Australian children are less healthy and active and more socially isolated because cities are stifling their freedom, a conference heard today.
The two-day “Creating Child Friendly Cities” conference, inspired by a United Nations project, heard research from speakers on how the needs of children should be incorporated into cities, and how parental fears were risking children’s health.
The conference, which ran from November 14-15, heard:
Keynote speaker Karen Malone said preliminary research by RMIT’s Globalism Institute comparing country and city children showed rural kids have better social networks and more freedom, while city kids are more policed.
“Compared to rural children, city children are over-parented. City parents have a greater sense of risk and so are more inclined to regulate their children,’ said Dr Malone.
“When children are not independent it can lead to a lack of resilience and a lowering of self-esteem, self-confidence and self-reliance.”
Keynote speaker Paul Tranter, University of NSW lecturer, said if Melbourne was to be a child-friendly city it needed to slow down, invest in public transport, cycling and walking facilities, and design better suburbs with spaces to play.
“Australian cities compare unfavourably with cities in many other developed countries, in terms of children’s freedom to explore their cities independently. Evidence also shows that children’s freedoms have declined dramatically in the last few decades, and may still be in a state of decline,” said Dr Tranter.
“A child-friendly city is one in which children are free to explore. There needs to be a balance between risk and freedom – at the moment that is out of kilter. Traffic danger, for instance, is a greater risk than stranger danger.”
VicHealth CEO Dr Rob Moodie said we must not bubble wrap children: “We need to provide our children with more, not less, active time – walking or cycling to and from school, active play during recess and lunchtime at school,” he said.
The conference is a partnership between Environment Victoria, Environmental Education in Early Childhood (Vic), Playgrounds and Recreation Association Victoria and Planning Institute Australia (Vic) and City of Port Phillip.