Children's development and wellbeing are under threat because their parents are fearful of strangers, according to researchers at The University of Western Australia.
Commissioned by VicHealth, the report led by Professor Stephen Zubrick from the Telethon Institute for Child Health Research and Assistant Professor Lisa Wood, Deputy Director of UWA's Centre for the Built Environment and Health, reviewed evidence of parental anxiety as a barrier to children's physical activity such as walking or cycling to school and playing at parks.
"The evidence shows there have been substantial changes in Australian family life linked to work, employment, the extension of the lifespan, the lowering of the age-range for early childhood education and the need for care outside of the home," Professor Zubrick said.
"These factors, and changes to daily activity and routine, impart clear restrictions on where children can be left unsupervised, who can supervise them, the rules for transferring duty of care, and general tolerance for children having a ‘freer range' of independent mobility."
The review found that parents often have distorted perceptions of ‘stranger danger'. Such fear can curtail children's freedoms and physical activity.
"The negative impacts of parental fear and the resulting ‘cottonwool' kids are increasingly being recognised as having adverse impacts on children, including less active lifestyles and increasing obesity levels," Assistant Professor Wood said.
"Children are also missing out on opportunities to develop important life skills that can be learnt through independent play and being allowed to move around within their neighbourhoods".
The researchers recommended strategies in building social cohesion; creating environments to promote active engagement; transport initiatives to promote walking and cycling; and empowering parents to be less fearful.
Assistant Professor Lisa Wood (+61 8) 6488 7809 / (+61 4) 38 350 266
(Centre for the Built Environment and Health)
Professor Stephen Zubrick, Curtin University, Centre for Developmental (+61 8) 9489 7714
Health, Telethon Institute for Child Health Research
Sally-Ann Jones (UWA Public Affairs) (+61 8) 6488 7975 / (+61 4) 20 790 098