How Overprotective Parenting Inhibits Physical Activity

Most parents agree that physical activity is a necessary and good thing for their children.  

And yet, we see declining rates of physical activity among today’s children.  

If parents believe that it’s a good thing, why aren’t children getting their necessary physical activity? 

Part of the problem is the education system. Ugh. That’s a post for another day. But even younger kids aren’t getting as much daily exercise as they should. Why is that? 

My theory:

Overprotective parenting.  

Now, you’re probably thinking two things to yourself right now.

  1. What does overprotective parenting have to do with exercise?
  2. But I’m not an overprotective parent.  


Hear me out.  

Do you let your children play unattended in the back yard? Or go to the park by themselves?  

If you’re anything like the average modern American parent, the answer is no.  

I’ve already talked about the benefits of unsupervised play, but let’s just focus on physical activity for a second.  

A quote generally attributed to Jean Piaget states that “Play is the work of childhood“.  

Let’s face it… Children have more energy than we do, especially for playing. They just go and go and go. And they’re meant to! That’s good for them.  

But when daddy comes home from a long day at work, or when mommy tries to fit play in between loads of laundry and dishes, we can’t maintain that kind of energy that kids need.  

Kids need more playtime than adults like to allot them.  

So what ends up happening? We give the kids half an hour of outside playtime to run around and get their energy out. Then we make them come inside. And they’re not allowed to run in the house. And they’re not allowed to jump on the furniture.  

Sometimes we even try to pacify them with a TV show or an iPad game to get them to calm down.  

And eventually it works. That naturally energetic child has no place to vent their energy. They get used to living with less physical activity than their body actually needs.  

So what is the solution?  

Stop hovering over your child.  

Send them out back to play by themselves. If you’re nervous, keep a back door or window open and check in every now and then.  

Being with your child all the time isn’t practical – not for you, and not for them. You have things to do. Adult things. They need more play time than you can give them.  

Sure, it’s great to get some exercise in together. Play some tag. Throw a frisbee. It’s good for them to see you being active as well.  

The World Health Organization and the Center for Disease Control both recommend that children get at least one hour of moderate to vigorous exercise per day. This is the bare minimum.    

(it’s also interesting to note that Australia’s Health Department recommends at least three hours a day for toddlers and preschool age children, while the Finnish government also recommends three for elementary aged kids) 

If you have that much time and energy to spend being active with your kids, great! But if you don’t, it’s okay. They will get that exercise on their own if you give them the opportunity.  


Let the children play. 

How are parenting styles and physical activity related? Find out how your parenting might actually be preventing your child from getting the physical activity they need! | Mom but not a Mom

3 thoughts on “How Overprotective Parenting Inhibits Physical Activity

  1. Very apt in today’s society…I think moreson when you’re in a country full of crime…you’re paranoid and also “better safe than sorry” – but yes…certainly not good if overprotected. I think there should be more awareness around this, thanks for sharing

    1. Part of the problem is that people believe crime rates are skyrocketing (in the US), when in fact they are lower now than they have been for the past three decades.

      It’s good to know the facts when you’re making these sorts of decisions.

      Thanks for reading, Nicola!

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