Statistics from Safe Food show that Irish children are not getting enough physical activity: four out of five kids get less than the recommended sixty minutes per day.
It’s hard to pay attention to all the statistics that are sent out over the airwaves. We often switch off – we can’t fix everything, we can’t possibly get it all right all the time, so we stop listening. Well I do anyway. I think to myself “they’re fine, they look fine, and sure didn’t we survive for millennia without being told to get our kids to play more”
Except things have changed. It’s not the same now as it was when we were kids, or when our parents were kids. We hear it all the time, the “when we were young, we were sent out to play and told not to come home till tea-time” remark. Roads were quieter, we all knew our neighbours and newspapers weren’t filled with the kinds of storiesthat make today’s parents want to keep kids in and lock the doors.
And while the outdoor world was more accessible, the indoor world also didn’t hold the same attraction as it does for kids today.
When I was growing up in Cork, we had two TV channels, and I don’t remember watching much apart from Anything Goes on a Saturday morning (and never missing an episode of The Fall Guy on Saturday evenings). Of course there were no iPads or smart-phones or X-Boxes – the most addictive thing in my house in 1982 was the tin of drinking chocolate powder up in the high press that I regularly dipped into when no-one was looking (dry, straight off the spoon. I know. What can I say, it was the 80’s)
Kids have to do a lot more resisting today than we ever did, and if mine were left to their own devices (no pun intended), they would evenly split their hours between television and iPad, with some chocolate raiding on the side.
So it’s up to me to make sure that doesn’t happen; to try to get them outdoors, to get them moving. And much as I might feel like switching off when I hear that four out of five kids are not getting the recommended amount of physical activity. I have to face the fact that mine are sometimes in that category. And that’s in spite of the fact that their TV time is controlled and they’re not allowed on the iPad during the week (when we need some extra sleep at the weekend, all of these rules go out the window – we’re not complete masochists)
But on any given day, between school, homework and inclement weather, it’s not always easy to fit in sixty minutes of physical activity. And mostly, for me, it’s the weather. I have to admit that I’m not a huge fan of running around outside in the freezing cold – especially the wind. I do it because the kids like it, because it’s good for them, and because I can tick the box and feel like a better parent. Like yesterday for example. I took the kids out on their bikes for an hour – because they wanted to, because we all needed to get out of the house, and because I was conscious of the statistic about physical activity and am making a renewed effort.
It was cold and windy. The two girls immediately started to complain that their bikes felt weird, Emmie couldn’t cycle up the hill and started to cry with frustration. Clara raced ahead, adding to her smaller sister’s annoyance. Sam sat in his tricycle while I pushed it – fairly sedentary as physical activity goes, now that I think about it. A car was heard, a good half a kilometre away, and the two girls screamed, immediately trying to get their bikes off the road. Eventually, when we ascertained that the car wasn’t coming our way, they got back on the saddles. Then Sam fell off his trike, and at the same time, Emmie’s bike started to roll backwards down the hill. Both cried at the same time, while I stood in the middle, one arm stretched in each direction, trying to save both of them.
Then just as I was thinking “Forget it”, the sun came out, the wind died down, and they decided to abandon the bikes and do tumbles and handstands on the green instead. Thus followed fifteen minutes of (almost) no crying and lots of laughs – even from the grumpy grown-up.
I know for sure that there are lots of parents who happily take their kids out in the cold and the wind and genuinely enjoy it, and I feel bad that I’m not one of them. But, taking a six-year-old, a four-year-old and a two-year-old out on their bikes in a hilly cul-de-sac is probably front-loaded for trouble. All of this might be easier when they’re a little older – when the two-year-old can actually cycle a bike and when the three of them are less prone to regular bouts of tears (that time does come right?). So I’ll keep trying, I’ll keep targeting that 60 minutes per day, and I won’t beat myself up too much for not enjoying every single chilly minute. There are medals for effort right? Right?
This fact sheet from Safe Food captures the problem and the solutions very well, with common sense tips, and their information hub has a list of childhood games, including rules – for all of us who have forgotten exactly how “What time is it Mr. Wolf” works 🙂