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As a teacher and parent, I believe kids develop better social, coping and problem solving skills when given time to explore, roam and learn from their environments and peers. New research from the UK proves my assumptions, finding that children with more free rein to roam have more positive "emotional, social and cognitive development."

Out of worry, fear or a need to control, parents are increasingly less likely to allow their children much independence, says Dr. Angie S. Page and her colleagues from the University of Bristol. This has lead to an increase in obesity-related health issues as well as more social-emotional problems.

Page and her team investigated independent mobility -- the degree to which children moved around without adult supervision. Examples include allowing children to walk to school or to a friend's house without being accompanied by an adult.

Findings

Children with more independent mobility:

Interact more with other children and their environments

Develop better peer relations and social skills

Are more interested in physical and outdoor activities

Are less likely to develop depression, to be overweight, or to struggle socially


Page and her colleagues say that parents and caregivers should create more opportunities for children to function more independently, since those experiences lead to greater confidence, self-sufficiency and good old-fashioned common sense. Additionally, leadership skills and the ability to work in a team are developed.

"Understanding the factors that influence independent mobility is necessary to determine the optimum social and physical environment that encourages parents and adult caregivers to allow their children to be physically active outside unsupervised," the researchers say. "This should be in addition to encouraging children (and parents) to be more physically active outside together."

Bottom Line: Give those kids some independence!

SOURCE: International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, published online January 7, 2009.

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