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How to Get a Child Off the Couch and Active

By Jamell Andrews

Getting kids away from their TVs, computers, and gadgets is one of the greatest challenges today’s parents face, and it is not getting any easier. Many parents understandably want their kids to be up to date with all the modern technology, but for every gadget and game our children gain, something is lost. Today’s kids are losing interest in the simple enjoyment of outdoor activities and sports. If we do not push back against this trend, we may be raising a generation of overweight and unhealthy grownups.

Healthy households
For parents who want to get their kids active, it is important to establish moral authority by getting active themselves. It will not work if you command your child to go out and play while remaining inactive yourself. There must be a household culture that encourages good habits as a matter of course.

Parents too often consider themselves above the law, so to speak, when it comes to doing what we urge our children to do. It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that because you work hard to make a living and also run a family, you do not have time to set a good example through exercise. But in reality, there is time for all these things. It is about making a priority of exercise.

If it helps, think of it this way: Every parents wants to live to a ripe old age so they can see their children grow up, and exercise is one of the key ingredients in achieving this. So even if you have to set aside other nonwork activities, make daily exercise your most important appointment. Adopting this type of attitude will be good for the whole family.

Impose healthy activities
Most kids fully understand why it is important to be active and get exercise every day. They just either do not care or prefer more sedentary activities. But if no amount of talking up the importance of health is going to change a child’s mind, what are parents to do?

The answer is simple: Present alternatives, and make your child try them. Remember, when your child is fully absorbed in watching TV, surfing the web, or playing video games, the idea of going outside or participating in a sport is not going to seem very appealing. This is one of those situations in which you must exert some parental authority, even if it is difficult at first.

There are a few ways to approach the situation. One is to tell your child that they will be participating in a sport (or another physical activity) and allowing them to choose which one. If necessary, present a few choices. Kids do not always take initiative on their own, so parents need to be front and center in encouraging activity.

Restrict less healthy activities
If applying parental authority via gentle suggestion and encouragement does not work, it is time to take it to the next level. Many kids will never give up their sedentary activities until their parents actively place limits and set rules. This is not the most enjoyable part of parenting, but it is something we all must do from time to time.

If you need your child to get more physical activity, it is a simple formula: Restrict the things that prevent him or her from getting that physical activity. For many parents, the magic number seems to be two hours of media time per day-which should include TV, video games, internet, and all other electronic devices. This has been confirmed by multiple studies finding that kids who consume two hours or less are healthier than those who consume two hours or more.

And ultimately, while no one is suggesting that today’s kids should have no access to the latest technologies, it is up to the parents to use their discretion. If computer, video game, or phone use is getting out of hand, remember that there was once a time when young people were perfectly content without these things. Our kids, too, can learn to entertain themselves in other ways.

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