The XX Factor

Yet Another Way the Hovering Parent Harms Kids

Photo by Dimas Ardian/Getty Images

When’s the last time you hovered under the jungle gym your child was climbing? Pushed a kid who was quite capable of pumping on the swings, or called “not too high” to one who was pumping merrily away? Helped a kid get across the monkey bars instead of letting her try, drop and, fail on her own?

Research (and your mother) says: Don’t do that.

A study published in the September issue of the American Journal of Preventative Medicine designed to examine how children use parks, with an eye towards creating parks that encourage vigorous physical activity, produced an unexpected finding. “The single most potent factor associated with how much physical activity kids (especially little ones) got was the presence of a parent,” writes blogger Jennifer LaRue Huget in the Washington Post. “Kids with a parent in the park engaged in far less physical activity than those whose parents weren’t there. (Non-parental caregivers had a similar, but lesser, influence.)” Why? “The study says this is in keeping with other research showing that parents’ worries about their kids’ safety hampers outdoor play.”

All that hovering, even in a good cause—everyone knew that kid in elementary school who fell off the jungle gym and broke his arm—isn’t doing our kids any good. But maybe this is good news for those of us who, obligated as we are to accompany at least our younger kids to the park (in spite of all the vocal support for that 1979 school readiness checklist that suggested that 6-year-olds should be able to travel alone in the neighborhood, a parent who lets a first-grader go to the park alone risks censure at best) might prefer to sit on a bench and stare at our smartphones while we’re there.