New research from health promotion foundation VicHealth has found parents are worried other parents would judge them harshly for allowing their kids to walk independently to school.
The research found 44 per cent of parents believe other parents would disapprove if they allowed their kids to walk, ride or scoot independently to school. These fears are not unfounded, with 57 per cent of parents stating they feel it's irresponsible to allow kids to walk to school without adult supervision. Despite their fears, most parents want their kids to walk to school with 84 per cent believing it's good for kids' health and 78 per cent stating it would help their kids develop independence.
The release of the research coincides with the launch of VicHealth's Walk to School program, encouraging Victorian primary school kids to walk, ride and scoot to and from school to build healthy habits for life. The majority of kids who travel to school with their parents do so by car. VicHealth CEO Dr Sandro Demaio said it was important parents felt they could allow their kids to travel to school safely and independently without facing harsh judgement.
"Kids who travel with their parents to school are more likely to be driven and are less likely to walk, ride or scoot," Dr Demaio said.
"We also know that many parents are scared to let their kids travel to school by themselves and are also worried they'll be judged by other parents in their community for doing so.
"Our message is that you're not a bad parent if you allow your kids to walk to school by themselves. As parents, you're in the best position to judge when your child is ready to walk to school independently. "This is why initiatives like VicHealth's Walk to School program are so important – we want to encourage kids to build their skills and confidence to be able to walk to school safely and for parents to feel comfortable because lots of families are doing it.
"We want to reduce the stigma around parents who allow their kids to walk to school independently and make active travel to and from school a normal part of life again.
"For many parents, taking part in Walk to School is a great step towards reducing their fears. The more families in your area walking to school the safer, and more fun, it'll be for your kids."
Minister for Health Jenny Mikakos said encouraging kids to get active and into the habit of using their commute to enjoy a daily walk or ride was an important part of setting them up for healthy, happy lives.
"Walking, riding and scooting to school is a great way for kids to stay active and healthy , which is why it's so important that parents can feel confident to support their children when they feel that they are ready to safely walk or ride to school."
"All Victorian kids should get to enjoy the benefits of happy, healthy lives and that means getting active. Congratulations to all the schools and families participating in Walk to School this year – keep it up!"
Dr Demaio said with less than one fifth of kids getting enough daily physical activity to be healthy it was critical parents were encouraged to help their kids be more active.
"Walking, riding or scooting to and from school every day – even if it's only part of the way – helps kids get some of the physical activity they need to be healthy and happy," he said.
"If parents are nervous about their kids walking by themselves another great tip is for kids to walk with friends or neighbours until they're ready to travel independently.
"We encourage parents and carers to support their kids and each other to take part in the Walk to School program – it's a great way to teach them the benefits of being active and see their confidence and independence grow."
VicHealth's Walk to School program starts today (7 October) and runs until 1 November. Kids are encouraged to walk, ride or scoot to and from school each day, with a number of great prizes up for grabs for schools and individuals. Last year a record 147,000 kids took part across the state, walking an impressive 1.7million kilometres. To find out more visit www.walktoschool.vic.gov.au
Top tips for parents
• Set a good example by walking or cycling to local places, including school
• Remember if the walk to school is too far why not park a few blocks from the school and allow your child to walk the rest of the way
• Observe your child's behaviour and independence, and look for signs of readiness
• Help your child become familiar with the local neighbourhood and identify the safest routes (e.g. where there are safe road crossings)
• Practice and reinforce the skills your child needs to travel safely, such as riding a bike and knowing the road rules
• Slowly build independence by letting your child do things gradually. You could start by parking the car a few blocks from school and allowing them to walk the rest by themselves or arrange for them to walk with friends or neighbours
• Make a plan with your child about possible strategies for when things go wrong, such as getting lost, if a stranger approaches them, or if they or their friend gets injured
• Agree on a plan with your child for the transition towards independence, and set milestones and boundaries
• Encourage kids who have built independence to walk to school rather than driving them on the way to work or other destinations
• 44% of parents believe other parents would disapprove if they allowed their kids to walk, ride or scoot independently to school
• 57% of parents stating they feel it's irresponsible to allow kids to walk to school without adult supervision
• 84% of parents believe walking to school is good for kids' health
• 78% of parents believe walking to school helps their kids develop independence
• Only one in five kids aged 5-17 years get the recommended one hour of physical activity every day
• Childhood obesity levels are on the rise. By 2025, one in three children will be overweight or obese