Here's one good reason not to suffocate your children with too much attention the next time you take them to the neighborhood playground or allow them to play outside. A recent study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine says kids whose parents watch them too closely in parks are only half as physically active as kids who are allowed more freedom.
The researchers from the North Carolina University examined 2,712 children in 20 parks in 2007 in an effort to find out how makers of parks, playgrounds, and other such spaces could improve their designs to encourage kids to be more active and exercise. Their results showed that parents who hovered around their kids prevented their children from engaging in high levels of physical activity the most.
On the other side of the spectrum, having enthusiastic kids in the park encouraged their fellow children to play more. "Other active children in the park zone increased the odds of higher physical activity levels 3.67 times," Dr. Jason Bocarro of the North Carolina University, the study's co-author, says in a statement. The researchers also discovered that boys were more likely to play in basketball and tennis courts, while girls stuck to playgrounds. The courts recorded more physical activity than the latter.
While the researchers don't suggest leaving your young children unattended on a park visit, they do have suggestions for future park designers. "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," says co-author Robin Moore, landscape architecture professor.
If you're taking your kids to an already existing playground or park with good safety standards, though, you can start encouraging them to be more active by giving them more room to run around and play. Watch them from a distance--you can even bring your own chair or picnic blanket--and step in only when you think it's needed. You can also tell your kids where you'll be sitting and instruct them to check in with you every once in a while.
Want to encourage your kids to be more active? Read these articles and galleries for ideas:
- Power of Play: Make use of playgrounds to keep your kids curious and active
- New Study: Physical Fitness Improves Academic Performance + Sports Your Kids Will Enjoy
- Playtime: 5 Games You Can Play with Your Kids
- Larong Pambata: 10 Filipino Outdoor Games for Kids
(Photo by edenpictures via Flickr Creative Commons)