In an increasingly litigious and risk averse culture, the opportunities for our children to engage in risky and adventurous outdoor play is ever decreasing.
The schools are obviously acting in response to pressure from parents, which is understandable to a degree. We all desire to keep our children safe, after all. It’s natural for parents to worry about children hurting themselves or being hurt by others. And then there are society’s (arguably unfounded) fears of bad men in the white van plucking our kids off the street.
Unfortunately all these concerns and fears often result in children being prevented from playing outside. Instead they are safely contained in a controlled environment, so nothing bad will happen to them.
But is this actually hurting our children in other ways?
Interestingly, studies show that risky and adventurous outdoor play actually has a lot of benefits for childhood development.
Not only do children develop physical skills and health benefits from doing things such as running, jumping, climbing and exploring, their mental health and social skills also benefit.
A 2015 study found that environments that enabled children to take risks promote creativity and resilience. They also increase playtime and social interactions, integral parts of childhood development.
The lack of freedom children have to experience risk and challenge themselves has been linked to the dramatic increase in childhood cases of anxiety and depression.
This type of over protection shelters children from experiencing “real world” environments and challenges. By allowing children to test their own limits and engage in adventurous play on their own terms, children experience a range of emotions such as fear, frustration, exhilaration, joy and pride. This process helps build emotional resilience.
They learn about the natural consequences of risky behaviour and develop decision-making and reasoning skills. They also develop self-confidence as they successfully overcome challenges and obstacles.
Injuries may occur, however one could argue this is a natural part of childhood. As a parent, I would much prefer my child to learn about the consequences of taking risks as a child in the playground rather than a teenager at a party, let loose on the world for the first time!
We all want our children to grow up to be safe, active, healthy and happy adults. Perhaps to enable this to happen, we need to let them be kids first.