It’s Time to Unplug Our Kids

My good friend Carol is deeply committed and works hard to live a healthy, active lifestyle. She’s inspirational in terms of how she manages to build fitness into days jammed with the demands of a busy and meaningful career balanced with caring for her immediate and extended family. 

One of the things she somehow manages to fit into her day is walking her nine year old daughter to school. While I’m sure there are days when it would be a whole lot easier to drive, she chooses instead to not only spend quality time with her daughter but to instill within her the importance of being physically active each day.

As a family they also build into their busy schedule visits to the YMCA, walks, and bike rides. She herself watches virtually no television and restricts her daughter’s viewing to an hour per day.

According to the experts, she and her family are not at all typical. In fact, according to Canada’s 2008 Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth our kids get an overall D grade for insufficient appropriate physical activity.

In fact, 90% are not meeting the minimum recommended daily physical activity of 60 minutes per day!

The report card also gives us a big fat F in the area of healthy body weights. If you thought kids and youth today were getting pudgier, you’re absolutely right. Today we have unhealthy, excessive body weights that are among the highest in the world. New findings indicate that this is an issue as early as 3 years of age.

The report card also tells us that the best predictor of children and youth being overweight and obese is their amount of screen time - TV, video games or computer. Kids are spending an astonishing 4-6 hours in front of a screen each week day. On weekends this climbs to 6-7.5 hours per day.

So what do we do about it?

Like my friend Carol, one of the most important things we can do as adults is role model physical activity and moderation in screen time use. Set specific limits on TV, computer and video game time.  The current recommendation for children and youth is less than two hours in front of a screen per day. One hour of TV per day is indicated as the maximum for preschoolers although Canadians are actually approaching two hours. TVs and computers also need to be removed from children’s bedrooms.

Parents, grandparents, and other caretakers also need to think about planning together time as active time, creating as many opportunities as possible for informal and outdoor play. The one hour of activity doesn’t have to be in one continuous activity. Short bouts throughout the day are perfectly acceptable.

Think about hanging out with your kids at the neighbourhood playground climbing and swinging. Kick soccer balls, throw Frisbees, jump rope, or fly kites. Put on some music and dance, take the dog for a walk, get the kids to help carry in the groceries, go swimming, or go on a scavenger hunt.
 
And, if you’re really up to it, understand that if the future is going to get brighter for our kids, we all are going to need to step up to the plate and demonstrate leadership.

Encourage neighbourhood outdoor games, be a coach or organizer of physical activities in your community, advocate for more physical activity programs and facilities in communities and increased child safety in neighbourhoods, playgrounds, parks, and on the roads.

In addition to what we do to encourage community play, it is also essential that schools deliver to quality, daily physical activity. And yes, that includes high schools!

Is it a challenge? Absolutely! Do we have a choice? Not if we care about our kids and our future. We can invest our time and energy now to unplug our kids or we can pay a far steeper and more painful price later. 

Posted on 07-06-08


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