Media Releases | 15th Nov, 2005

Australian children: battery reared or free range?

Tuesday, 15 November 2005

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:

  • New research comparing the freedoms of city and country children in Victoria shows city children are more over-protected, policed and monitored by their parents compared to country children;
  • Research shows Australian cities are more stifling than many other developed countries – our children are less likely to walk or cycle, use public transport or visit friends independently compared to children in cities such as Germany.

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.

Background facts:

  • Physical inactivity is responsible for about 7% of the total burden of disease in Australia, rating second only to tobacco smoking.
  • 80% of 10-year olds in Germany are allowed to travel alone to places other than school; in Australasia only 40% are allowed.
  • In the early 1970s, 80% of 7 and 8-year olds went to school on their own; less than 10% did so in the 1990s.
  • Over 90% of 10 to 12-year olds said they like playing outside with friends.
  • Over 80% of parents of 10 to 12-year olds see stranger danger and road safety as barriers to physical activity for children.
  • 66% of Victorians travel to work by car; only 3.1% walk, 5.7% use public transport and 0.9% ride a bicycle.
  • Car usage is escalating rapidly, with 50% of Victorian households now owning 2 or more cars.
  • 72.3% of Grade 3 – 6 children are driven to school. 61% of these children said they would prefer to walk to school if given the choice.

Source: VicHealth