The Biggest Risk Is Keeping Kids Indoors

CC BY 2.0. Maciej Lewandowski

The new 'Position Statement on Active Outdoor Play' uses hard facts to combat hyper-parents' obsession with keeping kids indoors to keep them safe.

So many kids are kept indoors now, instead of being allowed to play and roam outside, that the issue is being positioned as a children’s rights concern. Kids need to be outside, to run around, climb trees, build forts, collect bugs, and toboggan down snowy hills, and yet this goes against our society’s tendency toward hyper-parenting.

“Canadian children now spend an average of 8.6 hours per day sedentary. The lure of the indoors has been fueled by improvements in indoor climate control and increased entertainment temptations (e.g., television, computers, electronic games, tablets, cell phones), as well as concerns for child safety.”

Early this year, a group of Canadian researchers published the first-ever Position Statement on Active Outdoor Play. This evidence-based document was created in response to the ongoing heated debate about the relative benefits and harms of active outdoor play. Its conclusion was supported by 95 percent of the stakeholders who were involved in the Position Statement’s writing:

“Access to active play in nature and outdoors—with its risks— is essential for healthy child development. We recommend increasing children’s opportunities for self-directed play outdoors in all settings—at home, at school, in child care, the community and nature.”

The Position Statement makes for an interesting (and validating) read for anyone who tends toward free-range parenting, and it should quell the fears of many hyper-parents by showing that many of their biggest fears are not backed up by data:

1. Outdoor play is safer than you think! The odds of total stranger abduction are about 1 in 14 million based on RCMP reports. Being with friends outdoors may further reduce this number.

2. Broken bones and head injuries unfortunately do happen, but major trauma is uncommon. Most injuries associated with outdoor play are minor.

3. Canadian children are eight times more likely to die as a passenger in a motor vehicle than from being hit by a vehicle when outside on foot or on a bike.

The Position Statement explains what really is risky for kids, which is, ironically, what many parents do with the intention of protecting their kids – keeping them inside.

“There are consequences to keeping children indoors. When children spend more time in front of screens they are more likely to be exposed to cyber-predators and violence, and eat unhealthy snacks.” Reduced physical activity elevates the odds of contracting non-communicable diseases, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and some forms of cancer and mental health problems. Indoor air is often unhealthy, exposing kids to allergens, infectious diseases, and potentially chronic conditions (and, I would add, off-gassing chemicals in furniture, carpets, and paint).

The Position Statement wants to encourage parents and educators to allow children more freedom outside and not persist in having irrational, unfounded fears about the outdoor world. After all, this should really be about what’s best for the child, not what makes the parent feel good.