You Can Thank Helicopter Parents For Those Weakening Children Too

There has been so much press regarding the declining outdoor activities of children coupled with the steady incline of computer activity and general couch potato-ness in youngsters. This piece in The Guardian presents a study of English children, determining that today’s 10-year-olds don’t have the physical strength of the previous generation. The number of sit-ups 10-year-olds can do declined by 27.1% between 1998 and 2008. Arm strength has fallen by 26% and grip strength by 7% and while one in 20 children in 1998 could not hold their own weight when hanging from wall bars, one in 10 could not do so in 2008. The article points to “modern living” as the culprit but also alludes to overprotectiveness of children as a possible factor. Today’s 10-year-olds are engaging in less outdoor play in part because they live in a computer-centric age — but also because half of them aren’t even allowed outside.

Dr. Gavin Sandercock, a children’s fitness expert at Essex University, noted that the decrease in children’s strength is probably due to a lack of rope-climbing and tree-climbing. These activities have conditioned children to build upper body strength and support their own weight.

The Guardian writes:

The fact that 10% could not do the wall bars test and another 10% refused to try was “really shocking”, [Sandercook] added. “That probably shows that climbing and holding their own weight was something they hadn’t done before.”

But these statistics raise the question of how many of these kids are even permitted to climb trees or scale rope walls. I can’t even recall the last time I saw a kid climb a tree without being harangued by their mother to get down.

Tam Fry of the Child Growth Foundation observed that fear of lawsuits on school playgrounds also keeps kids from climbing:

Climbing trees and ropes used to be standard practice for children, but school authorities and ‘health and safety’ have contrived to knock the sap out of our children…Falling off a branch used to be a good lesson in picking yourself up and learning to climb better. Now fear of litigation stops the child climbing in the first place.

I wonder how many children of “free range” parents have trouble hanging from wall bars.


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  • Erin S.

    …or, you know, maybe it’s just that PE classes are being cut in school districts around the world? Maybe?

    Nah, more fun to blame parents.

    • Clericsdaughter

      My school days weren’t so very long ago, and I remember my PE classes as exercises in humiliation, not fitness. Half an hour of activity a few times a week, much of which would be spent on a bench anyway, isn’t likely to make as much difference in a kid’s strength as actually playing around outside and climbing on stuff. To me it seems clear that a decline in outside play would have way less to do with a child’s fitness than anything related to PE.

    • Fidness

      In our PE classes we did fitness tests (situps, etc) and rope climbing, etc.

    • Clericsdaughter

      *forehead smack* I meant to say “more” in that last sentence, not “less.”

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  • randomperson

    Wow. I’m from Australia, so I’ve never really seen many Helicopter Parents, I’m sure they’re around, though. I’m not a Parent, in fact I’m still a kid, (21) but I’ve never understood the bubble wrapping parents. If you protect your kid from everything, how are they going to learn?
    I played in the mud, scraped my knees and elbows, ate dirt (lol), broke my arm, even failed a couple of classes. My Parents, while doting and somewhat overprotective, basically told me to toughen up. I’m grateful. I got a job, working towards a bachelor degree and I’m organizing my assets so I can move out.
    I know of one kid, where I work, who couldn’t even hold down a basic entry level job at Woolworths (a supermarket). When he was terminated, his Parents just patted his head and said, “They just don’t realize how special you are, sweetie” despite the fact that he was late, if he did show up for work, was rude to the customers and refused to do anything his manager asked. I mean really! If you’re going to be rude to a customer, make sure they don’t know it. XD Seriously, though, even I was disgusted. Bloody pansy!

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