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Study: Parents at the Park = Less Exercise for Kids

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Can’t tear yourself away from the bottom of the slide when Junior’s at the park? You may want to give your kids a bit more space, it turns out. Keeping too close of an eye on them could be hindering their playtime and exercise, says a study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

The study documented the activities of over 2,700 kids (mostly age 12 and under) at 20 parks in Durham, NC. Researchers found that kids with a parent in the park engaged in less physical activity than those whose parents weren’t there (non-parental caregivers had a similar but smaller influence). Hovering, researchers say, keeps kids from running and playing with friends and neighbors and impedes spontaneous play, which is what being a kid is really about. 

But, for many parents, remaining in close physical proximity to their kids while in a park is about being able to prevent or respond quickly to injuries, help their kids to feel safe emotionally, and protect them from the kinds of stranger danger that may lurk in parents’ worst nightmares. And there’s no question that all of those intentions come from a good place—but ultimately, our staying so close by may be hurting them by preventing them from getting the kind of physical activity their bodies need to keep them healthy.

Of course, all of this isn’t to say that kids should head off to the park unaccompanied in the name of more physical exercise. The study was conducted in hopes that these findings will provide guidance to parks and recreation departments to create better-designed parks; higher levels of physical activity were associated with the presence of other children and environmental features of parks, like basketball courts. The way a park is set up (including clear sight lines so parents can observe kids from a distance) can ease parents’ safety concerns and potentially back off, giving their kids the room to breathe, burn some calories and most importantly have fun. 

What’s your park and playground strategy? Do you stay super-close to your kids, or do you keep an eye on them from a distance?

Plus: Fun Ways to Get Kids Psyched About Exercise and Are Today’s Playgrounds Too Safe?