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.
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.
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