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Helicopter parenting didn’t fly for this study.
New research out of Australia shows that letting elementary school children take risks while they play can have a positive effect on the amount of exercise they get.
The study, published this month in the journal Psychology of Sport and Exercise, explored the relationship between parental attitudes about risk and injury and their children’s moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) and “daily adventurous play.”
645 parents of children 5 to 12 years old completed an online survey about risk and injury and their kids’ physical activity.
78% of parents had a low tolerance for risk when they were asked about a series of potential play scenarios — in this group, the child’s MVPA was lower.
The MVPA target for children is 60 minutes per day, every day.
The researchers concluded that “children of parents with more positive attitudes to risk and injury had more adventurous play.”
“It’s understandable that parents want to protect their child. But the balance can tip too far,” lead study author Alethea Jerebine, from Coventry University, said in a statement.
“This study shows that parents with a relaxed attitude to risky play have children who are more likely to be getting the recommended amount of daily exercise. Adventurous play can help improve a child’s fitness, cognitive function and mental wellbeing — and it’s also more fun.”
The majority of survey participants were female, at 81%, while the average age of children was 8.6 years.
Mothers were more concerned about the potential risk for injury than fathers were, while overall, parents on average felt positively about their children’s “engagement with risk in physical activity.”
“Parents need support to provide opportunities for their children to engage with risk in their play because this play has potential to improve levels of MVPA in addition to other known benefits such as skill development and mental wellbeing,” the study’s authors wrote.
“Interventions should provide tangible ways for parents, particularly mothers, to balance injury concerns with the desire to foster their child’s confidence, independence, resilience, and risk management skills.”
The findings follow a July report out of Ireland that found exercise can help battle chronic depression.
The study, published in JAMA Network Open, determined exercise reduced depression symptoms for people older than 50 who suffer conditions often linked to depression, such as diabetes and heart disease.