Statistics tell us nearly half of North American youth are not active on a regular basis. What's worse, the trend over the past decade has been a decline in overall physical activity. Here are 11 ways you can have an influence over your teen's participation in fitness activities.
1. Provide information about the value of physical activity. Providing such information may sound unnecessary, but teenagers may not, in fact, be aware of the short- and long-term benefits. They're likely to be motivated by the social benefits – worrying about heart disease or osteoporosis comes later. Lectures on the topic may not be greeted with enthusiasm, but the occasional comment can reinforce the message that their sports activities aren't just for fun but also keep them healthy. More immediate incentives can be more energy, sleeping more soundly, better control of appetite and weight, more efficient study skills, and lower mental stress.
2. Suggest activities that teens will feel are within their current range of competence. One factor predicting whether adolescents will become involved in physical pursuits is the extent to which they believe they have the potential to succeed. I can relate to this. I did sign up for – and this time complete – a yoga class. I didn't go near the centre, however, before I had an iron-clad guarantee that "Beginners Class" was a promise and not just a ploy to import comic relief for the other participants. Suggesting activities that teens will feel are within their range of competence is especially important for those with limited experience in athletics or with obstacles such as obesity.
3. Suggest goals and educate teens about the benefits of relatively minor increases in physical activity. The "doing what comes naturally" principle can be of value; build on what your children normally do, or have done in the past, rather than trying to radically change their activities and routines. Walking and cycling are examples.
Walking, in particular, has earned status as the most available and by far the easiest form of exercise. It involves no expense and doesn't inflict pain. It also requires no training, although books have been written on the topic should you feel the need for a refresher course. (I browsed through one not so long ago; it was bursting with pictures and illustrations about topics such as body posture and arm position. No doubt there will be a sequel finally revealing the secret of that age-old dilemma – how to walk and chew gum at the same time.) The main point is that walking is a normal part of our lives.
4. Emphasize small changes. The belief that fitness means going from couch potato to jock makes the task overwhelming and totally unrealistic. Increasing daily physical activity by only five minutes a week makes it manageable. In just six weeks the goal of an extra half hour each day can be reached, which can lead to a major improvement in fitness.
One way to illustrate that every little bit helps is to look at a METs chart, which is easily found on the Internet. A MET is a metabolic equivalent, and 1 MET is the rate of energy expended when sitting quietly. Playing the piano or washing dishes gets you to 2.3 and walking briskly tops 3. Fishing can also hit 3 provided you're awake and casting the odd time. If you dig your own worms with a shovel you're at 4 (it really is in the chart). Someone also felt the need to measure how much energy it takes to jingle dance – the score came in at 5.5. The list is long and can assist in selecting activities that are both enjoyable and realistic, as well as progressively more energetic. As you might expect, running and sports such as rugby fall at the upper end, requiring 10 to 20 times the energy needed for loafing around, depending on how much the participants push themselves.
Page 1 of 2 – Discover why your kids are more likely to be motivated by their siblings when it comes to sports and exercise on page 2.
5. Cheer them on whenever possible. Although all of our children reached the stage when they wanted to deny they even had parents, let alone be seen in public with them, they never objected to our coming to their basketball games, rugby tournaments, or dance recitals. In fact, only a few days ago Alexandra thanked me for driving over an hour to watch her rugby game. I'm not expecting this to be followed by an invitation to hang out with her on the weekend; I'm content just to know that my support and interest meant something to her.
6. Be a good parental model. The next item puts me to shame – parental modeling. Fortunately Kathy has set the example in the family; this is one area in which I don't mind being ignored by our children. As reviewed by Susan Duncan and her colleagues at the Oregon Research Institute, modeling can be direct or indirect. The direct form involves sharing the activity with your son or daughter. Indirect modeling occurs when teens live in an environment in which exercise and sports are part of their parents' way of life. Modeling is one of the known predictors of how active children will be in their adolescent years.
7. Make it known that, as far as possible, you'll provide instrumental support such as funding certain activities and being available for transportation.
8. Encourage siblings to be more supportive. Much depends, of course, on the sibling relationship. Had I been into sports, I know my brother would have shown interest in watching only if the event pitted me against a gladiator with attitude or a ravenous lion. But if there's a sibling who is so inclined, encourage them to be a spectator or support their sister or brother in some other way.
9. Take account of individual preferences and personalities. Some young people thrive on competition, and sports teams may be a good choice for them. Others have a definite aversion to highly competitive pursuits and may be far more motivated for cooperative or solitary activities such as hiking, fitness classes and biking.
10. Increase opportunities to be physically active. One example is a variant of the "take the stairs instead of the elevator" maxim. Suggest changes in transportation, such as driving them only partway to school or a friend's house. Plan family outings that involve physical activities. Going to a place where you can play Frisbee guarantees a MET of at least 3, and if you can swim, the energy expenditure is more than doubled. If they're enthusiastic shoppers, plan to go to the entrance farthest away from the stores they intend to visit. The advent of super malls has meant that going from one end to the other is quite a jaunt. Believe it or not, articles have been written on the merits of "mall walking."
11. Consider having exercise tapes and basic equipment available at home. Several researchers have found that home-based exercising is particularly effective for certain people. For example, teens who are very self-conscious about their abilities or weight may prefer to exercise in the privacy of their homes, at least initially.
|Excerpted from Now I Know Why Tigers Eat Their Young: Surviving a New Generation of Teenagers by Dr. Peter Marshall, with a foreward by Barbara Coloroso. Copyright 2007 by Dr. Peter Marshall. Excerpted with permission by Whitecap Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced except with permission in writing from the publishers.|
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