Inactive kids... fearful society?

A few years ago I visited a woman in Fort Rouge to talk about Block Parents.
95 per cent of kids over the age of five aren't getting enough physical activity.

A few years ago I visited a woman in Fort Rouge to talk about Block Parents.

You might remember that is the program where you put the sign in the window that identifies you as a "block parent," which means that your house is a safe place for a neighbourhood kid to go if they find themselves in trouble.

When I was growing up those red and white signs were all over North Kildonan.

I remember my mom telling me what they meant. She wanted me to know in case anything went wrong during my adventurous after dinner bike excursions with Lara Pankewicz playing Nancy Drew detectives until dusk.   

The woman I was interviewing in Fort Rouge still displayed the block parent sign proudly in her window. However, during our chat about the program, she admitted that times have changed in more ways than one.

Firstly, she said, block parents are just few and far between. But secondly, some people see that sign today and actually question if someone "creepy" lives in the house and is trying to lure children.   

She thought it was a sad comment on how our communities have changed. I agreed with her... but I have to admit that I do have locks on my gates.

I'm writing the story in my blog today because this week we've been having some candid conversations about how to get our kids more active.

The discussions grew out of a new report by Active Healthy Kids Canada that says 95 percent of kids over the age of five aren't getting enough physical activity.

It also made the distinction between organized and scheduled sport and the idea of free or unstructured play  (a.k.a: Nancy Drew for two-hours on your bike).

Mark Tremblay, one of the researchers of the report was on Information Radio on Wednesday.

We got into a great discussion about fear and how freeing ourselves of it might in fact allow our kids to get more daily exercise.

The "societal norm" in Canada, he said, is to not allow your child to leave the driveway, to roam or just go blow off some steam in the park. The challenge is to change the societal norm so kids can get back to free play.  

While I appreciate the idea I wondered who would be the first one to try it out in Winnipeg.  

Who wants to be the first parent in the cul-de-sac to get off the driveway and go back into the house and stop supervising their kid?  

I found my answer this morning when Susie Erjavec Parker joined me on the show.

Susie lives in St. James and has been encouraging her kids, aged six and eight, to be confident enough to ride their bikes to the corner park.

Susie grew up as a latch key kid and says when she and her sister were 8 and 10 they would go home after school, do their homework and start dinner.

Susie thinks that with careful guidelines and rules about safety she is hoping her kids will rise to the occasion.

Her six-year-old is still too nervous to take the 2 block bike ride, but they're working on it. 

We also got this comment on our facebook page from Richard Rusk...

"I am an immigrant and the main reason I have stayed in this country is because I can give my kids the same as I had when growing up — lots and lots of time outside (regardless of the weather) because it is safe, " he said. "As a local Canadian, we have no idea how safe it is here compared to 90 per cent of the rest of the world, and those kids play outside (unsupervised) all the time. So I guess I am comfortable with them going out on their own, with the 16 other kids on our bay."

Rusk's point about the "16 other kids on the bay" is something that is also important to the discussion in Winnipeg. 

Parent Hadass Eviatar joined us on the Morning Show to share her challenges with getting her kids to be active safely. Hadass's kids are teenagers now but they didn't grow up with a lot of other children on their West Kildonan street. Even though her house has a front porch, she said, the family mostly uses the back deck.

"We lack that neighbourhood feeling ... we've lost our village,"  Hadass said.    

That idea may get right to the heart of why the fear persists for well-intentioned parents who might desperately want their kids to "go out and play" but just can't take the leap.   Perhaps the discussions this week will help a little bit.  

For her part at least, Hadass is skeptical.  She fears that parents might be negatively labelled no matter what they do.  

If you let your kids run unsupervised then you're neglectful, she told us, but if you hover like a helicopter then you're stifling them.     

"If only we had block parents," I thought, "that would solve everything."