Fear of dangerous strangers is keeping our kids and teens from using their neighborhood playgrounds and parks. Instead of running out like we did in the olden days, they stay inside and play virtual table tennis on their Nintendo Wii. It’s not the same thing.
Researchers in the Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation at the University of Alberta, looked at perceived opportunities and barriers to physical activity in an inner-city neighbourhood in Edmonton. Study data revealed three themes that influenced youngsters’ opportunities for physical activity, with positive and negative factors for each.
Positive neighborhood characteristics include “walkable” neighborhoods with plenty of parks and playgrounds and nearby amenities. Negative neighborhood characteristics include perceived “stranger danger” fears related to drug users, bullies, prostitutes, gang members and fear of abduction deterred children and youth from visiting these places.
Researchers found that while children and youth were rarely allowed out alone, involvement by a family member, for example, accompanying them to a park to play, increased their engagement in physical activity.
On the positive side, we have neighborhoods with a large variety of programs offered by dedicated, hard-working staff and volunteers. Conversely, neighborhoods with minimal resources; poor staff and volunteer recruitment and retention, and little public knowledge of program availability suffered badly. Even when kids did sign up for available programs, there was a high dropout rate.
If we want our kids to grow up fit and strong and healthy, we need to: