How to keep tweens active

Kids’ physical activity can plummet as they enter the teen years. Here’s how to keep them moving
Boy with basketball texting on his phone

Today’s tweens have busy lives : increased homework, an ever more engaging social life and extracurricular activities. Many middle schools exclude recess from the timetable, and some kids who once loved to run and kick a ball are now more interested in video games.

It’s no surprise that many children become less active as they enter adolescence.

That’s a worry, especially because only one in 10 kids of all ages (from five to 17) gets the recommended minimum of 60 minutes of physical activity a day, according to the latest ParticipACTION Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth.

So how can you help your middle-schooler get the activity she needs?
Heart & Stroke researcher Dr. Ryan Rhodes of the University of Victoria is studying ways to support parents in fostering healthy habits in their children. He says it helps to work together as a family to find opportunities for physical activity. “Parents know why physical activity is important, but need to be equipped with the tools to get active and stay active.” 

Here are some things that might help.

Start the conversation: It’s helpful to remind kids that activity helps them focus and feel good. Teach them to get up and move around when they’re feeling sluggish or anxious — and to notice how that helps. Encourage them to think about and suggest ways to add more activity to their week.

Talk to your school: What opportunities does your child have to be active? Are students allowed to get up and stretch and walk during class? Inquire about DPA (daily physical activity). While many provinces have policies for minimum physical activity per day, many schools do not enforce them.

Use active transportation: Bookend the day with movement. Encourage kids to walk or wheel to and from school with friends — stressing safety. If you have to drive, drop them off a little further from the school. And resist the urge to chauffeur if they want to go to the mall or a movie with friends; encourage them to walk or take transit when possible.

Make activity a priority: Find opportunities for active family time; maybe it’s after-dinner walks, recreational swims at the local pool or even a game of Twister. While this is the stage where kids are looking for less family time and more friend time, it’s still important to offer the option.

Promote active friendships: Encourage your child to join friends to get outside for fun. Or he might bring a friend to activities or sports offered at school or neighbourhood recreation centres. If your space and budget allows, consider ways to make your home an active hangout with additions like a ping-pong table or basketball hoop.

Limit recreational screen time: Video games and social media take time away from activity and sleep, so make sure your family has rules around screen time. If you can, try to limit recreational screen time to no more than two hours a day.