March 9, 2011

Getting Kids To Exercise While Being Afraid To Let Them Out Alone

Is there anything more important than teaching kids to exercise? Well, yes, technically there is. But in an age when there are an endless number of screens that children are exposed to, it’s more important than ever to teach kids that it’s important to GET OUTSIDE and run around.

This link is to the American Heart Association web site. Of course, most kids don’t spend a lot of time perusing sites like that. So people come up with cutesy ways to convince them to do it.

I like the NFL’s Play 60 program; I don’t know how effective it is but the idea is certainly a good one. Here’s a video report I did for AOL ParentDish about it.

You need to a flashplayer enabled browser to view this YouTube video

Part of the problem with getting kids to play outside is that we don’t let our kids out of the house by themselves anymore. I’m sure there are places where kids have more freedom to roam. When I was growing up, I remember playing Red Light, Green Light in front of my building until it got dark, then I went back inside. There’s no way I would allow my kids to do the same thing, despite the fact that my neighborhood now is much nicer than the one I grew up in.

The question I always wonder is whether the world is more dangerous now or if parents are just more afraid. When I interviewed John Leguizamo for Babble back in 2009, I asked him about it. He said that parents are definitely more worried about their children now then our parents were. “I used to hang out in the street all day by myself, until the lamppost went on and then I had to come in for supper. Then I’d beg to go back out. If I begged enough, maybe I could go back out for another half hour after dinner. But I’d be out there all by myself. We never let our kids out by themselves [now].”

Here’s another piece of the interview:

Q: Is the world more dangerous, or are we more worried?

A: I don’t really know, dude. I talk about this with my friends, and nobody has an answer. I thought maybe Americans were just crazy fearful, but I went to Colombia last week for a film festival and my aunts are all paranoid too.

Q: I grew up in the Bronx and I would hang around on the corner when I was 6, 7, 8 years old. But I can’t imagine letting my boys do that.

A: I know, I know. I mean, I want to let my daughter go to the store across the street… but I don’t even know if she can cross the street by herself at eight years old, y’know what I mean? We knew how to cross streets back then. (Laughs.) It’s so weird, isn’t it?

That last part is important. My kids may or may not know how to cross the street by themselves. I did because I was allowed out alone. You can’t simply toss children out of the nest once you decide they’re old enough to be able to handle the streets of the big city on their own. They have to have experience doing it. If you shelter your kids for their entire lives and then say, “Go forth my children! Get me a quart of milk!” that would be like handing the kid a guitar and expecting them to be able to play Bach.

Another problem is that “exercise” sounds like work. “Playing” sounds like fun. I used to play baseball. Unfortunately I fell out of it, and spent my life without a physical activity that I enjoyed. This means that I know have to force myself to get up off my ass and “work out”. If I had developed an interest in swimming, or stayed with baseball, or any sort of physical activity at all, that would have been great. I would love it if my kids could get into a sport. But you can’t force them. Trust me, I’ve tried.

I have no idea what the answer is. I do know that it’s important for children to spend more time moving around than they do in front of a screen. I’m not against screens. But if you want to be able to sit on your ass and watch movies, you need to balance that with some physical activity. How to explain that to kids is a tough one. Back in the day, we didn’t have to explain it. We just told them to go outside and play.

Physical Activity and Children [American Heart Association]

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This post was written by Brett Singer

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