Guest post: How to Motivate Couch Potato Kids

couch potatoesA recent survey found that 17% of boys and 16% of girls (aged 12 – 15) are now classed as either overweight or obese. According to the aforementioned, nearly three quarters of children are not getting their recommended “60 minutes of daily activity” outside of school. There’s just too many inside distractions. So many, in fact, that a vast majority of children confessed to dual or triple screening – watching the TV whilst surfing the web whilst texting their mates. It sounds like modern kids could really do with a day or two outdoors.

Thankfully, my children aren’t exactly physically inactive, but the potential for it concerns me: their tendency to opt for iPads, computer games and TV over competitive outdoor activities is becoming more and more frequent. We all know how important it is to keep young bodies mobile, so how can we motivate them to move?

When I was a kid, I went to summer camp and it genuinely tested my physical, mental and emotional limits. I guess that was the point. But when you’re a preteen and don’t care much for abdominal workouts, there’s little attraction to swimming a mile at dawn in a freezing cold lake (except maybe for the donuts at the end). The difference is – I didn’t get the choice. Rousing from warm (if not uncomfortable) bunks, gaggles of worthy kids would wrestle into swim suits twisted like elastic bands and shuffle down to the shoreline. Lapping at the sand, the turquois blue water held two promises: it would be deceptively beautiful and very, very deep.

I wonder if it’s a cultural difference – my camp was American – or a sign of changing times, but I can’t imagine this approach being effective or even tolerated in today’s health and safety society. So where’s the balance? When you’re faced with a coach potato kid, how do you turn them into a nature-loving wildling?

5 Point Programme

  1. Start with an open discussion about why physical activity is important. Don’t expect to get off lightly – if you’ve hit the middle-age fitness impasse, ‘fess up and pledge to make an effort. Otherwise they’ll see you for the hypocrite you are.
  2. As with all things, your child will create roadblocks. This may include, but not be limited to, a previously undetected physical impairment/uncontrollable fear of the outside. Call their bluff, rope in their mates and join forces with other parents. Teamwork makes the dream work, or so they say.
  3. Find an outdoor education and activity centre. Unlike you, these places actually know what they’re doing and how to motive kids (without being overtly preachy). See if your child’s school offers these opportunities and would be happy to arrange a field trip. If they wouldn’t usually, suggest it.
  4. Set small, attainable goals. Don’t expect your kids to love to swim on the Sunday and be able to front-crawl ¾ of a mile by Friday. That’s just crazy. You’re not looking to give them any more reasons to hate you.  Instead, use a goal & reward system. If they participate in a football match, they get 1 hour of internet. Don’t ban their beloved technology, it’s counterproductive. Controlling it and using it to motivate your intentions is a lot more logical.
  5. Praise and praise and praise them. Trying something new, let alone sticking with it, is a big deal no matter what your age.

Although I hated it at the time, there’s no doubt that completing the almighty lake swim of doom gave me, even subconsciously, the ability to take a stab at other challenges later in life – particularly physical ones.  Now more than ever, we need to show our children the awesomeness of climbing trees and swimming in lakes and rolling down hills. Whilst these activities are incredibly good for the mind body and soul, memories are a childhood institution and they simply cannot be recreated on Tumblr or Instagram.

What do you do to get your kids active?

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