Worried parents are restricting children’s freedom

By Nuffield Foundation

New research has revealed that parents in England are more restrictive than in other European countries, granting their children less freedom for travel and unaccompanied neighbourhood play.

The research, by Policy Studies Institute and funded by the Nuffield Foundation, compares children’s independent mobility in 16 countries around the world based on a survey of over 18,000 children aged seven to 15 from 2010-2012. The study found that children’s independent mobility – their ability to travel and play in their local area unsupervised by adults – varies widely across the 16 countries. Significant restrictions are placed on children in nearly all the countries surveyed with the research revealing that fear of traffic was the biggest factor influencing their decision.

England’s aggregate rank placed it in seventh place behind top-performing countries including Finland and Germany. Overall, Finnish parents allowed their children more freedom for almost every independent mobility indicator in this study. The degree of independent mobility granted to children in Finland is striking, with a majority of children aged eight allowed to cross main roads, travel home from school and go out after dark alone.

Going out alone after dark is the most withheld indicator of independent mobility. Children of any age are allowed to go out after dark in only a handful of countries – Finland, Sweden, Japan and Denmark.

England needs to develop its policies in order to improve children’s independent mobility, with the report outlining seven recommendations on how to achieve this. These include reducing car dependency and adopting Daylight Saving Time to allow children to utilise daylight hours and reducing road casualties. Previous work by PSI in this area of social policy has highlighted a continuing sharp decline in independent mobility with significant impacts on child development.

Allowing children the freedom to get about in their local area unaccompanied by adults has been found to be important for their health and physical, mental and social development. Yet we have found that children around the world have significant restrictions placed on their freedom to get about – to go to school, to visit friends, and get to places to play.” Ben Shaw, Director of Policy Studies Institute

He continued: “Children’s freedom of movement has declined in recent decades and danger from traffic is the main reason parents give for not letting their children out by themselves. We are struck by how this significant danger and major restriction on children, is routinely accepted given the health and developmental benefits independent mobility has been shown to result in.

“While restrictions on children’s freedom have increased, our research has looked at how this situation can be turned around. We have found some shining examples of cities such as Rotterdam and Vancouver which have been inspired to place children at the centre of their development, on the basis that if a city works for children it works for everyone. However, if the benefits of these approaches are to be enjoyed in the UK, the needs of children must be given much greater priority by decision makers working in the policy areas of planning, development and transport.”

Explore our projects

Older-man-reads-textbook-Assembling-data-jigsaw-Greater-Manchester-PROJ
In progress

Welfare | 2020 - 2024

Assembling the data jigsaw: powering robust population research in MSK disease

View project
Medical-professional-massages-patient-knee-Understanding-joint-replacement-surgery-decision-making-for-older-patients-PROJ
In progress

Welfare | 2020 - 2023

Supporting older patients to make informed decisions about knee surgery

View project
Woman-medical-professional-treats-patient-impact-MSK-conditions-outcomes-other-illnesses-PROJ
In progress

Welfare | 2020 - 2022

The impact of musculoskeletal conditions on outcomes of other illnesses

View project
Female-nurse-sees-patient-in-office-Integrating-enriched-longitudinal-data-North-Staffordshire-Stoke-on-Trent-PROJ
In progress

Welfare | 2020 - 2025

Enriched data integration for population musculoskeletal health intelligence

View project
Older-man-and-woman-walk-together-Geographical-mapping-prevalence-outcomes-MSK-conditions-Wales-Scotland-PROJ
In progress

Welfare | 2020 - 2022

Mapping rheumatic and musculoskeletal disease in Scotland and Wales

View project
In progress

Welfare | 2020 - 2022

Older people in England: the geography of challenges and opportunities

View project
Senior-woman-enjoys-video-call-on-smartphone-Social-cohesion-in-context-of-COVID-19-PROJ
In progress

Welfare | 2020 - 2021

Social cohesion in the context of COVID-19

View project
Toddler-gleefully-eats-baked-beans-How-COVID-19-is-affecting-food-security-proj
New

Welfare | 2020 - 2021

How the COVID-19 crisis is affecting food security

View project
In progress

Welfare | 2020 - 2022

Vulnerability, migration and well-being: experiences, perceptions and barriers

View project
Woman-looks-at-smartphone-screen-How-the-UK-public-gets-information-about-COVID-19-PROJ
In progress

Welfare | 2020 - 2020

How the UK public gets information about COVID-19

View project
In progress

Welfare | 2020 - 2021

COVID realities: families on low incomes during the pandemic

View project
In progress

Welfare | 2020 - 2022

COVID-19 social study

View project
In progress

Welfare | 2020 - 2022

Vulnerability, migration and well-being: experiences, perceptions and barriers

View project
Toddler-gleefully-eats-baked-beans-How-COVID-19-is-affecting-food-security-proj
New

Welfare | 2020 - 2021

How the COVID-19 crisis is affecting food security

View project
In progress

Welfare | 2020 - 2022

Older people in England: the geography of challenges and opportunities

View project
Senior-woman-enjoys-video-call-on-smartphone-Social-cohesion-in-context-of-COVID-19-PROJ
In progress

Welfare | 2020 - 2021

Social cohesion in the context of COVID-19

View project
Teenage-girl-looks-at-smartphone-next-to-laptop-Growing-up-under-COVID-19-PROJ
In progress

Education | Welfare | 2020 - 2021

Growing up under COVID-19

View project
In progress

Welfare | 2020 - 2022

COVID-19 social study

View project
In progress

Welfare | 2020 - 2021

COVID realities: families on low incomes during the pandemic

View project
Woman-looks-at-smartphone-screen-How-the-UK-public-gets-information-about-COVID-19-PROJ
In progress

Welfare | 2020 - 2020

How the UK public gets information about COVID-19

View project
Woman-medical-professional-treats-patient-impact-MSK-conditions-outcomes-other-illnesses-PROJ
In progress

Welfare | 2020 - 2022

The impact of musculoskeletal conditions on outcomes of other illnesses

View project
Man-massages-own-hand-Longitudinal-evidence-how-arthritis-affects-earnings-PROJ
In progress

Welfare | 2020 - 2022

How arthritis affects earnings over time

View project
Medical-professional-massages-patient-knee-Understanding-joint-replacement-surgery-decision-making-for-older-patients-PROJ
In progress

Welfare | 2020 - 2023

Supporting older patients to make informed decisions about knee surgery

View project
Older-man-and-woman-walk-together-Geographical-mapping-prevalence-outcomes-MSK-conditions-Wales-Scotland-PROJ
In progress

Welfare | 2020 - 2022

Mapping rheumatic and musculoskeletal disease in Scotland and Wales

View project
Older-man-reads-textbook-Assembling-data-jigsaw-Greater-Manchester-PROJ
In progress

Welfare | 2020 - 2024

Assembling the data jigsaw: powering robust population research in MSK disease

View project
Medical-professional-massages-patient-knee-Understanding-joint-replacement-surgery-decision-making-for-older-patients-PROJ
In progress

Welfare | 2020 - 2023

Supporting older patients to make informed decisions about knee surgery

View project
Woman-medical-professional-treats-patient-impact-MSK-conditions-outcomes-other-illnesses-PROJ
In progress

Welfare | 2020 - 2022

The impact of musculoskeletal conditions on outcomes of other illnesses

View project
Female-nurse-sees-patient-in-office-Integrating-enriched-longitudinal-data-North-Staffordshire-Stoke-on-Trent-PROJ
In progress

Welfare | 2020 - 2025

Enriched data integration for population musculoskeletal health intelligence

View project
Older-man-and-woman-walk-together-Geographical-mapping-prevalence-outcomes-MSK-conditions-Wales-Scotland-PROJ
In progress

Welfare | 2020 - 2022

Mapping rheumatic and musculoskeletal disease in Scotland and Wales

View project
In progress

Welfare | 2020 - 2022

Older people in England: the geography of challenges and opportunities

View project
Senior-woman-enjoys-video-call-on-smartphone-Social-cohesion-in-context-of-COVID-19-PROJ
In progress

Welfare | 2020 - 2021

Social cohesion in the context of COVID-19

View project
In progress

Welfare | 2020 - 2022

Vulnerability, migration and well-being: experiences, perceptions and barriers

View project
Toddler-gleefully-eats-baked-beans-How-COVID-19-is-affecting-food-security-proj
New

Welfare | 2020 - 2021

How the COVID-19 crisis is affecting food security

View project
Woman-looks-at-smartphone-screen-How-the-UK-public-gets-information-about-COVID-19-PROJ
In progress

Welfare | 2020 - 2020

How the UK public gets information about COVID-19

View project
In progress

Welfare | 2020 - 2021

COVID realities: families on low incomes during the pandemic

View project
In progress

Welfare | 2020 - 2022

COVID-19 social study

View project
Reported

Welfare | 2019 - 2020

Valuing data: foundations for data policy

View project
Reported

Welfare | 2019 - 2020

Revaluation and reform: bringing council tax into the 21st century

View project
Reported

Welfare | 2018 - 2019

Atlas of inequality: understanding the local nature of a global phenomenon

View project
Reported

Welfare | 2018 - 2020

The intergenerational transmission of family wealth

View project
Reported

Welfare | 2018 - 2018

Interdisciplinary conference on evidence use in policy

View project
Reported

Welfare | 2018 - 2019

Overview of the major ethical issues arising from data, algorithms and AI

View project
Reported

Welfare | 2018 - 2018

Council tax support schemes’ impact on claimants & local authorities

View project
Reported

Welfare | 2018 - 2018

Improving survey representation of non-resident parents

View project
Reported

Justice | Welfare | 2018 - 2019

Pathways of incarcerated children in care

View project
Reported

Justice | Welfare | 2017 - 2018

Visualising data in care proceedings

View project
Reported

Justice | Welfare | 2017 - 2018

Addressing the ‘care cases’ crisis: a sector-led review

View project
Reported

Welfare | 2017 - 2018

Vulnerable migrants and well-being: A pilot study

View project
Search projects

We improve people’s lives by funding research that informs social policy, primarily in Education, Welfare and Justice. We also fund student programmes that give young people skills and confidence in science and research.

We offer our grant-holders the freedom to frame questions and enable new thinking. Our research must stand up to rigorous academic scrutiny, but we understand that to be successful in effecting change, it also needs to be relevant to people’s experience.

Profile

COVID-19 response

Nuffield-funded social scientists are conducting COVID-19 research in real-time, to capture people’s experiences of the social, cultural and economic impacts of the pandemic.