Tuesday 14 December 2010

Children's play inhibited by inflated view of risk

Photograph of a street taken from a window
Many photographs taken by the children were from the inside looking out

Child drawings and writing
The children were asked to draw what they were afraid of
It is clear that children are far more concerned about perceived danger than about actual risks.
Cyndy Hawkins, senior lecturer

Children have an inflated perception of risk and lack confidence in playing independently of adults, according to research from Nottingham Trent University.

Cyndy Hawkins, senior lecturer in the University's School of Education, carried out a research project at a primary school to discover where the children played and what they were afraid of.

The children were given disposable cameras and notebooks and were asked to take photographs of where they liked to play and to draw pictures and maps of places they chose not to play. They were also asked to talk about their ideas of risk and play in a group session.

The findings showed that children appeared more concerned about things outside, rather than in and around their home environment - with some exceptions such as the kitchen and garden, which were seen as dangerous places to play.

Some 'risky' themes regularly emerged, such as being afraid of strangers, kidnapping, road traffic and dark places. Children showed particular anxiety about strangers and kidnapping, even when playing in and around their home. Being exposed to crime and having their toys stolen from their house, garden or outside space, which some children had experienced, also disturbed them.

Though children saw public spaces as riskier places to play, some of these were playground favourites - the park, woodland and fields were recorded as some of the most popular places where they wanted to play. In addition, the children recorded being afraid of teenagers and older children in parks and outside spaces, because they thought these older children might hurt them.

The children's photographs and narratives showed that they played more in their bedrooms, living rooms, school playgrounds and gardens. Many photographs were taken from the inside of the house looking out, and images of cars and crowded streets also featured significantly in their pictures and photographs. Children indicated they would like more freedom to play in different places and were inclined more to playing outdoors, but felt that they needed to stay close to an adult. They often recorded their own self-imposed boundaries, and when playing alone away from adults, it worried them.

Cyndy said: "It is clear that children are far more concerned about perceived danger than about actual risks. Being exposed to the media can create an unnecessarily scary world for children, and perhaps as adults we should be trying to rationalise risks more with children. Only by allowing children greater freedom within a safe environment will they gain a more secure view of their worlds.

"Children clearly prefer outside play spaces, yet are restricted more and more to the home environment, either by adults or by self-imposed boundaries. It appears that the children in the case study lack trust in people and spaces and therefore society has a duty to provide open spaces where children feel safe to play. Much more thought should be given to planning and housing families in the UK, as it is in other countries."

Notes to editors:

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