Negin Riazi’s PhD Thesis Defence – Dec 8

Title: “Popping the Bubble-Wrap: Examining Children’s Independent Mobility in Canada”

Supervisory Committee: Dr. Guy Faulkner (Research supervisor), Dr. Mariana Brussoni, Dr. Patricia Vertinsky
University Examiners: Dr. Alexander Bigazzi, Dr. Nicola Hodges
External Examiner: Dr. Sandra Mandic
Chair: Dr. Teresa Liu-Ambrose

Abstract: Children’s independent mobility is defined as a child’s freedom to travel and play in their neighbourhood without adult supervision.  While independent mobility is associated with a range of benefits there is also evidence that a number of children today have less independent mobility than previous generations. The purpose of this dissertation was to explore children’s independent mobility and 1) identify and examine the social-ecological correlates of children’s independent mobility and 2) explore the nuances of children’s independent mobility from children’s and parents’ perspectives as a family unit. This mixed-methods dissertation adopted a social-ecological approach to examine children’s independent mobility. Study 1 was a systematic review (n=44 articles included) examining the correlates of children’s independent mobility in primarily Western, industrialized countries.  This review identified significant correlates at every social-ecological level and highlighted that Canadian studies were geographically limited. Study 2 was a multi-site school-based study examining correlates of children’s independent mobility across different sites in Canada (n=1699 participants). Independent mobility varied across study sites, but parental perceptions of safety and the environment were consistently associated with independent mobility. Study 3 was a qualitative study exploring children’s and parents’ perspectives of children’s independent mobility within the family unit through face-to-face interviews (n=66 participants; n=22 families) across three neighbourhoods in the Greater Vancouver Area. This study highlighted key preconditions associated with helping children and their parents negotiate independent mobility including 1) parents’ positive interpretation of their childhood experiences of independent mobility, 2) a positive appraisal of children’s individual characteristics by both children and parents, 3) communication within the family unit, and 4) positive perceptions of the neighbourhood social environment. This dissertation builds on existing literature, highlights the complexities of independent mobility, and provides supporting evidence for multi-level and multi-sectoral initiatives that are aimed at promoting children’s independent mobility.