As the school year comes to a close, children begin to count the days until the best part of summer: their freedom! I asked one of our clients yesterday, “Henry, how many days of school do you have left?” Without hesitation he shouted, “Forty-nine!” Then I asked him what his favorite part of summer was. I anticipated his response to include sleeping in and the lazy mornings of summer vacation, or not having to sit restlessly in an uncomfortable desk chair for eight hours while listening to long-winded teachers. I definitely thought he’d be excited about not having any homework. But what was he looking forward to the most? “More MineCraft time!”
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), “Today’s children spend an average of seven hours a day on entertainment media, including televisions, computers, phones and other electronic devices.” With that amount of screen time, it should be no surprise that childhood obesity has increased dramatically. The Centers for Disease and Prevention (CDC) reports that “childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years.”
So what do the AAP and the CDC recommend for the appropriate amount of screen time and exercise? Children and teens should have less than two hours of screen time, which is five hours less than the current average, and should be spending their time playing outside, reading and “using their imaginations in free play” (AAP). As for playing outside or exercising, children need at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day (CDC).
All of these suggested activities are what you would hope your children would be eagerly awaiting during their countdown to summer, not more screen time. So how do you increase physical activity and decrease screen time this upcoming summer vacation? Well, it starts with you and here’s why.
You must show your children that physical activity is important to YOU and make it a priority. It is hard for them to feel that exercise is important if they don’t see you being active. Their response to your suggestion of getting active could be, “But you never exercise. Why should I?” Lead by example and they are more likely to follow.
It also has to be fun! Take family outings that include physical activity. Use exercise as a way to bond with your children and enjoy each other’s company. Portland is full of fun family activities. Go to a park and have a picnic (my favorite is Harper’s Playground), take a bike ride or a walk around Tom McCall Waterfront Park and play in the fountains, go to The Lumberyard and ride bikes around their indoor BMX bike tracks, spend the day at the Oregon Zoo or explore all of the awesome exhibits at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI). Exercising and being active should be something no one dreads, but looks forward to.
Your child’s summer freedom is almost here. Start the conversation now and plan family activities throughout the summer months. Create an open dialogue with your children, find out their interests and plan accordingly. If their teacher or an adult asks them what they are most excited for this summer, their answer should include the trips and physical activities you have planned together. More screen time doesn’t need to be on the list of things that make summer great.
About the Author
Ryan Lockard, CSCS, CFNS, is the head trainer and founder of Specialty Athletic Training. He is President of the Autism Society of Oregon's Board of Directors and is accredited by the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) as a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, as well as by the International Sports Science Association (ISSA) as a Certified Fitness Nutrition Specialist. Ryan has worked with individuals with special needs since 2007 and has over 10,000 hours of 1:1 instruction working with individuals that have various special needs.