More than 1700 Victorian parents of children aged nine to 15 took part in the research, published in the American Journal of Health Promotion. The project was funded by VicHealth.
Lead author Dr Shannon Bennetts said the study was one of the most comprehensive into children’s independent mobility in Australia and the social, environmental and behavioural factors that influence parents’ concerns.
“Allowing children to move around the neighbourhood without an adult is an important source of physical activity and helps children to develop social skills and resilience,” Dr Bennetts said.
“Surprisingly, many parents told us that they were concerned that family, friends and their children’s teachers would disapprove if they allowed their children to go places without an adult.”
“This highlights the need to support parents to make them feel empowered, not judged.”
Co-author Dr Sharinne Crawford said the study also found that some parents needed extra support to manage children’s transition to greater levels of independence.
“The research revealed family characteristics, social and cultural norms were all important factors that were associated with parents’ worries about letting their child head out without an adult,” Dr Crawford said.
“Parents with daughters and those from non-English speaking backgrounds were particularly fearful of strangers harming their children, reflecting community concern about violence against females and cultural differences about what’s appropriate for children.”
Dr Bennetts said it was important to understand why some parents had concerns about children’s independence.
“Our kids are becoming increasingly sedentary and this is being heralded as a looming public health crisis. In Australia, 25 per cent of kids are overweight or obese,” Dr Bennetts said.
“Allowing children to move around their neighbourhood independently is one way to increase their physical activity, however there is growing evidence to suggest parents need more information and support about making this transition.
“By understanding the factors that drive parental fears we can help parents overcome them and help them to make age and developmentally appropriate decisions about children’s independence.”
“Our findings suggest that when it comes to health promotion and interventions that foster children’s independent mobility, we should be targeting factors beyond the built environment. Parents’ attitudes, experiences and social norms are also important factors for consideration.”
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