Benefits of letting children run free far outweigh the risks

Children are less fit, weaker and fatter than they were a generation ago.

This physical inactivity crisis owes a lot to the decline in children’s independent mobility, which is the subject of a new documentary called Running Free: Children’s Independent Mobility from UBC’s school of kinesiology. The 26-minute film premieres with a special screening on Sept. 18 at the Robert H. Lee Alumni Centre.

“Independently mobile children are those who have the freedom to move around their neighbourhoods without an adult. They are more physically active than children who don’t, and more confident in their own abilities to navigate the world,” said UBC kinesiology professor Guy Faulkner, who produced the film. “However, children aren’t getting nearly as much of that freedom as they once did.”

Guy Faulkner
Guy Faulkner

Associate professor Marina Brussoni from UBC’s school of population and public health explains in the film that parents limit their children’s independent mobility out of fear—unfounded fear that is based more on anecdotes than on facts or evidence. For example, parents worried about “stranger danger” may not realize that, statistically, children are safer walking to school by themselves than they are riding in a car with a parent.

The solution, the researchers argue, is to make it as safe as possible for children to move around outdoors, rather than limiting their freedom to move. This can be accomplished with traffic-calming measures such as crosswalks and lower speed limits near parks, or simple steps like providing mobile phones that give children—and parents—peace of mind.

Negin Riazi
Negin Riazi

“By sending kids out into a safe environment by themselves, parents can send the message that they trust and believe in their children,” said Negin Riazi, a PhD candidate in kinesiology whose research informs the film. “It’s an important step in raising active, resourceful and resilient kids.”

Told through the eyes of three families, this documentary explores the concept of children’s independent mobility and how it benefits children’s mental health and wellbeing. It ultimately challenges viewers to consider solutions to the problem of declining independent mobility among children and youth today.

A panel discussion moderated by CBC’s Shiral Tobin will follow the screening.

Date/Time: Wednesday, Sept. 18, 6:30 p.m.
Location: Robert H. Lee Alumni Centre, 6163 University Blvd.

 Interviews (in advance):

  • Guy Faulkner (producer), professor, school of kinesiology
  • Negin Riazi, PhD candidate, school of kinesiology

Interviews (at event):

  • Mariana Brussoni, associate professor, department of pediatrics and school of population and public health
  • Adrian Crook, civic advocate and founder of com
  • Guy Faulkner (producer), professor, school of kinesiology
  • Robyn Pitman, lecturer, department of sociology
  • Negin Riazi, PhD candidate, school of kinesiology

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