By Dr. D. Jackson Maxwell
On the nightly news, online news, in newspapers and magazines we see, hear, and read about how our children are not getting enough exercise. Currently, over a third of the children in this country are considered overweight and 17 percent are obese. Children are simply not as active as they should be either at home or school.
Back in my school days, an hour’s worth of after-school TV viewing was it. Then, I was given the choice of doing additional chores or heading outside for play with the neighborhood kids. Being no fool, I always chose the latter. However, today is not like the past. My mom was a stay at home mother and could monitor my activity. Also, our neighborhood was filled with these types of mothers. For blocks in every direction, the children could play under the watchful eyes of neighborhood adults. The parents all knew each other and their kids. Strangers entering the community were always noticed. Changing times, changing economics, and changing neighborhoods have rendered the conditions that existed during my childhood, obsolete.
Today, people rarely know their neighbors. People typically spend 5-7 years in one location and then move on. Therefore, strangers on the block are less noticed. Two income families are now the norm. Parents are often so busy just trying to keep up with the necessities, they fail to notice or are disinclined to acknowledge that their children are spending 44.5 hours a week in front of a screen. Additionally, many parents fear crime, therefore, in this reality, television and video and online gaming come to be viewed as offering kids safe alternatives to the world outside the home.
Back when I was in school, recess and/or physical education (P.E.) were a part of everyday school activities. Exercise, like reading and math, was considered a valued part of the curriculum. Changing times have impacted the structure of today’s school day. Unfortunately, the drive toward meeting the testing requirements of the No Child Left Behind legislation has drastically reduced or eliminated recess time and turned many P.E. teachers into de-facto English, history, math, or science teachers required to teach these subject areas as a part of their class. The result is — like at home — many children are not getting exercise at school.
These are some of the factors that have led to increased childhood obesity even as parents and schools try to provide healthier meals. The fact is that today most children tend to be less active, spend more time viewing screens, and, overall, our children become less healthy as a group than our generation. The question is: What can we as parents do?
Here are a few suggestions. Parents can proactively seek activities that encourage exercise. There are many sports leagues throughout the city that offer everything from soccer to lacrosse to dodge ball. However, not all activities need to be organized. Family jogs, bike rides on a greenline, a hike at Shelby Farms, or a trip to the YMCA/Kroc Center are all good ideas. Take a daily walk around the block. Not only does it help to keep everyone active, it provides a chance for the whole family to get to know their neighborhood and hopefully meet neighbors. Playing catch, croquet, volleyball, badminton, or throwing horseshoes in the yard gets the family off the couch, away from the screens, and out into the fresh air.
Whatever you do this fall, try to add a bit of family activity into the daily plans. An exercise plan helps keep not just the kids but the whole family happy and healthy.
Dr. D. Jackson Maxwell is currently a public school educator with over 30 years of instructional experience. If you have any questions or comments, please contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org