A guest post from Amy Willliams
“Hey Sam, you want to play catch?” “No thanks, Mom.” He didn’t even look up from his device. While saddened, I wasn’t shocked. This scenario is happening far too often in my family, and in our current technological world, as kids become engrossed in games on their phones and tablets start taking place of physical activity.
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What happened to sports? It’s as if America’s favorite pastime has fallen to the wayside, unable to compete with the intense, addicting graphics thrust into the hands of these young, impressionable minds. It is not only a mere pitfall of the digital onslaught, it seems as if it’s becoming an epidemic.
The Good Old Days
Just twenty years ago, kids were still hopping on their bicycles and peddling to the nearest baseball field to get into a scrappy game with the locals. Play areas were filled with sweaty, mud-covered children playing football, baseball, heck, kill-the- guy-with-the-ball, returning home only when necessary to fuel up for lunch. Then, it was back out again until the sun went down and dinner was being served. The only problem parents encountered was trying to stop dirty sneakers from mucking up the house.
We Fell Into It
Eventually, an interesting thing began to happen. Small advancements in play technology started appearing. First it was TV pong, then handheld sports games on cumbersome devices, and finally a complete industry flood of fast-paced, miniaturized, highly realistic games that seemed to mezmerize and hypnotize our children overnight.
The next thing we knew – we were competing with overpriced systems, games, devices, you name it, that we purchased! At the same time, we were plugged into our own.
It may not be that bad yet, but it’s getting there. Due to lack of interest in physical activity, many kids may develop serious problems. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that, “childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years,” and that “children and adolescents who are obese are at greater risk for bone and joint problems, sleep apnea, and social and psychological problems such as stigmatization and poor self-esteem.”
In addition, according to a 2011 report published in the Journal of Park and Recreation Administration, kids are spending less time outside, yet when they do, they bring their electronics with them! Take a look at some schoolyards and you’ll see groups of the “heads down tribe” wasting away in the summer sun.
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One Hour Recommended
The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and the National Association for Sport and Physical Education both agree that children should get at least one hour of moderate exercise a day. An hour? Heck, you weren’t even warmed up after an hour when you were a kid. Yet, today if parents can get an hour of physical activity out of their child they’re lucky.
Dragging a kid away from their device to play sports is a challenge. This makes so many children miss the golden opportunity of learning team play, gaining self-esteem and experiencing something that will enhance their lives and their health in a variety of so many other ways.
We Can Do Better
If we get them out for an hour, so be it, but we can do better. Leading by example is the first lesson to send their way. This means that the less they see us on our devices and the more interested we become in their world may very well get them to look up. Here are a few tips on how to incorporate sports in our kids daily lives:
- Start by showing interest in their video game by asking to play with them,
- Ask them (or do it yourself) to keep a one week log of the time spent on their device.
- At the end of the week, show them a list of other activities that could be achieved in the same amount of time. For example, half the time could have been dedicated to improving or learning a sport. Be prepared to spend this extra time with them if they take the bait and want to get out there.
- Arrange sport activities for your child and their friends.
- Start a long term sports program they can look forward to each day.
- Implement electronic-free time zones that the whole family adheres to.
- Acknowledge and encourage their effort.
- Have as many family meals together as possible.
Although it may seem that technology is taking the place of sports in our kid’s lives, it doesn’t have to. All it takes is some extra attention from a variety of angles rather than an iron fist (which seems to always backfire). Put in the effort and before you know it, your child will be chasing, hitting, kicking, and throwing a ball in no time.
Amy Williams is a journalist and mother in Southern California. Finding a balance with technology is something her family is constantly working on. You can follow her on Twitter for more!