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Active Healthy Kids Report Card Calls To End ‘Hyperparenting’?

Yesterday, Active Healthy Kids Canada released its 2012 Report Card on Physical Activity.

It probably comes as no surprise to anyone that once again the overall grade is ‘F’.

As noted before, inactivity is not a problem specific to obese kids, most Canadians kids (lean or overweight) are simply not active enough – period!

Among the 24 grades assigned in the Report Card, key grades include:

• “F” for Active Play & Leisure
• “F” for Physical Activity Levels
• “F” for Screen-Based Sedentary Behaviours
• “D+” for Active Transportation
• “D+” for Family Physical Activity
• “F“ for Federal Government Investments
• “C-” for Provincial/Territorial Government Investments

One of the few As in the report card (an A- to be precise) was given for the proximity & availability of facilities, programs, parks & playgrounds indicator which, (unchanged from last year) shows that the large majority of Canadian children and youth live in communities where the built environment has characteristics that are conducive to physical activity and opportunities for physical activity are nearby and available. So I am really not exactly sure what more communities can be expected to do here.

Also, notably, one of the few B grades in the report was given to sport & physical activity opportunities at school, reflecting the fact that over half of schools in Canada offer a number of intramural and intervarsity sports, and the majority of parents report that schools offer other physical activity or sport programs outside of regular PE classes. While, as noted before, this may not always be conducive to promoting more physical activity in the less-competetive ‘non-natural-born-athlete’-type kid, it is also not clear exactly how much more schools could or should be doing to get kids moving (perhaps less is more?).

I, for one, tend to believe that the key problem is exactly what is highlighted in the accompanying press release:

“Barriers, including screen time and parental safety concerns, force children and youth into highly-controlled environments, where they have little opportunity for active play. Fifty-eight per cent of Canadian parents say they are very concerned about keeping their children safe and feel they have to be over-protective of them. Safety concerns, whether or not they are founded, such as crime, traffic, neighbourhood danger, outdoor darkness and lack of supervision, discourage parents from letting their children and youth play outdoors.”

As Mark Tremblay, Chief Scientific Officer, Active Healthy Kids Canada, points out:

“Kids of all ages should have regular opportunities for active play, where they can let loose, explore, run, climb, crawl and play in parks with friends, like their parents once did.”

Unfortunately, the solution suggested by Active Kids, namely,

“To address safety concerns, parents and caregivers can take turns supervising and playing with children outdoors or encourage kids to play with a buddy.”

is not exactly helpful, when parents and caregivers themselves are sedentary and exhausted and lack the time to spend with their kids.

It is no surprise that double income households (the rule rather than the exception), while great for the economy, also means one person less at home to actually do the supervising. I am, frankly, not at all surprised when most parents, after a busy work day and a long commute, barely managing to stop to pickup up the dinner pizza on their way home, realising that all of the regular household chores still await them, often simply lack the energy to also spend a couple of extra hours every day ‘supervising’ their kids on the playground.

Perhaps it is simply time to cut those kids loose – yes, there will be trouble, knees will be scratched, arms will be broken, clothes will be torn, tears will be shed – but so what? It never harmed us – it sure won’t harm our kids.

As Tremblay points out,

Active play is fun, but it is also shown to improve a child’s motor function, creativity, decision-making, problem-solving and social skills.”

Perhaps our very effort to save our kids from harm is exactly what is harming them the most?

Please, let your poor kids eat those germs!

Edmonton, Alberta


  1. > yes, there will be trouble, knees will be scratched, arms will be broken,
    > clothes will be torn, tears will be shed – but so what?

    I have no clue how to address this problem, but I don’t think what most parents are worried about is whether their kids will get bruises or even broken bones. I think most of them are (completely needlessly, imo) worried their children will be kidnapped raped and killed.

    And then there’s the smaller (probably much smaller) subset, like me, who understand that statistically, one’s own home and family are statistically much more dangerous than a whole park full of strangers, think we should teach our kids good refusal skills and call the whole “stranger danger” thing a day, and are instead worried that if we let our kids play outside unsupervised, our neighbors and/or various passerbys and/or “the authorities” will think we’re neglectful because we’re not supervising our kids, and will call child protective services on us.

    I live in a middle-class to yuppie-ish, very safe small suburban town, and when my kid was about 12 yo, I started letting him go to the corner store (1/4 mile from our house, no street crossing involved) by himself. He was routinely stopped and asked where his parents were, and eventually, I stopped letting him go. There’s a little park on the way, but I would never let him go play in it by himself for the same reason. I let him stay in the car (with it off and the doors locked, if the outside temp. is moderate, starting when he was about age 10) while I do very short errands (5 minutes or less) if he doesn’t want to come to the store I’m going into, and once when he was 12 the police were already there by the time I came back, asking him how long he’d been alone in the car etc. When he was 8, I let him ride the escalator up and down “by himself” while I browsed the nearby bookshelves at a bookstore, and security came and told me I couldn’t let him do that “alone”. Obviously they knew I was supervising him, since they knew who to tell not to do it. It makes me sick.

    I live in the US, so maybe it’s not as bad in Canada? I dunno…. but I notice my online friends from various countries all seem to worry about the same insanely stupid stranger thing too. Won’t let their kids talk to people in the grocery store, etc.

    Anyways, obviously there are a host of social issues making it tough to raise our kids in a way that’s healthy. But I wish the government would use some of their seemingly vast health campaign money on “it’s okay to let your kid outdoors alone once in a while, no one will kidnap them” instead of useless “stranger danger” paranoia.

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  2. “…yes, there will be trouble, knees will be scratched, arms will be broken, clothes will be torn, tears will be shed – but so what? It never harmed us – it sure won’t harm our kids. …”

    When I was a little kid, I broke my arm jumping out of a swing while standing up. Yeah, dumb. However, I let my own children play on swings. (I did tell them not to jump off if they were swinging standing up.) They survived, nothing broken.
    Kids + swings = acceptable risk.

    By the time I grew up, this city had changed. My second broken arm, I was a young adult. I was grabbed from behind, my arm twisted behind my back, then other guys picked up my feet so my arm twisted more and snapped. I am not going to brush that off as “so what?” I will keep my kids away from that kind of danger.
    Kids + violence = unacceptable risk.

    “… Perhaps it is simply time to cut those kids loose …”
    perhaps in your neighbprhood, Dr Sharma, but not in mine.

    Here, the cops and the teachers can’t stop drug dealing and protection rackets inside school, on school grounds or at school events.
    It’s not likely that parks or public playgrounds or streets will be safe if even a school isn’t safe.
    Everybody knows exactly who the drug dealers and the muggers are – including the police – but there seems to be little that the authorities can do about it.

    Of course parents want kids in organized activities – there will be supervision (often shared by parent volunteers), and you know who the other kids are.

    When I was in high school we had dances.
    My children’s high school cancelled all dances because they became too dangerous.
    Imagine – a school dance that is TOO DANGEROUS!!!
    The best thing society can do for activity would be to make going to a dance a happy event, not a dangerous one.

    (I live in a small canadian city)

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