New Delhi: Modern day parenting pressures and expectations are leading to the death knell for children enjoying spontaneous play, according to a new study.
While parents have always felt some responsibility for their children’s development, the heightened intensity of parenting in recent years now means parents are expected to spend more time exhaustively watching, noticing and responding to their children’s desires and behaviours.
This, according to researchers from the University of Essex in the UK, is leaving less time for children to play independently where they learn for themselves the risks and dangers of outdoor play.
The study, published in the journal Sociology of Health & Illness, said that parents are worried that lack of spontaneous play means their children are not as developed and well-rounded as they could be, coupled with the fact children’s play is increasingly more sedentary due to technology.
“Until around the 1990s, parents were not expected to endlessly entertain and monitor their children in the same way they are today, so children had greater freedom to play independently,” explained study’s author, Dr John Day. “But since those children have become parents themselves, society has changed so there is a heightened feeling of responsibility for their children’s development.
One aspect of the problem is increased fears around stranger danger and more traffic on the roads which means opportunities for children to be physically active through spontaneous play have become limited.
So, today’s youngsters are spending less time playing together away from adult care and more time under parental supervision and participating in structured health-focused physical activity settings such as holiday clubs.
“Parents are encouraged to spend more time with their children while simultaneously being judged on how independent their children are. But most of the learning about independence takes place when children take risks of their own choosing and these opportunities are becoming lost in childhood,” Dr Day added.
The research found that the rise in structured physical activity for children happened at the same time as, and possibly caused, a decline in children playing spontaneously.
“Society today positions parents as the sole engineers in their children’s development which represents an unrealistic burden that brings with it unjust pressure and expectation,” added Dr Day.
To help address this trend, there needs to be a culture shift where health policy makers ensure children are encouraged to learn about the risks of physically active play, independent of adult supervision.