In one of the first studies of its type, researchers from La Trobe University’s Judith Lumley Centre surveyed both children and parents about their experiences and views about children’s ability to independently travel and play in public places. The project was funded by VicHealth.
“Previous research in this area has largely neglected to ask children about their own independence,” lead researcher Sharinne Crawford said.
“Our study is one of the first to concurrently explore what children and parents think about kids being given the freedom to do such things as travel to school on their own or go to the park or shops without being accompanied by adults.”
Dr Crawford said safety was an important consideration for parents and children, but children’s safety concerns were broader.
“Parents cited strangers or “weirdos” and traffic-related risk as their main safety worries when it comes to deciding whether to let their children go out unsupervised.
“Children also worry about stranger danger, but are less concerned about the risk traffic poses.
“While some did mention “hoons” and a fear of being run over, they were also worried about being bullied by older children, getting lost or being attacked by dogs, magpies or kangaroos.”
The researchers also found that daily routines, work and family commitments influenced children’s independence. Knowing people in the local neighbourhood who could support children if they needed help was also important.
The research team interviewed 132 children, aged 8 to 15, from seven state schools in metropolitan and regional Victoria. Twelve parents from three of the schools also took part in the research.
“A striking feature of the study was the extent to which children wanted and loved being independent. They talked about the thrill of risk taking and testing their physical abilities,” Dr Crawford said.
“Parents acknowledged the developmental benefits of independent mobility, but were more concerned about safety, being judged as a good parent and the practical challenges.
“Our study highlights the balancing act for parents. They are juggling family routines, the need to give their children independence while simultaneously ensuring they are safe.”
The research revealed that independent travel to and from school was a key goal for children and a significant milestone for both parents and children.
“For many children being able to walk to school without their parents was their first foray to freedom,” Dr Crawford said.
The research has been published in the journal Health & Place.
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