Child Development

How I Motivate My Kids to Exercise

To earn the video game console, they must accomplish this goal

My children are 7 and 10 and, like many kids, have found themselves with an unstructured, open range-like summer schedule. They look out into the week’s horizon and see nothing but a sea of time.

I always thought kids’ summers were meant to be spent outdoors with friends, exploring, playing games, and climbing trees. That hasn’t happened. Instead, my kids have turned to video games and into couch potatoes.

Each day, after a few hours of gaming, they have spiraling eyes and melted minds. It’s like they’re spending their summer in a virtual reality, not an actual reality. This isn’t ideal but the pandemic has tossed the pediatrics rulebook into the nightly fire pit.

I mean no disrespect by burning such a bible. But when I asked the pediatrician about how to properly balance screens between virtual learning with time for fun, she said, “Forget all that. Just let that go. Let them do whatever they want. It’s fine. When I heard about this pandemic, I went out and bought my kids a PlayStation.”

So this summer, our kids were initially left up to their own devices, and I don’t mean wiffle ball and swinging sticks. What I do mean is Playstation, Xbox, iPhones, iPads, and any other gadget that consumes attention and eats large swaths of time — especially when kids ask for “one more minute”, which turns into ten.

But they didn’t. They were on the couch. The only one running anywhere was Super Mario so it didn’t take long for this to grow old quickly.

Yes, you can say, “Well, maybe it’s time to change pediatricians. Yours clearly needs a medic and a Valium because that doesn’t sound healthy. That doesn’t sound healthy at all. Why not just let them eat Twinkies, guzzle coke, and snack on a steady stream of Netflix and nugget.”

Unfortunately, that’s not reality. My wife and I work so we can’t play camp director every day by stuffing the family minivan full of beach chairs, snacks, and catch-all sacks, head out to Anywhere, USA just to swallow a day. Except on Friday, we’re beach bound.

When summer started, we were surprised by how our kids spent their days. We thought, with summer here and all, that our kids would be itching to get out to the great outdoors riding bikes, shooting hoops, running around with squirt guns, and hanging out with friends. You know, kids stuff.

But they didn’t. They were on the couch. The only one running anywhere was Super Mario so it didn’t take long for this to grow old quickly.

When the pandemic began in March, my wife and I felt we had to do something as a way to establish some semblance of daily structure and normalcy. Therefore, in the morning before virtual school, the whole family walked the dog a distance of just shy of a mile.

And when screen time became an issue, we instituted a new rule: if they wanted the goods, they needed to step it up. Less screen time and more sweat equity. I told my son he needed to walk 15,000 steps and my daughter 10,000, and, thereafter, they could have access to screens, at which point their mother and I would, for the most part, leave them alone.

It’s been three months and they own it. They track their progress with Garmin watches that act like a fit-bit. The watch coincides with an app that syncs so my wife and I can track their progress too.

Granted, that sounds like a lot of steps, but it’s not. Kids are supposed to be active. If you ask a pediatrician about it, they’ll recommend kids should get at least an hour of vigorous activity each day, and wiggling your thumbs ain’t it.

If they want to game out later in the day or evening, we’re fine with that. The point is to keep it balanced. Except on rainy days, we’re definitely not balanced.

And we don’t care how they get their steps. Sure, they can walk, play basketball, or run in place for all we care. The key is that they move, not spend hours on end with screens while molding the sofa’s memory foam.

Also, notice I didn’t say that after the exercise goal is met they could play video games all day. What they’ve earned is access. That’s different.

The difference is without steps, they cannot play at all. With the requirement met, however, they can play, but only for an hour or so, and then it’s back outside or do something else for a time. If they want to game out later in the day or evening, we’re fine with that. The point is to keep it balanced. Except on rainy days, we’re definitely not balanced.

We don’t get much pushback either. The truth is they know right from wrong even if I did catch my daughter with a Swiss Army knife in one hand and her pet fish in the other. It’s a process, right?

Look, they may not appreciate doing their exercise everyday. That’s fine. What counts for us is the children now have a reason, and a goal, to get more exercise and enjoy screen time that much more.

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