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PARENTING: You Set The Example For Your Kids

by Miguel Humara, Ph.D.

More and more we see kids opting for a position in front of computers or television sets instead of playing outside or just shooting hoops in the neighborhood. The fact that video games based on sports such as NBA 2000 or John Madden Football even exist, forget about their popularity, indicates that kids are simply not participating in sports as much as they should be. Something needs to be done if we are to change the direction in which we are heading.

Although sports have become a central part in most of our lives, this does not mean that we are actually participating. Indeed, people today lead very different lives than a hundred years ago. This is due to three factors: advances in technology, a change from industrial to information based societies, and changes in our nutritional habits. These factors have had an especially significant impact on our children, a large percentage of whom could be considered to be obese.

The family is the most obvious place where changes can be made. Physical activity is a fundamental focus from birth. After a child is born, parents can hardly wait for the child to begin to crawl and walk. Most parents are eager for their children to be involved in physical activity since it is a place where growth can most easily be seen. The growth that happens with intellectual abilities is much more difficult to detect.

Our parents teach us many of the things that we will do over the course of the rest of our lives. For example, my mother taught me to always keep my room clean, perhaps obsessively so. Today, my friends come over and comment about how meticulously clean my apartment is. One explanation of parental influence on children’s activity habits is rooted in the concept of role modeling. Basically, kids do what they see. This is true for both positive things (i.e., keeping a clean house) and negative things (i.e., not saving money).

When it comes to health, children share many of the same habits as their parents, including those that are health risking. Researchers have found that children (4-7 years old) with two active parents were six times more likely to be physically active than children with two inactive parents. Simply put, if you tend to sit on the couch, then your children will probably grow up to do this as well. If you choose to go to the park and ride a bike, then your children will probably grow to be more active participants in sports. “Why don’t you go outside and play?” is not enough. Parental participation in sports provides them with a model of what should be done.

Unfortunately, the traditional family has been replaced by one in which both parents work or there is a single parent. One out of every three children born in the U.S. experience the effects of divorce before reaching 18. Researchers have found that children form single-parent households participated in more sedentary activities than youngsters from two-parent households. This finding is not surprising given the increase in responsibilities that a single-parent must take on including discipline, home-work assistance, and other day to day activities. However, divorce does not have to be a negative thing in terms of future athletic activity. Gym membership and participation as adults has been found to be higher for children from single parent homes than for kids with passive fathers who did not engage in much physical activity.

Clearly, our children need our direction in many different aspects of their lives. Given the increase in obesity rates among America’s youth, it is increasingly important that parents model appropriate amounts of physical activity if they are to grow to be healthy physically and emotionally. The physical benefits of activity are obvious. Participation in sports with kids also provides an important avenue to form a strong emotional bond with them. So what are you waiting for? Go outside and play with your kids!