I’m not sure if that’s still the case. Certainly couldn’t hurt to promote movement for both genders in this transitional phase of say ages 9-15.

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