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Parents in England place more restrictions on their children than parents in other European countries, giving them less freedom to play unsupervised and travel around independently, according to a new study.
The international research by Policy Studies Institute compared the amount of freedom children are given to play and travel around their local area unsupervised and found it varied across the 16 countries they looked at.
England was ranked in seventh place behind countries such as Finland and Germany, with parents in all countries seeing traffic as the biggest danger.
Overall, Finnish parents allowed their children the most freedom. The degree of independent mobility granted to children in Finland is striking, with a majority of children aged eight allowed to cross main roads, travel home from school and go out after dark alone.
Ben Shaw, director of Policy Studies Institute (PSI), said: “Allowing children the freedom to get about in their local area unaccompanied by adults has been found to be important for their health and physical, mental and social development. Yet we have found that children around the world have significant restrictions placed on their freedom to get about – to go to school, to visit friends, and get to places to play.
“Children’s freedom of movement has declined in recent decades and danger from traffic is the main reason parents give for not letting their children out by themselves. We are struck by how this significant danger and major restriction on children, is routinely accepted given the health and developmental benefits independent mobility has been shown to result in.”
He would like to see cities putting children at the centre of development plans so parents do not have to worry so much about traffic.
“While restrictions on children’s freedom have increased, our research has looked at how this situation can be turned around. We have found some shining examples of cities such as Rotterdam and Vancouver which have been inspired to place children at the centre of their development, on the basis that if a city works for children it works for everyone.
“However, if the benefits of these approaches are to be enjoyed in the UK, the needs of children must be given much greater priority by decision makers working in the policy areas of planning, development and transport,” he said.
Going out alone after dark is the freedom that parents are most reluctant to give to their children. Children of any age are allowed to go out after dark in only a handful of countries – Finland, Sweden, Japan and Denmark.
The research, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, compares children’s independent mobility in 16 countries around the world based on a survey of over 18,000 children aged seven to 15 from 2010-2012. England needs to develop its policies in order to improve children’s independent mobility, with the report outlining seven recommendations on how to achieve this.
These include reducing car dependency and adopting Daylight Saving Time to allow children to utilise daylight hours and reducing road casualties. Previous work by PSI in this area of social policy has highlighted a continuing sharp decline in independent mobility with significant impacts on child development.
Full details of the project and its findings are available at the Children’s Independent Mobility page - http://www.psi.org.uk/children_mobility