Research Summary

Using mixed methods to understand women’s parenting practices related to their child’s outdoor play and physical activity among families living in diverse neighborhood environments

Parents’ restrictions on outdoor play often focus on safety concerns

Health & Place

The benefits of outdoor play are generally well understood, yet the amount of time children and youth engage in outdoor play has been decreasing. There are multiple ways in which parents can encourage or discourage their children’s play in outdoor environments. This study explored parenting practices related to adolescents’ outdoor play among families in diverse neighborhood environments.

This study was conducted in a large metropolitan area with 342 adolescents (age 10-16) and their parents participating. Parents completed a 14-item assessment of their parenting practices related to restrictions on their adolescent’s outdoor physical activity. Seven items reflected avoidance behaviors and seven defensive behaviors. Avoidance behaviors eliminate an adolescent’s physical activity behavior, such as forbidding unsupervised outdoor play. Defensive behaviors incorporate modifications to adolescent’s physical activity behavior, such as restricting outdoor play to the backyard. Parents also completed a questionnaire relating to where and approximately how often per week their child had been physically active during the past year. Thirty of the participating parents also participated in interviews focusing on their avoidance and defensive behaviors. Physical activity levels were based on readings from accelerometers worn by the adolescents over a period of at least four days.

The data gathered from parents and adolescents were then linked to neighborhood characteristics, specifically focusing on differences between high and low disadvantage neighborhoods. Significantly more African Americans and participants with obesity lived in high disadvantage neighborhoods than low disadvantage neighborhoods. While almost all of the parents restrict their adolescent’s outdoor play, parents in high disadvantage neighborhoods reported more defensive behaviors than parents in low disadvantage neighborhoods. More parents of females in low disadvantage neighborhoods than parents of males reported defensive behaviors. Restrictive parenting practices were significantly associated with less outdoor play, but not physical activity. Interview results indicated that restrictive parenting practices tended to be motivated by safety-related concerns.

These results suggest that improved neighborhood conditions – especially as they relate to safety concerns -- may be necessary to reduce parents' fear and lessen restrictions on outdoor play.