Research has shown that the average kid spends just over four hours a week playing outside.
Their parents, by contrast, averaged over 8 hours a week when they were children. Screen time for 8-18 year old's has gone up 2.5 hours in the last 10 years.
The Department of Human and Health Services claims children spend on average more than 7.5 hours a day in front of a screen and that nearly one third of all high school age kids play video games for 3+ hours on an average school day.
Also according to research, children take 90 seconds longer to run a mile than they did 30 years ago. Children’s aerobic fitness has also dropped by 5% since the mid 70s. This doesn’t surprise me since only 6 US states (Illinois, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New York and Vermont) require physical education in every grade, kindergarten through 12th.
Who is to blame?...
It’s true that physical education has been made less of a priority in most public schools. However, we are the parents and need to set an example. Fewer than 5% of adults participate in the recommended 30 minutes of physical activity every day and roughly 30% of adults get the recommended 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity that is recommended per week. We are not doing our jobs as role models.
What do we do about this?...
There is all kinds of research and development into active video games, or “exer-gaming” -- games that use technology to track body movement or reaction and serve as a form of exercise. Some of the research is encouraging, citing drops in body fat, scale weight and waist circumferences. But most of this research is done in a controlled setting. In “real life,” when given the choice to actually play the games or not, it seems most kids choose the latter. The research shows that when kids are given the games to play at home their tracked activity levels don't increase and their biomarkers (body fat, scale weight, BMI) don’t change.
So, it seems active video games are great if children are encouraged to use them, supervised, held accountable and not just left to their own accord to choose whether or not to play and participate in the game.
The answer lies with us...
I think technology, especially gaming, is a great way to make exercising fun and exciting for kids. However, there seems to be something deeper that needs to be addressed, and that is the time and attention we are devoting to our kids.
Are we providing them with the opportunity and encouraging them to be active? Are we supervising them to ensure that they are actually participating in physical activities by playing with them or at least being present when they are? Do we even know what activities they enjoy? Are we setting a good example by being active ourselves?
There is no doubt that this takes attention, creativity and effort. We have to get to know our kids. What kind of activities do they enjoy? Do they love to dance or play sports? Are they competitive or do they prefer a more “harmonious” participation, like group dance and music?
I can be very guilty of getting so caught up in business, household chores and the minutia that everyone deals with in daily life that I fail to give my daughter the undivided attention she needs and deserves. It’s easy just to throw on a cartoon and take care of business.
What I have to remind myself is that now is the time. Now is the time that my daughter wants to play with me. Now is the time when I’m able to play with her. Now is the time when I can influence her, cultivating the desire to move and be active.
We just welcomed a new addition to our family. At the hospital they gave us a poem that I think is appropriate for this blog post. A poem I should read everyday...
My dishes went unwashed today,
I didn’t make the bed,
I took his hand and followed
Where his eager footsteps led.
Oh yes, we went adventuring,
My little son and I…
Exploring all the great outdoors
Beneath the summer sky.
We waded in a crystal stream,
We wandered through a wood…
My kitchen wasn’t swept today
But life was gay and good.
We found a cool, sun-dappled glade
And now my small son knows
How Mother Bunny hides her nest,
Where jack-in-pulpit grows
We watched a robin feed her young,
We climbed a sunlit hill…
Saw cloud-sheep scamper through the sky,
We plucked a daffodil.
So if the dust was on the sill
And cobwebs on the stairs,
In twenty years no one on earth
Will know, or even care.
Some additional tips...
Get to know your kids. Figure out what it is they enjoy and see how you can translate that into physical activity.
Make activity a part of your family time. Take walks, go to the park and play. It doesn't take a Phd in developmental psychology to realize your kids are likely to take on the same behaviors and habits you do. So, if your evenings and Saturday afternoons are spent in front of the TV theirs will more than likely be too.
The opposite is the case as well. If you’re active, if you exercise regularly and make recreation a priority in your life, it’s likely they will too.
I hope this is helpful. Thank you for taking the time to read this. Please leave any comments you feel are relevant that you want to share. Also, feel free to reach out with any questions if I can be of service.
“Facts and Statistics on Physical Activity” www.hhs.gov The US Department of Health and Human Services. 2017. https://www.hhs.gov/fitness/resource-center/facts-and-statistics/index.html
Laskowski, Edward R., “How much should the average adult exercise every day?” Mayoclinic.org. The Mayo Clinic. 2016 Available at; https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/expert-answers/exercise/faq-20057916
Vogal, Amanda MA. “Technology as a conduit to get kids more active”. IdeaFit.com. IDEA 2016 http://www.ideafit.com/fitness-library/technology-as-a-conduit-to-get-kids-more-active
Schute, Nancy. “Active video games don’t keep kids moving”. www.npr.org National Public Radio 2012 https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2012/02/27/147510154/active-video-games-dont-keep-kids-moving