Sunday, June 27, 2010

Get 'Em Active. But Ask, Don't Demand.

As a parent, you want the best for you kids, both mentally and physically. Sometimes it's easy to over impose your own desires and wants on your kids without really finding out what they want. As a parent, I've learned that sometimes you have to step back and forget about your "likes" and let your child share what they love about life. Just because you were a football star in high school (that definitely wasn't me, ha!) doesn't mean your child will want that too. This post is as much a reminder to myself as it is to anyone reading it. My own children have activity and weight issues and I'm exploring the best ways to turn that around without pushing them away. If you have teenagers (or even just know a teenager), you know what I mean.

Today's fast-paced, media-driven, and get-it-now lifestyle has definitely made life a lot easier, but at the same time, it's made for a generation of overweight and obese children. In fact this is the first generation to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents. That's really sad news. The great news is that it can be turned around.
When I was but a wee lad, outside was my entertainment. Now, some of the things we did outside, I'd die if I knew my kids were doing (i.e., pretending to be the 6-Million Dollar Man and jumping off the roof of the garage to practice our forward roll upon landing; climbing over the lumber yard fence and using planks to cross from one 15-foot stack of 2x4s to another, etc...). Funny thing though is that even with me playing out doors, I still went through a "fat kid" stage around 5-8th grade. I wasn't into team athletics so I didn't have a regimented workout like my brother who played baseball, football, tennis, to help keep the weight off. I really do believe, however, that the fact that I played outdoors kept me from becoming bigger than I was. I looked back at pictures of myself when I was "fat" and compared them to today's overweight kids, and I look pretty darn normal.

I don't think organized sports are for every kid, but because so many who are not involved in organized sports are stuck inside watching, TV, playing computer games, and/or surfing the net, they're not able to burn off enough calories each day to keep their weight at a healthy level. The sedentary lifestyle coupled with fast food and highly refined and processed foods are the main culprits in this huge increase in childhood obesity. Youngsters are even being diagnosed with high cholesterol and type 2 diabetes. Maybe if the ultra realistic video games of today reverted back to the "Pong" of my era, kids would return to the outdoors.
I was really disheartened the other day when I heard Steve Jobs say that the keyboard computer would soon be a thing of the past and that computers would all go to a touch screen. That gives me a heavy heart for two reasons. First, as a writer, it's just one more foot in the grave for the written word. For many (myself included) using pen and paper or the keyboard is a part of the creative process. Sometimes my fingers just have a mind of their own and go to town. Then I have to go back and clean up what they produced. But somewhere in the garble ends up some cool stuff. I'm just not convinced that same thing will happen with touch screens. Although, I guess back-in-the-day, users of manual typewriters probably said the same thing about the electric typewriters and then the laptop.

Second, it just seems one more step closer to the reality portrayed in the Disney movie Wall-e. In the movie, the last remaining humans are on a ship in outer space looking for a home. Everything has become so automated that the humans have become huge blobs that can barely move. They lay in floating hover-bed lounge-chairs which they never leave. They drink smoothies because they're too weak to prepare their own food.

Okay, enough dooms day. I'm not a prude. I really do like invention and advancement. I use a laptop everyday. I have a Garmin to track my distance and mileage. We do have a big flat screen digital TV, but we have no cable or dish. I think technology and advancement is wonderful, but not at the risk of our kids' health. Just the fact that our kids have a shorter life expectancy than ours should be enough of an eye opener that as a society we strive to put exercise, play, and the outdoors back into our children's lives. Research does show that active children have better test scores!

Okay, I'll stop ranting and get back to the point of this post, "Ask, Don't Demand." Taking away the computer, shutting off the TV, and discontinuing cable, may work for some in getting their kids outdoors and into being more active, but I think a different approach may work just as well if not better.

Schedule some outside trips with your kids, but kept the activities open so that your kids have some choice in what they do. Or maybe over the course of a few weeks have them experience several different things to see what sparks an interest—hiking, biking, running, Frisbee football, frisbee golf, wiffle ball, swimming, badminton. When I was in middle school my older brother and I set up an "official" badminton court in our backyard. We had a whole series of tournaments between us and played that entire summer. It was big fun.

Another approach to take is to try inviting your kids to join you in your favorite activity. Tell them you'll take it easy on them. That's usually enough of a challenge to get them out there. If they say no, dig a little to find out what they're interested in. It may be that they're really interested in mountain biking, but have never said anything because you're into running. Or maybe it's dance or gymnastics. Now there are limits. I'm not donning a tutu, but I will sign my daughter up for dance class and root her on whole-heartedly from the sidelines if that's her area of interest. The point is, find out what your child is interested in. Sometimes all they're waiting for is an invite. Other times is maybe that they're waiting for you to ask what they're interested in.

A few months back I told my 14-year old that I was starting a beginning running group at my fitness studio. I told her that if she and her best friend wanted to join the group, that would be awesome. That's all I said. A week later, she came to me to ask more questions about the group and who'd be in it. Eventually she and her buddy both joined the group and completed the 10-week program. This past week (while on vacation at the beach), she even got me up early 5 of the 8 days we were there to run. Next week we're running a 5K together to celebrate July 4th and her accomplishment. This was such a success (I think) because of the invite.

I'm holding a 4-week bootcamp at the studio in July and my daughter came to me the other day and said, "So, Dad. You gonna make me do this bootcamp too?" Then she gave me a big grin and we both began to laugh.

So, if you're not already, get active with your kids. I'll be working on it in my household. Invite your family to join you in your favorite activity and explore their interests too. There's a lot of healthy fun and memory-making to be had outdoors.


Kathleen said...

That's awesome about your 14-year-old doing your program (and her friend!). My 14-year-old has started running, and he's training for a half in January.

There's a trendy homeschooling method, Thomas Jefferson Education, where the motto is "Inspire, don't require." A big thing is parents need to keep reading and studying throughout adulthood -- and that'll it'll rub off.

It definitely seems to work with athletic endeavors as well.

RunnerDude said...

Hi Kathleen! I love that "Inspire, don't reguire." Great for the fitness industry! Congrats on your son's half marathon training! That's awesome!

Unknown said...

So true. My oldest son went through a life trauma in his early years and that has had an impact on his athletic drive. We've encouraged but not pushed. This was the first year since he was 5 that he wanted to go skating and play on a soccer team. It's been awesome.

Fitness is a part of our house. We have a t.v. but we do not have cable. Even on Saturday mornings, when there are lots of child-friendly shows on, my boys are happier with the dramatic play than the black box.

Our rewards: my oldest always wants to come with me on his bike when I run; my youngest always wants to race whenever I do. It's a case of practise what you believe; the kids will figure it out on their own.

wendy said...

Lol! While you were being the 6-Million Dollar Man, I was Charlie's Angels (Not all of them at once, my friends were in on this, too). I'm guessing you gave your mother more than one heart attack playing that one! : )

Being active with our kids is very important in our family. We limit TV and computer time and really encourage them to play outside as much as possible. The older kids are all involved in the sports of their choice and we are right there cheering them on. (Those are really the only sports I like to watch as a matter of fact)

Good luck to your daughter as she runs her first 5K. What a great way to celebrate! Have fun and enjoy your day!

RunnerDude said...

Hi Cynthia! Your household sounds a lot like ours. That's so cool about your oldest. You guys should be very proud.

RunnerDude said...

Hi Wendy! Were you Jill, Sabrina or Kelly. I always liked Sabrina. I think it was the Pinto. LOL! Sounds like you guys have an awesome family. Congrats!!!

RunnerDude said...

PS: Wendy....I was in love with The Bionic Woman. LOL!! They were cheesy, but they sure did have better kids shows back then...

mommaof3ontherun said...

My husband and I are trying to make fitness and activity a normal thing for our kids. It wasn't such a normal thing for me growing up and I am a late bloomer to it all. I do not want my children to struggle with their weight like I have. If it is normal and we are modeling healthy eating and activity, I am hoping that all three of my children will not struggle like I have. That being said, we don't push but we model and encourage active family activities.

RunnerDude said...

Hi Christinaleigh! Your children are some very fortunate kiddos! You guys are doing the perfect thing by modeling.

Jenna said...

I love the "inspire, don't require" motto! I'm going to use that as my daughter gets older!
I completely agree with this article. I've got my 2-year old leading an active lifestyle already. While I'm running she plays on the playground at the gym. When I'm done with my required mileage I take her for a lap (.5) on our indoor track. She already loves it! She also loves being pushed in the jogging stroller when I run outdoors. Layla is my constant running companion, unlike a lot of my friends she never says 'no!' to physical activity.
My biggest fear is seeing her go through the same weight issues I had as a teen, but I don't want working out to be a boring chore that she HAS to do.
Great post RunnerDude! I love it!

RunnerDude said...

Thanks Jenna! I'd love to see you and your daughter doing a lap. I bet that's an wonderful sight!I know she must be proud to be running with Mom. Keep up the awesome job!

Joan said...

We have extremes. Our son is a "football star". He's 100% focused on football, conditioning, diet, workouts etc. We have to monitor him to make sure he's making smart choices and not over doing it. Right now his team works out 4 days a week plus he's off attending camps. He use to run 5k's with me. He'd run it then wait 10 for 15 minutes for me to finish!
Our daughter does not like sports and does not participate in any. Her interests are music and art. While she's not overweight, I worry about the amount of exercise she gets and hopes she finds something she likes to do to carry with her as she gets older. Right now she enjoys hiking, biking and walks. Unfortunately my son does not so family activities can be tricky but then again he's a senior and will be leaving for college next summer. He does take weight training at school but her P.E. in middle school is a joke. It's every other week. Allowing time for changing clothes, it amounts to 20 minutes.

Iron Mike said...

Your kids are very fortunate that you see the big picture.

My opinion is that ultimately, skinny or fat, fit or unfit, what matters most for our kids is that they are happy.

And I love your reference to the gelatinous humans in Wall-E. Those movie directors were right on the money.

RunnerDude said...

Hey Joan! Sounds kind of like me and my brother. Her was into sports and I was not. Of course back then there really wasn't any non competitive sports for kids or at least any I new of growing up in rural NC. You do have extremes and you're wise to monitor your son, because even at that young age, they can overtrain which can lead to injury. Unfortunately highschool football coaches aren't always saavy to that. Sounds like your daughter's activity interests are more in the noncompetitive arena. I'm sure you have, but maybe explore more of those walks and hikes with her. She's so musical and artistic, do you thin she'd enjoy dance? Anywho, sounds like you're on top of it. Probably just by being a great example of fitness and health is enough for your daughter, as she grows and matures, she'll have that great base of knowlege in her head and appreciate it.

RunnerDude said...

Thanks IronMike! I agree with your view whole-heartedly. It's probably when kids are unhappy that the weight creeps on are at least contributes. I think the best thing to do is provide opportunities for your kids (but not forece anything) and role model a healthy fit lifestyle. Kids are watching us 24/7. Eventhough it may take some time (maybe even years for it to show) they appreciate the subtle support and encouragement.

Marny said...

Awesome post! I take my 3 year old on little hikes and I always end up frustrated because he whines, cries and sits down in the trail until I pick him up. Obviously I am doing something wrong, because he went on a backpacking/camping trip with my husband this past weekend and turned out to be a champion hiker! I was *slightly* jealous about this, but in the end, if he enjoys hiking with his dad, I'll keep my nose out of it!

RunnerDude said...

Hi Marny! Oh man, that probably did sting a little. I think most kids go through Mommy-Daddy favorite stages. Our kids did. Just keep on hiking even if it's solo and he'll eventually want some Mamma hang-time again. Might end up being through some other activity too.