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AHA improves the health and well-being of Wake County residents by facilitating and supporting community initiatives.

Building Parks to Counteract Hovering Parents’ Habits

Written by

Jason Boccaro, Ph.D. and Myron Floyd, Ph.D., IPARC, NC State University, Department of Parks, Recreation & Tourism Management.

Parental safety concerns may prevent children from getting good exercise, according to a study conducted by NC State researchers and published in American Journal of Preventive Medicine. Funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the study examined how children and families use neighborhood parks.
The study suggested that children who were monitored too closely by parents were less likely to engage in moderate and vigorous levels of physical activity. It’s a catch-22 for today’s parents, unfortunately. Many parents are worried about the safety of their children, so they tend to hover. The worry is – especially as we are seeing childhood obesity become an epidemic in this country – hovering is keeping kids from enjoying more active park experiences such as climbing and running around and playing with their friends and neighbors.
Based on these findings, our research team, which includes faculty from the Department of Parks, Recreation, & Tourism Management, College of Design, and Sociology, seeks to provide guidance to parks and recreation agencies and park designers about ways to better design public parks. If we can design children’s play environments for the whole family with comfortable, shady places to sit and observe kids playing from a distance, parents may be less inclined to ‘helicopter’ and impede spontaneous play, which can also be increased by providing lots of environmental choice and diversity.
Our study also showed that formal programs and facilities, such as soccer programs or basketball courts, increase the likelihood of children ages five and up engaging in higher intensity of activity. The study also found that girls were less likely to be observed in parks, and less likely to be observed in higher levels of physical activity.
We chose to study parks because they are critical spaces within communities to help children stay active. They are free, accessible and provide an opportunity to engage under-served and lower-income populations, whom data have shown have a higher likelihood of being classified as ‘inactive’ and overweight.
Our concern is the answer to the question: Are public parks even attracting kids? If not, what things would draw kids and their families in? This research will help park administrator determine what activities and programs can implement to make our public parks and recreational facilities places where people – especially children – want to spend their free time.
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