What’s behind the decline in outdoor play?

Physical, social factors guide parental decisions in low-income neighborhoods, study finds

Mothers in low-income neighborhoods report more physical and social barriers that discourage them from allowing their children to play outside, according to new research from the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis.

The decline in outdoor play, particularly unsupervised or independent play among today’s children and adolescents, can affect children’s physical, emotional and social development, finds a new study. The research, “Neighborhood Influences on Women’s Parenting Practices for Adolescents’ Outdoor Play: A Qualitative Study,” was published Oct. 12 in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

Poor neighborhoods also tend to have less access to quality green space, parks or playgrounds and well-maintained sidewalks.


“Neighborhood factors interrelate and differ in low- and high-disadvantage neighborhoods to influence parenting practices for outdoor play,” said Maura Kepper, research assistant professor at the Brown School and the study’s first author.

“Community-level interventions that target both physical and social environmental factors and are tailored to the neighborhood and population may be needed to reduce parental constrains on outdoor play, increase physical activity and improve the health and well-being of developing youth,” she said.

Researchers interviewed the parents of adolescents in both low- and high-disadvantaged neighborhoods in Southeast Louisiana to identify factors that positively and negatively influence parenting decision for outdoor play.

Supervision, time of day and location of play were major factors in parental decisions.

Physical factors such as walkability were important, as were environmental factors such as crime. Social cohesion in neighborhoods also influenced parental decisions, researchers found. For example, mothers who saw other children playing outside in the neighborhood felt more comfortable letting their kids outside to play.

“This work demonstrates the need for multifaceted and multilevel approaches that cross disciplines, organizations and cultures to promote outdoor play through change in parenting practices,” Kepper said.

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