“Helicopter” parents inhibit active play

By Shayna Brouker • Published: December 15th, 2011
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Parents, it’s normal to feel nervous when your baby swings a little too high on the swing set or takes a tumble on the playground. But if you want your kids to get the most out of playtime, it may be best to take a step back. A new study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine says hovering can inhibit children from getting enough physical activity.

North Carolina State University researchers originally aimed to see how kids play in order to create playgrounds that encouraged kids to run around and exercise more. They collected data on more than 2,000 kids over eight weeks of summer. But they found that the biggest barrier to activity wasn’t the structures themselves, but overanxious parents who watch too closely. Kids whose parents hover were only about half as likely to take part in rigorous play than those whose moms and dads gave them free reign. But having other rambunctious tots around gave children an almost four-times greater chance of being active in the park.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one-third of children in the United States are obese. Yet other studies have shown that worrywart parents can even influence kids to stay inside — and stay sedentary — instead of running, jumping and skipping outside.

But until parks are better designed with safety and helicopter parents in mind, the occasional skinned knee is a small price to pay for starting an active, fit lifestyle. It’s hard not to hover when your instincts urge you to guard against harm to every hair on your little one’s head. But it’s also much easier to stick a bandage on a booboo than to undo a lifetime of unhealthy habits and obesity-related illnesses.

So next time your youngster takes a tumble off the teeter totter, just kiss where it hurts and let them play on. They’ll thank you when they’re older.