Dr. Gray's Straight Talk

Honest and blunt healthcare discussion and advice.

Are Your Kids Couch Potatoes?

Posted by Dr. Gray on Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Do your kids spend too much time on the couch?… at the computer?… in front of video games?… sleeping in too late?… being lazy?

Here is the unvarnished truth… it is most likely YOUR fault!

Harsh words? Tough. Accept it because it’s the truth. The activities and lifestyles your children choose begin directly with the example you set, and what you expect of them. You can’t expect your children to suddenly become active if they see you slumped on the couch, TV remote in one hand and potato chips in the other. In a fast-food society of value meals and super-size options, convenience often takes precedence over nutrition, and adults are the first offenders. This couch potato example has created a generation of children who sit in front of their television playing video games about sports, rather than engaging in the sports themselves.

If you want your kids to be active… be active yourself. It’s time for you to start setting a good example. If you grumble and complain about exercise, how can you expect your kids to see activity and fitness as anything other than a chore? Take an aggressive and positive role in planning some family time for exercise. You will not only be setting the example of regular positive exercise, but it will give you a regular opportunity to TALK with your kids. The following are a few suggestions, but the choices are endless:

  1. Instead of circling the lot looking for the closest spot, park your car farther away from the front door of the store, and make the walk.
  2. Instead of the escalator at the mall, take the stairs.
  3. Have the entire family take the dog for a walk.
  4. Everyone pitch in to wash the car.
  5. Play catch.
  6. If your child prefers to paint or draw, go on a hike to find things for them to recreate on paper.
  7. Check out the local jungle gym, or climbing wall at the park.
  8. Make chores a competition. See who can clean their room, mow the lawn, or shovel the driveway first. Have fun with it!
  9. Have birthday parties at the park or backyard, instead of the pizza parlor. Relay races or lawn bowling are better options than tanking up on pizza and video games.
  10. Commercial-cize… make a commitment to perform some exercise each time the show you’re watching takes a commercial break. The first time, you could do ten jumping jacks. At the next break, you could do five push-ups. After that, you could run around the house and get back before the show starts.
  11. Go for a bike ride.
  12. Teach your kids basic calisthenics. Show them how to properly do jumping jacks, jump rope, stretch muscles, do push-ups or sit-ups.
  13. Take turns and let each child pick an activity of the day or week.

There are just a few examples… and none of them will break the bank. In fact, most of them are free! Here is the most important part:

Promote activity, not just exercise. I can’t stress how important it is to keep it fun. Dr. Laskowski of the Mayo Clinic said, “Every child is wired differently. We all have certain strengths and characteristics that influence our interests. The key is finding things that your children like to do.” Reward and praise healthy activities and dietary choices.

Remember… children do as you do. Set a good example for them, and expect them to make choices that will serve them well over a long, healthy lifetime.

OOOOHHH!!! Man, I almost forgot to put this in! Limit your children to no more than two hours of “screen time” per day! Screen time refers to TV, video games, computer, etc. Put the kids in charge. Let them know they’ve got the responsibility of choosing when and on what they want to use those two hours, but that you are going to enforce it… and then do it. You have to follow through. Once that time is used up, “Sorry, your time is up. Go outside and play, read a book, do a craft, etc.”


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