Kids climbing a tree is one form of outside play that allows them to find their own comfort zone boundaries even if it might raise a parent’s anxiety levels for them getting hurt.-Image Credit: Contributed

Kids climbing a tree is one form of outside play that allows them to find their own comfort zone boundaries even if it might raise a parent’s anxiety levels for them getting hurt.-Image Credit: Contributed

Shielding our children from risk

UBC researcher says parents need to manage their fears

The desire to remove the learning risks of childhood may actually be doing more harm than good for your child, according to a UBC researcher.

Mariana Brussoni says risky play encourages creativity, develops social skills and fosters resilience.

Hovering over your child’s every action is an anxiety-induced exercise, and that anxiety gets passed on to a child.

Brussoni, an injury prevention researcher, says it has never been safer to be a kid growing up in Canada.

But those numbers often get dismissed by a parent, where the statistical reality is lost to a more fearful perception.

“You see it in the U.S., where the crime stats continue to fall every year but people seem to think crime is getting worse,” Brussoni said.

“There has never been fewer injury related child deaths in Canada as is the case now. But we can’t get past our collective anxiety.

“It’s so horrific, every parent’s nightmare your child will get seriously injured or kidnapped, you want to do anything you can to avoid it.”

Brussoni pinpoints the change in parenting attitudes to the early 1980s, where the era of children running around the neighbourhood playing with their friends starting giving way to structured playtimes and more risk-free activities.

She says that attitude change was fueled by a surge of child raising advocates and authors promoting a more controlling atmosphere to raise kids, more moms entering the workforce which placed more kids in structured daycare and after-school programs, increasing reliance on vehicles to go anywhere.

“Parents were consuming all this stuff and it created expectations in society about ‘the right way’ to raise your kids, and it shifted our view of children as more vulnerable and much less capable of looking after themselves than was the case in previous generations,” she said.

Adding to that, she notes, is children brought up in that ‘helicopter parent’ environment are carrying on that tradition with their kids today.

As a result, Brussoni says research shows that just 37 per cent of children play outside every day, and just even per cent of children under the age of 10 are allowed to go out and play on their own.

“They go out only for structured activities or they stay indoors staring at screens,” she said.

“Basically what that is doing is parents are passing on their anxieties to children, and there decision-making is anxiety-based rather than on realistic expectations.”

Brussoni says suddenly going from zero to 100 in risk aversion contemplation is difficult for any parent to adapt into, as she suggests taking smaller baby steps to build up confidence both in your as a parent and your child for what both of you can handle when he or she steps outside the door on their own.

How to process that change is what convinced Brossoni to create OutsidePlay.ca, a website that showcases the latest research on injury prevention and the importance of outdoor play for kids on their own.

“I’m asked often to speak to school or parent groups on this topic but I can only reach so many people that way, so we thought the website is a way to get our message out to more people,” she said.

A parent herself of two kids, ages 9 and 10, Brussoni said tend to naturally be more risk averse, but she was startled by the response from her son, then age 7, about going to a close-by park in their East Vancouver neighbourhood.

“He was afraid he might get kidnapped, and that message didn’t come from me so he picked up it up from somewhere else.”

She says encouraging more risk is really about expanding a child’s comfort zone, to feel comfortable enough to make positive choices about climbing that tree or crossing a street safely on their own.

“They figure out for themselves when given the opportunity what their limits are in a given activity and feeling comfortable in doing it.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Flight with COVID
Another Kelowna flight with COVID-19 exposure

Westjet flight on April 5 from Kelowna to Edmonton

Lori Jantz snapped this picture of a fight between a bald eagle and an osprey above Osoyoos Lake on Friday. (Lori Jantz photo)
Battle in the sky erupts above South Okanagan lake

Bald eagle and osprey fight mid-air in Osoyoos

This illustration provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in January 2020 shows the 2019 Novel Coronavirus.[CDC]
More COVID-19 exposures reported at schools in Kelowna

Interior Health added additional schools and dates to their list of exposures

Royal LePage Arena was an addition to West Kelowna championed by Len Novakowski. (File photo)
West Kelowna community leader Novakowski dies

Former Westside regional district director Len Novakowski dies after lengthy health battle

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and Premier John Horgan describe vaccine rollout at the legislature, March 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
1,262 more COVID-19 infections in B.C. Friday, 9,574 active cases

Province’s mass vaccination reaches one million people

A second case of COVID-19 has been confirmed at Vernon’s BX Elementary School. (Kerry Hutter photo)
Second COVID case confirmed at Okanagan elementary school

Exposure at Vernon’s BX Elementary happened April 6 and 7

People walk past the Olympic rings in Whistler, B.C., Friday, May 15, 2020. Whistler which is a travel destination for tourists around the world is seeing the effects of travel bans due to COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Adults living, working in Whistler, B.C., eligible for COVID-19 vaccine on Monday

The move comes as the province deals with a rush of COVID-19 and variant cases in the community

RCMP crest. (Black Press Media files)
UPDATE: RCMP investigating after child, 6, dies at motel in Duncan, B.C.

The BC Coroners Service is conducting its own investigation into the circumstances around the child’s death

Highway 97 being converted to four lanes in April 1990. This photo taken in Lake Country. (Greater Vernon Museum and Archives Photo #14025)
HISTORY: How the old Highway 97 in Lake Country got new name

Pelmewash Parkway recognizes the First Nations history in Lake Country

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

RCMP display some of the fish seized from three suspects who pleaded guilty to violating the Fisheries Act in 2019, in this undated handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - RCMP
3 banned from fishing, holding licences after overfishing violations near Vancouver Island

Mounties seized the group’s 30-foot fishing vessel and all equipment on board at the time

Most Read