The countryside is off-limits because it is out of the comfort zone of many affluent, suburban parents, according to researchers.
A lack of map reading skills was one barrier, while fear of their children being hurt, running-off or getting dirty was also cited.
As a result most parents limited their excursions to country parks and farms that catered for families.
The Hertfordshire University research carried out at a prep school in the south of England found that while children were open to the idea of rambling, their mothers were not confident in the great outdoors.
Debbie Pearlman Hougie, a senior lecturer in rural geography at the university, said: "None of the mothers I spoke to could read a map.
"I put a 1:25,000 Ordinance Survey map on the table and they didn't know where to start, they also didn't know anything about rights of way.
"There were stories of families who had gone for a walk and ended up on someone's land and got shouted at and never went back.
"They did not know how to make up circular walks or work out where it might be safe to go cycling with children."
The academic, who will present her findings to a Countryside Recreation Network conference this week, said middle-class mothers were also obsessed about injury and dirt.
"I think with this group of people, their fear of danger is exaggerated," she said. "They are very scared of children not only…
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