Free-Range Kids

Overprotective Government, Overweight Kids?

Here in America, helicopter government is also making parents afraid to send their kids outside to play.


The Round-Up
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recent study in the science journal PLOS One found that overprotected kids face a 13 percent greater chance of being obese than other kids, possibly because they aren't allowed to do things like play outside and walk to school:

[T]he evidence suggests that the physical activity of children has declined over time as rates of child overweight and obesity have increased. At the same time, there has been a shift in perceptions of safety for children, even though children arguably face the same or fewer risks today than in previous decades. Parents have become more risk averse and protective over time, and as a result children have enjoyed fewer opportunities for active free play and independent mobility.

The study, which was conducted in Australia, blames helicopter parents. Here in America, helicopter government is also making parents afraid to send their kids outside to play. While examples like Debra Harrell—the mom jailed for letting her 9-year-old play in the park—are rare, in my piece at the Weekly Wonk, I discuss a couple of other cases:

A man in suburban Pittsburgh dropped off his kids, age 6 and 9, at the park while he ran some errands. This sight was so unusual – children playing on their own – that a passerby called 911. The police came and charged the dad with two counts of child endangerment. This happened recently in D.C., too. …[And] One mom got a visit from Child Protective Services because her children were playing in the rain! It has become a radical act to let kids play beyond the living room.

If our cops, courts, and lawmakers absorb helicopter parents' wrongheaded belief that a child outside is a child in danger (even though crime is at a 50-year low), any parent who wants her kids to get some exercise and independence must worry about the possibility that she could be deemed negligent.

That doesn't mean parents shouldn't let their kids go forth and frolic. It means the government should make it abundantly clear that parents who believe their children are fine outside, unsupervised—the way we were as kids—will not face harassment or charges.