It’s become an all-too-common scenario – children come home from school and instead of heading out to play they want to beat the next level on their video game, watch an episode of their favorite show, or text message their friends.
A recent study shows that today’s kids are less active than their parents were when they were young. The study, which analyzed millions of children worldwide, found they don’t run as fast or as far as their parents did as kids.
How can parents encourage today’s children to be more active?
Dr. Teresia O’Connor, assistant professor of Pediatrics-Nutrition at Baylor College of Medicine, says while kids get some physical activity through physical education and recess at school, depending on their age and the school, it’s clear that it is not enough.
“There are a lot of studies that find when parents provide what researchers call ‘logistic support’ for kids to be active, then kids are actually more physically active,” she said. “Logistic support might mean driving kids to participate in sporting events, signing them up to join in organized sports, or taking them to places where they can play safely and be physically active.”
She says a lot of data shows that, in particular, for younger kids, the amount of time that they spend outdoors is highly correlated with how active they are. Making sure that young children spend times outdoors can really increase their physical activity.
Finding safe spaces
O’Connor said that in many cities, like Houston, there are some areas that just aren’t safe for kids to run outdoors and play. Some parents may feel that allowing kids to play video games or watch TV is a safer alternative.
“So even though not all neighborhoods are safe for kids to go outside, parents can help by finding ways to utilize some of the really wonderful safe parks and outdoor spaces,” she said. “In particular, Houston is really making an effort to create outdoor environments for families to use, and parents can support that effort by taking their families to safe and fun parks.”
O’Connor said that for younger kids, it’s important for parents to get involved and engaged in doing an activity with the child. Parents should help older kids by finding ways to do activities with friends by identifying places they can safely walk outdoors or organizing sports and games.
Tracking screen time
O’Connor also says that many organizations recommend limiting “all screen time” to no more than two hours a day for kids ages 2 and up, through adolescence. She encourages parents to track screen time. As a pediatrician and mother, O’Connor said she doesn’t always count time using the computer for academic purposes. Nor does she count time spending doing schoolwork.
“Some screen time for age-appropriate movies and games is perfectly fine,” she said. “We can’t and shouldn’t eliminate it totally, but the idea is to also spend time being physically active and being outdoors. Take advantage of the beautiful weather in Houston this time of year and find fun, safe outdoor places to play”