Children are Losing the Freedom of Independent Play

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Primary school children have lost the freedom to play independently outside a new study has shown.  

The age-old discussion of ‘how old should your child be before they play unsupervised’ has come into question today with a recent study showing that children are being kept inside for about two years longer than their parents.

These findings have come from the paper ‘Children’s Play and Independent Mobility in 2020’.  In it, it highlights that while most parents said they were allowed to play independently from the age of 9, their own children weren’t allowed to do so until 11. This means that the average child is only allowed to play independently when they are at secondary school. As with most studies, it showed that children played less the older they are, meaning that this loss of independence from a younger age is felt significantly more.

The paper also found that most British children don’t play in nature anymore. It indicates that 10% of children’s play in woodlands, countryside, and heathland, whilst their parents spent 40%. Independent play is something that most parents look back on with a warm fondness, so why is it being taken away from their children?

The study was overseen by Dr. Helen Dodd, a professor in Psychology at the University of Reading. Her focus at the moment is on establishing links between the lessening of independent play and the increase of childhood anxiety.

“Adventurous play provides a positive context where children are motivated to engage in situations where they might experience some fear.’

This is something that Canadian Dr. Mariana Brussoni has also found. She runs a lab monitoring risky outdoor play and its effects on kids. She feels that ‘Engaging in risk is actually very important in preventing injuries.’

One retired teacher, Fred Klonsky feels that play is too restricted, with it all too easy to fall into the trap of becoming a helicopter parent.

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‘They play organized sports supervised by adults, even their disputes are settled by adults.  Kids used to work all that stuff out themselves’ 

While horror stories of American parents who are prosecuted for leaving their children to play outside have certainly been circulating online, the UK government takes a different approach.

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The law in the UK has it that parents can be prosecuted if they leave a child unsupervised ‘in a manner likely to cause unnecessary suffering or injury to health’. As Dr. Brussoni points out, engaging in risk is important for children as they develop an understanding of how to avoid injuries in the future.

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After a year of lockdown, children are desperate to be allowed freedom as much as adults, so it is important that they are allowed it as well, even if this means some risky outdoor play!

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