Spontaneous child’s play — strolling through the woods, playing tag outside or just staring at clouds on a summer afternoon — is increasingly a thing of the past.
The study, published in the journal Sociology of Health & Fitness, surveyed 28 UK residents born between 1950 and 1994 about their physical activity history and the ways that family members influenced those experiences.
The research revealed that significant changes in childrearing habits began in the 1990s.
“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,” study author Dr. John Day said in a news release.
“But since those children have become parents themselves, society has changed so there is a heightened feeling of responsibility for their children’s development,” Day added.
Much of that sense of responsibility came from the realization that kids weren’t getting enough physical playtime as technology, the internet and video games began to occupy children’s days.
So worried helicopter parents rushed in to fill up kids’ schedules with structured play dates and organized group activities.
“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,” Day explained.
Some of that social pressure is caused by a heightened awareness of risks.
“One aspect of the problem is increased fears around stranger danger,” Day said, referring to concerns over child abduction, “and more traffic on the roads.”
As such, “opportunities for children to be physically active through spontaneous play have become limited.”
Most of the learning about independence takes place when children take risks of their choosing, and these opportunities are becoming lost in childhood.