Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Teenagers Are Lazy

There's an old joke that says that parents spend the first 18 months of their children's lives teaching them to walk and talk and the next 18 years telling them to sit down and shut up.
Apparently, we've succeeded a little too well.
We all know that lots of kids become quiet and secretive when they hit adolescence. There's a new study out that says that they become lazy too. (Oh, did you already know that? Well, now you have proof.)
The study, published yesterday in the Journal of the American Medical Association and reported in yesterday's NY Times, found that physical activity dropped significantly in kids starting at age 13. "The percentage of children who met the government’s recommendation of one hour of moderate daily activity shifted markedly over time. At 9 and 11, almost every child in the study was moving at least an hour a day. But by 15, only 31 percent met the guideline during the week, and just 17 percent on the weekend." (NY Times) Boys were found to be slightly more active than girls.
Why the drop as kids become teenagers? The researchers noted that decreased recess time, fewer opportunities for spontaneous exercise, and television and video games were probable factors.
Well, duh.
The question for parents, of course, is what do we do about it? For a lot of parents, the answer is nothing. Maybe your teenager is causing you enough grief already- do you really need the extra hassle of bugging him to get off the couch? Or you figure, she's a young lady now, and it would be unbecoming for her to run and jump around like a little kid. Or maybe it's a relief that your hyperactive little kid has grown up and mellowed out a bit. Problem is, inactivity can lead to weight gain, and we all know how hard it is to shed that extra weight once you've hit adulthood. And so those of us with adolescent children need to be aware and do what we can to keep our kids moving and fit and healthy (so that they don't end up looking like us.)
What to do, what to do?
Talk to your child. Make sure that the inactivity is not due to sadness or depression. Encourage him/her to go bike riding or jogging or take a walk around the neighborhood. When that doesn't work (and it won't, unless you actually go with him which of course is impossible because you're much too busy and/or lazy to exercise), then explain to him/her that you love him so much and you want him to be healthy and happy and have fun, which is why you've decided to sign him/her up for (now choose wisely here): baseball, basketball, swimming, karate, gymnastics, dance, soccer, hockey, running, fencing, pole vaulting, whatever activity you think your child would most enjoy. If you're not sure, ask your teenager, but be careful. "Sweetiepie, what would you like to do on Sundays?" will probably elicit a grunt and a "nothing." You might need to present this as a fait accompli: "OK, Dumpling, I'll be driving you to karate this Sunday at 10:00- be sure to be ready on time!" (then leave the room really quick.)
Your child may grumble and complain, but hey, he's a teenager, he's going to complain no matter what. A kvetchy teenager is better than a sedate, unhealthy one.
Postscript: Because I so rarely get to brag about what a super-duper fantastic mom I am, I can happily say that MY kids get plenty of exercise, because I spend plenty of money that I really can't afford on baseball and basketball leagues for Flash, years of gymnastics lessons for Wonderwoman, and swimming lessons for Supermangirl. Also, when they spend too much time hanging around the house and getting on my nerves, I send them on errands to the supermarket or pharmacy. That works, too.


RR said...

So true. With childhood obesity on the rise and an alarming increase in the # of kids contracting "adult" diseases like Type II diabetes and heart disease, it's so important to get them moving. Hard to compete with the TV and computer, though!

I also send my "Dumplings" to after school sports, like swimming, judo, and basketball.

I never used to see too many fat kids in Israel- but nowadays it's becoming a much more common sight.

Garnel Ironheart said...

> There's an old joke that says that parents spend the first 18 months of their children's lives teaching them to walk and talk and the next 18 years telling them to sit down and shut up.

That's my line, goshdarnit!

Anyway, from what I've seen in my interaction with teenagers, one of the main reasons for inactivity is lack of purpose. These kids are drifting through life. Their schedule is programmed for them until they finish high school. Career aspirations are rare. What are they preparing themselves for in life? As a result, they drift straight into inactivity.

Leora said...

Garnel ironheart, it doesn't sound like you have one in your house. It's hard to impose purpose on someone. The best you can do is be there for them.

Raizy, I have one who doesn't like any of the extra-currics. He does swim when we are on vacation (we bribed him to take private swim lessons). He used to do baseball, but then he lost interest. At least he doesn't have the overweight issue (all my kids are beanstalks). He's happiest when we just let him be.

SuperRaizy said...

I hadn't realized that overweight children was becoming an issue in Israel also.
Um, Leora's right. It doesn't sound like you have a teenager in your house. It's really not true that most teenagers are drifting through life and don't have career aspirations. Actually, today's teenagers are, by and large, very driven to succeed academically and get into good colleges. Many of them have after school jobs or volunteer.
My son Flash (it's bragging time again!) is a straight A honor student, works as a youth leader at our shul on Shabbat, is spending the summer working, and helps out a lot around the house. And most of his friends are the same way.
You can't force it. If your son is thin and happy, then I guess it's a non-issue.

ProfK said...

rr, we have a treadmill in the house NY not being a great outdoor place in the winter for regular walking. It's right next to the couch in front of the tv. The house rule is everyone is on that treadmill for at least one show or 1/2 of an hour one. It's the admission price for using the electronics.

Garnel Ironheart said...

Leora, you're right. I don't have a teenager in my house... yet. And most of my exposure to teens are to non-Jewish teens. But what I've noticed about the public school system is that it plays a big role in breeding a lack of purpose. A child graduates after grade 12 with, unless he's self-motivated to have developed them, absolutely no skills for working in the real world except for the drive-thru window at McDonalds. Surely there's something wrong with that.
I would think, however, that the Jewish school system would be different since it can provide far more personal examples of success and reaons for striving for excellence. However, I would stll say that this is not duplicated in general society.

The Babysitter said...

I see it happening, laziness is setting in.
I remember going to the "Y" when I was younger where we did gymnastics and stuff.
Its so smart to get your children involved with these activities, besides for the exercise, it gives them something to look forward to and feel good about, that their part of something and have something to do.