There is no doubt the value of exercise in young children and teens’ physical and mental well-being. The evidence is overwhelming.
Society is battling an epidemic of obesity, anxiety, depression, diabetes, and bullying among youth at levels never seen before. So this leads to the question: What can parents and schools do to prevent young children from reaching a crisis point as teens?
I did not grow up in any way remotely like most kids do today. I feel lucky. I did not know addiction to fat, sugar, salt, nor addiction to mind-numbing computer games, and certainly not cyberbullying. I could not replicate the 1960s for my kids as a parent, but we certainly took a different path than most. From that experience, as well as my 40 years of observing health and fitness, I form the following opinions:
For young children
• Encourage play by unplugging children from electronics. Let the outdoors and games be their classroom.
• Children are keen observers of parental behaviour, and they are likely to develop the same habits.
• Take regular family walks, bikes and hikes.
• Develop a tight schedule around bedtimes and mealtimes – structure helps reduce anxiety and stress in children and develops good habits.
• Get them involved in self-confidence-building sports and activities as young as possible. Age three is a good age to start that process. Six is a good age for team sports. Ten is fine for competitions.
If your teen has developed an addiction to video games and never exercises, helping them develop new, healthy habits may be an incredible challenge. There are a few things, however, that are easy to do with teens, maybe something that will work for your family:
• Establish a power charging area for cellphones in the front entry of your home and require all phones to be docked when they enter the house. Access to cellphones then must be earned with homework, chores, and a workout completed.
• On laptops enable the built-in software for parental controls to limit access to online sites that teens need to be protected from – and make that function password-protected.
• Cellphone internet access can similarly be controlled. Teens frequently access social media sites that are also commonly used by online stalkers and bullies. Consider not having data on the phone to encourage less use.
• Workout with your teen. Don’t be a drop-off and dash parent – set an example with becoming a workout partner. Throw a ball around the backyard, take karate or yoga with your teen – lead by example and have a shared adventure.
• Encourage healthy eating habits by teaching your child how to cook and making choices based on nutritional information. The best way to help your teen maintain a healthy diet is to have the whole family follow the same food choices. If you want your teen to eat breakfast, sit down and eat with them – setting an example is first and foremost.
Ron Cain is the owner of Sooke Mobile Personal Training. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or find him on Facebook at Sooke Personal Training.