As another school year gets underway, alongside new seasons in sports such as hockey, netball, football and others, do you ever stop to wonder if your children are active enough?

The nation is in the midst of an obesity crisis, with sedentary lifestyles among kids and teenagers increasing all the time – and, according to Sport England, 4 in 5 children are not getting enough exercise. There are currently around seven million children aged five to 15 in England and those children are recommended to get at least 60 minutes of physical activity a day. But most of them just aren’t getting it. Why?

The Screen Time Battle

Us parents know only too well about the battles over screen time but, exhausting though those battles can be, they are battles worth winning – for it is clear children who are sufficiently active benefit in critical ways; for example, a survey for Sport England revealed that children who are active every day have the highest mental well-being scores of all the 5-16-year-olds surveyed.

One of the greatest challenges faced by parents today is that ‘screen time battle’, and more and more anecdotal – and empirical – evidence is telling us it is affecting kids’ motivation to participate in sport.

It’s a grim and wet Saturday morning in winter, and your son or daughter is due to leave the house shortly to play for their local team. They’ve had their breakfast, and they’re already engrossed in their console or their tablet. Why would they want to put on a pair of shorts and run around in the mud outside, freezing to death?

Children Today are doing too little exercising and too much gaming

Those more mature sport fanatics among us, who played sport as kids, know the answer. 15-20 years ago and more, we never had such a choice, and the prospect of getting out – regardless of the weather – and playing sport with our friends was our chance to play. It was our leisure time, it was our drug. Now, kids find themselves increasingly addicted to screens, and recent research seems to confirm that children are spending too much time on mobiles, tablets and consoles – and too little exercising.

Last year, Sport England appointed a new chief executive, Tim Hollingsworth, and he wasted no time in accepting the challenge to get children off screens and more active.

After his appointment, he told BBC Radio 5 live’s Sportsweek:

I’m a father of two teenage boys. Both my sons are going out playing sport this morning, but equally later this afternoon I’m sure both will be wanting to be on the xBox. It’s a constant battle, for a parent particularly. tim hollingsworth, sport england ceo

Making Sport More Attractive to Youngsters

And so Sport England’s chief clearly faces, like so many parents, an uphill challenge. His organisation released a findings from a survey – Active Lives Children and Young People Survey – that looked at levels of activity among young people, but Hollingsworth acknowledges this issue is just a part of their drive to change the perception of sport among younger people.

There are people across the country of different ages, different backgrounds, different abilities, for whom perhaps traditional core sport is not what they would want to do. Perhaps they had experiences in the past at school which turned them off it. You have to think differently about what will make sport and physical activity right for different people. How do you make sport more accessible? Can we make booking a sporting facility or going and finding out what’s available to you as easy as TripAdvisor makes it for hotels and restaurants? We do have to think differently about what activity is, what exercise can be, because it’s not right to suggest that everyone has the time, the space, the opportunity, the finances to do sport in a purely traditional way. You can’t assume that people have got the time, money and indeed the social capacity to go off and play 18 holes at a local golf club. All of this has to be in the mix. Tim hollingsworth

How can we wean our kids off screens and onto the sports field?

Limiting screen time is an obvious and much-used tactic, but it’s not always easy to enforce. Often parents are tired and can find themselves allowing their children to exceed those limits for the sake of a quiet life. We’re all human after all. We’re never going to get kids less interested in their screens – for now at least, they’re here to stay. So the trick is to make sport more appealing, and balance out their screen time with sporting activity.

Making sure your child incorporates exercise into their routine naturally can be achieved in a number of ways – leading by example, doing sports together, keeping it fun and encouraging instead of forcing sports.

Kids are sponges, absorbing everything. Their first and primary influence is watching their parents. This of course can be both a blessing and a curse – if they see you lounging around on the sofa all day then they will have little reason to believe that exercise is truly an important part of life.

A child’s tendency to associate sport with actually having fun starts with you, the parent. Because a child forms their idea of what is normal by observing you and your behaviours, convey the importance and the attraction of sport on them by doing fun sporting activities together – and, crucially, make it fun for them.

It is perfectly normal to introduce your children to the sports you most enjoy yourself. However, pay close attention to your child and observe whether they seem to be having fun and be prepared to accept that they might not. It is entirely possible that your favourite sport doesn’t interest them at all, which is not always easy for some parents to take, but is of course completely fine — just be ready to accept it and move onto another option.

Let’s Get Active!

These are testing times. Everyone is busy, everyone is tired, and children are arguably more demanding than ever, with more at stake and more pressures for everybody. It is vital, therefore, that, in these times of technological advancement and instant gratification, we push our children that bit more to get involved in sport and physical activity, so they can reap the benefits both physically and mentally, and help make us all that bit fitter and happier.

Let’s do what we can.

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