Academic journal article Family Relations

Neighborhood Poverty and Maternal Fears of Children's Outdoor Play

Academic journal article Family Relations

Neighborhood Poverty and Maternal Fears of Children's Outdoor Play

Article excerpt

Investigating children's outdoor play unites scholarship on neighborhoods, parental perceptions of safety, and children's health. Utilizing the Fragile Families and Child Well-being Study (N = 3,448), we examine mothers' fear of their 5-year-old children playing outdoors, testing associations with neighborhood social characteristics, city-level crime rates, maternal mental health, and social support. Living in public housing, perceptions of low neighborhood collective efficacy, and living in a Census tract with a higher proportion of Blacks and households in poverty are associated with higher odds of maternal fear, but crime rates are not a significant predictor of fear. We also demonstrate that not being depressed-but not social support or collective efficacy-buffers the influence of neighborhood poverty on maternal fears of outdoor play.

Key Words: child well-being, mental health, neighborhoods, parenting.

Children's outdoor play is an important indicator of overall healthy development (Burdette & Whitaker, 2005b; Ginsburg, 2007), and scholars have increasingly called for analysis of the multidimensional factors associated with young children's activity levels; yet few such studies exist (Papas et al., 2007). Children's outdoor activities have declined in recent decades (Burdette & Whitaker, 2005b; Hofferth & Sandberg, 2001) at the same time as an increase in Americans' fear of crime, particularly in urban areas (Liska & Baccaglini, 1990; Warr & Stafford, 1982). Connecting these two phenomena, Clements (2004) found that over three quarters of mothers cite safety and crime concerns when explaining why they prevent thenchildren from playing outdoors. Concerns about safety occur across socioeconomic categories, but are especially prevalent for mothers living in high-poverty areas (Timperio, Salmon, Tedford, & Crawford, 2005; Weir, Etelson, & Brand, 2006). Urban mothers, particularly those living in high-poverty neighborhoods, may be especially likely to be fearful of their children playing outdoors; yet maternal and family characteristics associated with this fear, as well as potential characteristics that may buffer the influence of neighborhood poverty on matemal fear, have received little attention. We used data from a large, nationally representative birth cohort study of urban children to examine how individual and neighborhood-level factors, as well as city-level crime rates, influence mothers' fear of allowing their children to play outside and to examine whether social support, neighborhood collective efficacy (a sense of reciprocal norms and trust among neighbors), and maternal mental health may buffer the influence of neighborhood poverty on maternal fear.

NEIGHBORHOODS AND CHILDREN'S OUTDOOR PLAY

Recently, scholars have begun exploring the neighborhood factors associated with children's activity levels (Franzini et al., 2009). Much of this scholarship has focused on the effects of parental perceptions of neighborhood safety (Carver, Timperio, & Crawford, 2008; Davison & Lawson, 2006; Gable, Chang, & Krull, 2007; Lumeng, Appugliese, Cabrai, Bradley, & Zuckerman, 2006; Timperio et al., 2005; Weir et al., 2006) along with crime and poorly lit streets (Rose & Richards, 2007) and built environment conditions such as park safety (Sallis & Glanz, 2006; Singh, Siahpush, & Kogan, 2010), and this literature has largely agreed that children in more disordered neighborhoods, which parents perceive as unsafe, tend to be less active. Yet, not all parents who live in poor, disordered neighborhoods are afraid to let their children play outside, and at least one study found that parental perceptions of safety had no significant effect on 3-year-old children's levels of outdoor play (Burdette & Whittaker, 2005a), which may be because the relationship only emerges as children get older. Another recent study demonstrated that children in public housing, despite mothers' concerns about safety, spent more time playing outside (Kimbro, Brooks-Gunn, & McLanahan, 2011). …

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