The intensification of parenting and generational fracturing of spontaneous physical activity from childhood play in the United Kingdom


Despite an increased drive over the past two decades in Western societies to promote children’s physically active play to improve their health, there are concerns that childhood has become less physically active. There are also fears that a previously naturally occurring aspect of childhood has become less authentically playful. Both trends highlight changes over time in the amount and type of play practiced by children and are often cited as consequences of generational shifts. Yet, research which analytically employs the concept of generation to connect changes to childhood with relevant social transformations is lacking. Inspired by Mannheim’s conceptualisation of generations, this paper draws on life history interviews with 28 United Kingdom residents born between 1950 and 1994 to propose a fracturing of naturally occurring physical activity from childhood play. As shifts in childhood and parenting have become inextricably linked, this argument illustrates the impact of an intensification to parenting upon greater parental surveillance of increasingly organised forms of childhood physical activity at the expense of spontaneous play. Future physical activity policy should be sensitive to the social climate in which recommendations for children are made, as this places expectations upon parents due to how childhood is currently understood within neoliberal contexts.

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John Day

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