Keeping a tighter leash on kids in public

LiveScience has an interesting article, Kids Today on Tighter Leash, But Wild at Home. It suggests that today’s kids have less independent mobility, perhaps due in part to the bike unfriendly designs of newer communities.

Parents today give their children more freedom at home but keep them on a tighter leash in public, a new study finds. This is the reverse of what was considered good parenting in the early half of the last century, the researcher showed.

The loss of public freedom could reflect social changes, including the current design of towns and suburbs, which focus mostly on the convenience of auto traffic, not kids.

In the early 20th century, advice columns tended to promote obedience, with children listening to parents regarding diet, appearance and other personal matters.

While tightening the leashes at home, parents often gave their kids free rein outside, allowing them to play sports, ride bikes and toddler scooters, buses and subways all over town, and even hitch rides.

The Free Press recently published a similar article, Fear and technology are keeping kids indoors.

U.S. children spend 50% less time outdoors than they did 20 years ago, says the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan.

The lack of running or biking or splashing around in the sprinkler is one likely factor in rising childhood obesity rates, said education professor Rhonda Clements, who conducted a 2004 study, “An Investigation on the Status of Outdoor Play,” for Manhattanville College in Purchase, N.Y. In it, 85% of mothers reported their children spend less time playing outside than they did growing up.

This reduction in child mobility is also reflected in the number of kids walking or biking to school.

From a 2004 CDC study,

  • In 1969, 42 percent of children 5 to 18 years of age walked or bicycled to school. In 2001, only 16 percent did.
  • In 1969, 87 percent of children 5 to 18 years of age who lived within one mile of school walked or bicycled to school. In 2001, only 63 percent did.

The distances to schools and the traffic-related dangers were most often cited as barriers.

While the Safe Routes to School initiatives are addressing these barriers, it’s really something all of us need to keep pushing.

We need Complete Streets and well-designed communities that accomodate safe accessibility and mobility for future generations of kids — and that don’t require parent chauffeurs.

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