Experts blame parental fear for kids shunning cycling and swimming for TV and computers

Kids freedom to go out and explore claimed to be at risk as parents keep them indoors

by Simon_MacMichael   May 4, 2011  

children cycling.jpg

A new survey reveals that today’s children are missing out on pursuits such as cycling and swimming enjoyed by past generations of youngsters, with experts blaming the findings on their parents being too afraid to let them play outside. Rather than go out and ride their bikes, the survey says that today’s kids are more likely to be engrossed in electronic gadgets such as mobile phones and computer games consoles, watching TV or surfing the internet.

The survey of 1,500 children aged between six and 15 was commissioned by Tata Steel, sponsor of Kids of Steel, which seeks to introduce children to the sport of triathlon. It found that 15% were unable to swim, one in ten could not ride a bike, and a quarter had never run more than 400 metres, reports Wales Online.

One third of those surveyed said they didn’t own a bike – but two thirds have a mobile phone, and three in four a games console. When it came to deciding how to spend their free time, youngsters were twice as likely to watch TV as to take part in sports. Surfing the internet, playing video games and using online social networks were undertaken by half of the children surveyed in their free time.

Tim Gill, an expert on children’s play and free time who has regularly written on the subject for The Guardian in the past, said that the survey’s results regarding use and ownership of bicycles were particularly troubling.

His views will resonate with anyone old enough to remember when a bicycle, rather than a games console or mobile phone, was the most expensive thing you owned while growing up and who enjoyed the taste of freedom it allowed.

“The findings on cycling and cycle ownership paint a worrying picture, not just about children’s exercise but also about their everyday freedoms,” he told Wales Online.

“Not so many years ago, kids both burnt up calories and built up their self-confidence by cycling around their neighbourhoods. It looks like parents today feel the roads are too dangerous for that.

“There’s a message here for politicians; make streets safe enough so that parents can feel confident about letting their kids cycle as part of their daily lives.”

Gill Evans, at children’s play charity Play Wales agreed that fear among some parents of letting their children play outside was also an issue.

“There is a culture among some people which means they think that their children cannot go outside and play,” she explained.

“From when I was young, it seems that the number of cars on the roads has increased, and there are many roads where cars travel faster. But children need to learn to be resilient and things like learning to ride a bike are amazing life skills in the same way as reading and writing.”

“What we need to be doing is nurturing kids who are confident to go outside.”
Ms Evans highlighted the fact that the rise of technology had caused a shift in habits, but maintained that ways need to be found of ensuring that time spent in front of computer screens is compensated for by adequate exercise.

“Things like computer games are being pushed at children and they are being used as child care,” she insisted.

“In our environment there is more emphasis on doing things on screens, and finding that balance with the time children might spend on Facebook and computer games is just different from when I was younger. We need to find a way of navigating through that.”

According to Ms Evans, it is not the children themselves who are electing to spend so much time indoors in front of the TV or computer.

“The studies that we and other organisations have done show that children prefer to play outside. It’s actually the environment that we as parents and adults create that pushes them inside,” she explained.

“Swimming and riding bikes all add to the whole richness of childhood, growing up and getting out with your friends, and therefore it is something we need to invest some time and effort into. Children can do a lot more than we expect they can as a society.

“In terms of children’s health, children riding a bike and swimming is really important. Children would love to swim if given the opportunity to do so,” she concluded.
 

17 user comments

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no shortage of boys on BMXs, scooters and jump bikes in our neighbourhood - perhaps helped by the scene at the local skatepark and jump spot in the woods - but you practically never see girls in their teens and pre-teens on bikes.

joemmo's picture

posted by joemmo [768 posts]
4th May 2011 - 14:52

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It's easy for commentators to say "parental fear" is the problem here, but maybe its "well founded parental experience of cycling in a modern city". The number of motor vehicles has doubled since we were kids, cars drive faster, there are more parked cars to narrow the streets, and everyone is more aggressive.

Case in point: Cotham Hill, Bristol
http://bristolcars.blogspot.com/search/label/cotham-hill

This is how I tow my son to school. Once the mini-roundabout at the top of the road is negotiated (it's easier when deadlocked), and no idiot has tried to undertake us, we then may get down the contraflow provided there isn't some idiot in a lorry in the way. Then its into the lower part of the hill, where you have to worry about
-cars and vans pulling out of side roads without looking (watch the video, yes this is from a school run)
-oncoming cars overtaking bicycles and pulling into your lane in the process (again, a school run)

Experts can witter on about whatever they want, but without fundamental changes to our cities, it is too dangerous for the kids to cycle on the road. Anyone who says otherwise is cordially invited to join me on my school run.

posted by bristoltraffic [14 posts]
4th May 2011 - 15:22

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It's not just bikes, though is it? Take the heatwave we've been having. Went past a playground the other day on the bus which in my day would have been packed with kids. There were just two there (both seemed to be having fun, mind). And this is in a village that is effectively a dormitory suburb of Oxford with lots of families with kids living there.

A couple of days earlier, I took the dog for a walk past our local playground, lovely day, school hols, again, three children playing, with two mothers supervising them.

And these are both playgrounds that clearly have had money put into the facilities.

Interesting point by joemmo about local facilities perhaps making it more likely for boys to cycle, equally we've covered initiatives in the past that seek to get more teenage girls on their bikes.

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posted by Simon_MacMichael [7795 posts]
4th May 2011 - 16:25

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Funny, isn't it, how the things that modern parents deem "safe" for their kids - video games, satellite TV, boy bands, etc - are so often things that provide an ongoing, high-profit-margin revenue stream for mega-corporations.

posted by handlebarcam [527 posts]
4th May 2011 - 21:03

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I'd have to agree with bristoltraffic (impressive level of calm you maintained in that video bristol), it's a catch 22 situation for a lot of parents in cities - certainly when it comes to cycling. You want them to go out and ride their bikes, but your own experience is that the roads are much more crowded and aggressive places than they were when you first started riding on them as a kid. Worse still when they do get to an age when they feel confident enough to ride on the roads they don't have the road skills… or at least you worry that they don't. I probably didn't either when I was 12 or so, but then the traffic was both slower and lighter then, and ironically maybe there were still a generation of drivers on the roads who remembered what it was like to cycle places rather than drive - so cut you a bit more slack. It's easy enough to blame the parents, but when it comes to getting kids on bikes I'd say the main problem is our over dependence on the car and an unwillingness to spend money on proper cycle facilities and more rigourous training for drivers and cyclists.

Luckily my daugthers seem to have no interest in video games at all… although they are certainly going to be at a loose end when E4 stops what had seemed like an eternal loop of Friends re-runs.

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posted by Tony Farrelly [4129 posts]
4th May 2011 - 23:04

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tony_farrelly wrote:
I probably didn't either when I was 12 or so, but then the traffic was both slower and lighter then, and ironically maybe there were still a generation of drivers on the roads who remembered what it was like to cycle places rather than drive - so cut you a bit more slack.

My thought whenever I (frequently) hear one of my neighbours screeming, litterally screeming at the top of their voices, at their kids to get off the road (of our quiet cul-de-sac) as soon as their tyres so much as touch tarmac, is that I don't want to be around when those children turn 17 and get their drivers licenses. They've been conditioned to thing the roads are not a place for cyclists.

tony_farrelly wrote:
Luckily my daugthers seem to have no interest in video games at all… although they are certainly going to be at a loose end when E4 stops what had seemed like an eternal loop of Friends re-runs.

You do realise that will never happen. Don't you know what E4 isn't actually a TV station. It is a space probe that was launched about five years ago with nothing but a perpetual loop tape of all the Friends episodes, the towering achievement of humankind, as a greeting to any aliens it may meet many millennia from now, in some distant star system. And, as a backup, they launched E4+1 an hour before, running a light-hour ahead of it.

posted by handlebarcam [527 posts]
5th May 2011 - 7:20

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tony_farrelly wrote:
I'd have to agree with bristoltraffic (impressive level of calm you maintained in that video bristol),

Last week's video -when the kid was on his own bike- isn't online as the police are handling the incident.

If I cannot get my child to school safely, after two years of cycling-city investement in the city, something has failed. I'm not dreaming of eight year olds on their own, I'm dreaming of eight year olds and their parents getting .75 of a mile across a city without multiple near-misses. Is that too much to ask?

posted by bristoltraffic [14 posts]
5th May 2011 - 7:46

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if you want to see how it is done take a trip to Lieden, from two year olds to eighty year olds, sharing the city with pedestrians and mopeds with no helmets, no lycra. Backies, beers, half working lights, no drama, no aggression.

But then uk Zeitgeist is one of general rage and anger all brimming just beneath a thin veneer of feigned smiles and tolerance, following the American dream!.

posted by surreyxc [44 posts]
5th May 2011 - 9:46

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handlebarcam wrote:

You do realise that will never happen. Don't you know what E4 isn't actually a TV station. It is a space probe that was launched about five years ago with nothing but a perpetual loop tape of all the Friends episodes, the towering achievement of humankind, as a greeting to any aliens it may meet many millennia from now, in some distant star system. And, as a backup, they launched E4+1 an hour before, running a light-hour ahead of it.

Presumably the Dave channel was launched 20 years earlier carrying all top gear episodes made until 1985.

posted by bristoltraffic [14 posts]
5th May 2011 - 10:42

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My experience is that parental rejection of cycling is only *one* impediment. We live in a smallish town in Germany, lots of facilities, we do not own a car, me and my partner cycle everywhere and I train 3 times a week. The kids went to Kindergarten then school in a bike trailer, then on their own bikes with me. They have reasonable bikes and I keep them maintained. So plenty of positive examples !

The kids do cycle to school (except my daughter in winter, then she walks), and after school sports clubs, but they would never cycle for "fun": i.e. round the neighbourhood or tours.

I think they are very influenced by their peers and unless everyone's parents are supporting cycling they will not do it together. It only takes one of the group to have a games console, and they can all join in, even if only passively. But to go cycling *everyone* has to have a bike and want to actively use it !!

posted by zoxed [62 posts]
5th May 2011 - 11:28

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No shortage of kids in the park near my house riding their bikes. More boys than girls can be seen on bikes, it is true, but there are still sufficient numbers of both to see cycling has a future. The BMX track in the park and the skatepark not too far away are both very well used, more boys than girls also and the same goes for the historic Herne Hill Velodrome, also a few turns of the cranks away.

The problem seems to be more with the adults if you ask me. There are too many overweight parents who seem reluctant to walk to the end of the street, let alone trust their balance to a bicycle. I do think a study of cyclists would reveal that a high percentage are from mid-high income families, somewhat running against the sort of tirade you expect from morons like Jeremy Clarkson who claim that cyclists simply cannot afford cars.

OldRidgeback

posted by OldRidgeback [2102 posts]
5th May 2011 - 11:50

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I have friends who never let their children travel anywhere on their own. Very sad.

If cycling is indeed a sport of self-abuse why aren't more cyclists sectioned under the mental health act?

posted by hairyairey [275 posts]
6th May 2011 - 22:30

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"seeks to introduce kids to the sport of triathelon"! Maybe they just couldn't find any pain loving little chillins?

posted by Viro Indovina [76 posts]
7th May 2011 - 6:49

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Re header picture: plaudits to anyone who feels they have to let most of the air out of their back tyre before dragging two littluns along! Surprise Why don't folks ride with their tyres inflated ?

It doesn't get easier, you just go faster.....maybe

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posted by pward [88 posts]
7th May 2011 - 7:16

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Does anyone know where you can get a trailer like that? I've turned up a single-seat one at Mission Cycles, but haven't found a twin seat one so far.

Conscientious Objector in the War on Vulnerable Road Users

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posted by t1mmyb [86 posts]
9th May 2011 - 8:27

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I'm also too scared to go outside....thank God for my rollers and turbo trainer

whizz kid

posted by whizzkid [62 posts]
9th May 2011 - 8:27

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That's a Pashley U+2, sadly I don't think they make it any more. Probably worth asking around on cycling forums if anyone has one, or indeed getting in touch with Pashley - Tel : (+44) 01789 292 263
Email : hello@pashley.co.uk

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posted by Tony Farrelly [4129 posts]
9th May 2011 - 8:47

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