According to the President's Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition, only one in three kids participates in physical activity every day. In all likelihood, the other two spend most of their time on the couch, playing video games on their Xboxes and PlayStations, fiddling around with apps on their iPads, watching TV, texting on their cell phones, or browsing the web on their computers. Indeed, the President's Council also notes that the average child now spends in excess of seven hours per day in front of a screen. Of course, adults today are using screens more often, and part of the trend is driven by necessity. Screens are necessary to communicate with friends, complete research papers or other assignments for school, listen to music, and so many other things that are important in the lives of kids and teens alike. Unfortunately, it seems like physical activity is the thing that is being elbowed out of the schedule to make room for all of this screen time. The result is a sedentary lifestyle that can increase the risk of childhood obesity, diabetes, and other serious health concerns.
Tips for Getting the Kids Off the Couch
The bottom line is this: getting your kids off the couch and encouraging them to "trade the iPad for exercise," as it were, is vital to preparing them for a healthy life. If doesn't matter if your son or daughter takes up a competitive sport or just takes some time each day to get outside and move around. Your goal here should be to decrease screen time and increase physical activity. If you can make this trade-off, the health benefits will be considerable and noticeable.
Of course, the question is howyou can encourage your kids to ditch the screens for a few hours and get outside. With young children, it's easier to set time limits for things like computers, iPads, video games, or even television. As your child grows older, though, they are going to have more and more of their own electronic devices, making it more difficult to dictate how much time they spend in front of screens.
- Start Engaging Your Child in Physical Activity at a Young Age
- Find an Athletic Activity That Your Kids Love
- Make It Fun
- Get into a Routine
- Set a Good Example
- Use Birthdays and Gift-Giving Holidays to Send the Right Message
- Designate Hours for Screen Time
Start Engaging Your Child in Physical Activity at a Young Age
The best course of action is to start stressing the importance of physical activity to your son or daughter at a young age. The more you instill those lessons early in life, the more your child will internalize them. The ideal outcome is that, as your kids grow up, they will realize that exercise matters to them and make it a goal to be active every day. No matter how many rules and restrictions you set, you cannot possibly hope to beat the power of your child's own motivation?particularly when they reach the typically stubborn teenage years.
Find an Athletic Activity That Your Kids Love
The above tip?about trying to establish a passion for exercise early in your child's life?is a general rule of thumb. There are several specific ways in which to reach such a goal. Our first piece of advice is to start looking for an athletic activity that your kids enjoy. Many parents will try to pass on the sports that that they love to their kids, and sometimes, that really works. Perhaps mom was a soccer player and wants to teach her kids the basics of the game, or maybe dad is a golf guru and wants nothing more than to have a new golf buddy.
Regardless of what the sport is, striving to teach your kids the basics of your favorite athletic pursuit is a good place to start. It's important to remember, though, that there is a fine line between teaching and pushing. Some children rebel against the sports that their parents want them to play, whether because of pressure or oversaturation. So if your son or daughter doesn't seem to enjoy the sport you are teaching them, don't push. Instead, switch gears and try to find another athletic activity that will ignite your child's passion.
Don't just think of traditional competitive sports, either. There are so many ways to be active, and only a small fraction of them are encompassed by team sports. Running, hiking, rock climbing, figure skating, swimming, cycling: all of these are great forms of exercise, and any one of them could hold the key to planting the seed for an active life.
Make It Fun
Obviously, a big part of making physical activity fun for kids is finding an athletic pursuit that they enjoy. However, there are also other steps you can take to keep things engaging, from giving your kids positive feedback to playing sports and games with them. Everyone loves a compliment and for young kids, a big part of the fun of being active is playing with mom and dad.
Get into a Routine
Even for adults, getting into the habit of exercising can be difficult. How many people make New Year's resolutions to runevery day or go to the gym every morning, only to have those self-promises fall apart after a week or two? A big part of staying consistent with exercise is finding a way to fit it into the regular daily routine. This statement isn't just true for adults, but for kids and teens as well. For your young children, set aside a time during the day to go outside and be active. As your children grow older and start thinking about participating in youth sports, the routine element of exercise will be built into practices. To start, though, you just need to promote the idea to your kids that exercise is a standard and essential part of the daily schedule.
Set a Good Example
If you want your kids to lock exercise into their daily routines, you are going to have to use more than your words to make it happen. Telling your kids to stop watching TV and get outside is all well and good, but if you spend a lot of time in front of screens and not being physically active, you are sending conflicting messages. Your children will be far more likely to understand the value of exercise in their day-to-day lives if you make an effort to set a great example. So try to get outside every day for a long walk, an intensive bicycle ride, or whichever other form of exercise you favor. Not only will you dodge the "hypocrite" accusation from your teenagers, but you'll also get in shape and stay motivated to keep exercise in your routine.
Use Birthdays and Gift-Giving Holidays to Send the Right Message
When Christmas or birthdays roll around, it's tempting to give into your children's wishes and get them the shiny, cool tech toys that all the other kids at school have. Smartphones, iPads, TVs, laptops, and video game consoles are all highly coveted gifts among kids and teenagers. While some of these items might be essential?particularly for older teenagers?you should try to steer away from buying them for younger kids. Instead, give gifts that emphasize how fun and important physical activity is. Bikes, soccer balls, jump ropes, athletic shoes, skateboards, and other outdoor toys or sporting equipment make great gifts and encourage your kids to stay active instead of planting them in front of another screen.
Designate Hours for Screen Time
In the 21st century, you can't keep your kids from screens entirely. Whether it's TV in your living room or a video game at a friend's house, your children are going to be exposed to all the fun that screens and screen-based systems have to offer. So instead of trying to cut screens out of your child's life entirely, limit them to a specific time in the schedule.
An hour or two of TV, computer, or video game time isn't bad in the evening, as long as you make it clear that your kids have to finish their homework and get their physical activity out of the way first. In fact, you might be able to use designated screen time as a motivating factor to make sure your kids exercise every day!
Too many kids today don't exercise at all. It's easy to blame technology for this fact, but the truth is that parents are just as much to blame. Your kids aren't magically going to want to exercise if you don't set the example and lay the groundwork. So use the tips above to establish a tradition of physical activity and physical fitness in your household. Trust us when we say that your kids will thank you later in life!