Unwrapping the bubble-wrap generation

District of Saanich implements five-year youth plan

Mary Callendar

The generational backlash from hyper-parenting is real and it’s a driving theme in Saanich’s new Youth Development Strategy.

The five-year implementation plan was designed by a diverse team of community programmers and members after about 40 public engagement sessions in 2015, mostly with youth. It was approved at the final Saanich council session of 2015.

“What we saw was society has been taking away and sanitizing play spaces [in an effort] to manage liability and risk, and it’s taken away opportunities for youth to explore and test themselves,” said Sandra Pearson, manager of community services in Saanich.

At the heart of the strategy is six strategic priorities. None stand out like No. 3: Risk and Outdoor play.

“We kept hearing from youth they are ‘bubble wrapped’ from hyper parenting, which is different from my generation,” she said.

“Helicopter parenting” and “too safe” also came up a lot.

“We have one study that shows 40 years ago some kids had a span up to six kilometres from home, whereas now the boundaries are the front yard, or the street,” Pearson added.

Among the criticisms are playgrounds where everything is the same width, height and size, and there’s not enough experimental risk play for kids.

Those risks are in fact key opportunities for kids to build confidence, Pearson explained.

It also comes down to an exponential increase in screen time and the increase of youth obesity.

The rest of the strategic priorities are to increase participation, collaboration, social well-being, youth spaces and communication.

Therefore, there is a goal within the plan to encourage more outdoor play spaces, especially some with an element of perceived risk.

“One message we received from youth is they feel parks are for young children and seniors, and they don’t see how they fit into parks and playgrounds, youth play elements,” Pearson said.

Skateboard/BMX parks, for instance, are ideal examples of hangout spots where kids can test the boundaries of their own physical capabilities without anyone judging them.

However, adding an entirely new skate park isn’t necessarily a solution. There are other elements to keep in mind when redoing parks, Pearson explained.

“We want to consider what can be added to parks to make them more suitable. To do that, we want to know how to engage with youth so that when we redo a park, they get what they want.”

One possibility is to add one or two skateboard park elements, or a bouldering wall for rock climbing, in a neighbourhood park or playground.

The overall strategy is much more diverse. There is also feedback from youth who would like more opportunities for lifeskill development, such as cooking healthy workshops for food skill and nutrition.

The Youth Development Strategy project team had between 12 and 15 members throughout, and included a superintendent and assistant superintendent from local school districts 61 and 63.

It also used a youth research team of five (11 to 18)  throughout the process, as well as three community members and a retired public health nurse.





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