Are we holding our kids back by being too overprotective?

We know children learn best through play. If kids are having fun, they probably don’t even realize they are learning.

When playing, kids are engaged, creative, problem solving and exploring. But are we letting our kids play enough? And, more importantly, are they getting enough free play?

Free play is an unstructured, voluntary, child-initiated activity. It is spontaneous and comes from children’s natural curiosity, love of discovery and enthusiasm. It is the sort of play that helps kids to develop their imaginations and also experience the world. It might happen when playing with dolls, blocks or craft materials. Outside it might mean building forts, jumping off rocks or climbing trees. Free play is great for expanding creativity and imagination, social skills, conflict resolution and building confidence.

These days kids are much less independent at a young age than their parents were. In fact, a recent study led by child psychology Professor Helen Dodd from the University of Reading found that the average age a child is allowed to play outside alone is now 10.7 years, while their parents recalled being allowed out unsupervised at around 8.9 years.


Times have certainly changed


We were off with friends for hours at a time, only coming home to eat when the street lights went on. We didn’t have phones or even helmets. Our parents only vaguely knew where we were. We might have been roller-skating around the block, or hanging from monkey bars at the local park, or even exploring drains and abandoned buildings. It wasn’t completely safe, and it seemed like someone in your class always had a broken bone in plaster, but it was fun and exciting and a bit dangerous. We took risks and had to think on our feet. We had to work as a team to figure out how to get that swing to do a full 360 rotation. We had to help each other avoid the ‘cranky’ neighbor that hated kids and put tacks out the front of his house in the hope to give our bike wheels punctures. We had to work stuff out.

Children today are not given such a long leash. Phone apps make it possible for parents to know exactly where kids are at all times. Help is a quick phone call or text away. Parents arrange ‘play dates’, and all kids are pretty closely monitored. Random drop-ins by local kids are pretty much a thing of the past. And while there’s good reason for the additional safety – social changes, safety fears, more traffic - our kids have lost something in the process. Less time exploring outdoors can have an impact on mental health and overall well being. Not to mention physical health.

There’s even growing evidence to suggest that kids most at risk of anxiety disorders are those that cannot manage uncertainty or fear. By allowing our kids the time and space to navigate some age-appropriate risky behavior, such as getting themselves home from school, climbing a tree, or going to the park with a friend, kids are more likely to learn to manage unpredictability and solve problems and as a result, cope better with life as they get older.

Perhaps it’s time we simply let kids be. 

Thanks to Kidspot for this article.

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