The kids are alright, sort of

Are today's kids too safe? 

More than 100 curious locals turned up to find out at the Vernon campus of Okanagan College Wednesday evening.

Dr. Mariana Brussoni, an associate professor at UBC, set the scene, asking everyone to close their eyes and recall their favourite childhood memories of playing. 

“Where were you at?” Brussoni asked. “What were you doing? ... What makes your memory special?”

Most said those memories were outdoors, involved freedom and space to roam. They also admitted that today, society might deem that kind of unsupervised play risky.

Brussoni says her research on prevention raised new questions on how it can affect children's development.

A developmental psychologist and parent, Brussoni delved into the realm of "risky play."

Risky play includes anything that might cause an injury, such as climbing a tree.

“It’s sad,” Brusonni said, “when we even need a word for play. And, yes, sometimes it’s that scary, funny feeling. It involves uncertainty. The whole point is learning to deal with those feelings. It’s essential.” 

There is scientific evidence that playing outdoors has health benefits, including vitamin D (necessary for healthy bone development), reducing short sightedness, and spatial working memory.

Brusonni noted several factors in society’s changing opinion on what safe play is.

“Risk is considered bad, to be eliminated at all costs. That one story you heard of an abduction by a stranger sticks in your head.

“We have a paradox here,” she says, “that keeping kids safe means letting them take risks. They have to develop that knowledge of the world in order to keep themselves safe in different contexts.”

Brusonni encourages parents and childcare providers to consider giving kids three things to help in their development – time to play outdoors, the space to access nature, and the freedom to simply play.

She also suggests using the 17-second rule: “When you wonder if your child is doing something risky, like climbing a tree, count to 17. By that time, you may decide to step in, or it has all worked out OK.”

– Cindy Rhyason

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