A qualitative study of 'fear' as a regulator of children's independent physical activity in the suburbs

O'Connor, Justen and Brown, Alice (2013) A qualitative study of 'fear' as a regulator of children's independent physical activity in the suburbs. Health and Place, 24. pp. 157-164. ISSN 1353-8292


A crisis discourse has developed within the health and physical activity literature that paints a disparaging picture about the decline of children's participation in active play and independent mobility. Fear as a moderator of children's mobility, in this case focused on independent active school travel (IAST), remains a poorly understood construct. Within the popular press and academic literature, middle class parents have been characterised as overly anxious towards culturally reinforced dangers whilst being ignorant of the benefits of IAST during childhood. Fear of strangers, dangers and risk-taking are portrayed as nebulous and irrational anxiety states that are contributing to another great fear, a fear that our children are getting fat. The study draws upon Tudor's, (2003), parameters of fear framework to explore parent negotiations of fear and risk associated with IAST. In depth individual and focus group interviews with parents (N=24) provide insight into meanings, rules and customs that govern the way in which fear is experienced and expressed within a middle class white suburb in Australia. Far from being irrational, and operating purely from drivers at a cultural level, parents were aware of the consequences of their decisions on a range of outcomes. Parents could articulate their own anxieties and in many cases the rational probabilities of anything bad happening. Fear was being constructed through complex relations, negotiated individually and collectively within a specific cultural and environmental context. In the process of their decision-making, there remained a constant negotiation between a desire to allow their child independence and the question 'what if?' Those seeking to mediate increased opportunities for children's IAST are encouraged to remove the rational/irrational focus that was redundant for parents in this study, and consider shifting the message toward the positive side of what is a highly contested decision making space for parents.

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Item Type: Article (Commonwealth Reporting Category C)
Refereed: Yes
Item Status: Live Archive
Additional Information: © 2013 Elsevier Ltd. Published version deposited in accordance with the copyright policy of the publisher.
Faculty / Department / School: Current - Faculty of Business, Education, Law and Arts - School of Teacher Education and Early Childhood
Date Deposited: 26 May 2014 01:20
Last Modified: 30 Sep 2014 22:33
Uncontrolled Keywords: children; fear; mobility; physical activity; risk
Fields of Research : 16 Studies in Human Society > 1604 Human Geography > 160404 Urban and Regional Studies (excl. Planning)
17 Psychology and Cognitive Sciences > 1701 Psychology > 170113 Social and Community Psychology
16 Studies in Human Society > 1608 Sociology > 160801 Applied Sociology, Program Evaluation and Social Impact Assessment
Socio-Economic Objective: C Society > 93 Education and Training > 9303 Curriculum > 930301 Assessment and Evaluation of Curriculum
Identification Number or DOI: 10.1016/j.healthplace.2013.09.002
URI: http://eprints.usq.edu.au/id/eprint/25243

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