Family life

Staying indoors: Am I a bad role model?

A new report cites the “culture of convenience” for children’s inactivity. But are parents really to blame?

1iStock_000036521852Medium

Photo: iStockphoto

I admit it: My life can be described as quite sedentary (that dreaded word!). And I often worry that I’m setting a bad example for my kids.

In a new report from Active Healthy Kids Canada, 15 countries were graded on their physical activity levels in various areas. Canada scored a terrible D minus in overall physical activity. While we did well in terms of organized activities, we failed horribly at providing opportunities for the all-important free play. I was actually surprised to learn that 84 percent of three- and four-year-olds get the recommended 180 minutes of any type of physical activity each day (hooray!). Not so surprising was that the level falls to seven percent for kids five to 11 in reaching the guideline of 60 minutes of moderate (walking, skating, bike riding) or vigorous (basketball, soccer) activity daily. Seven percent! It sounded impossible. But the more I thought about it, I realized we’re in that 93 percent if we’re talking every day, and activity outside of school (and I can’t be certain what amount or level of activity they get there).

Read more: Kids’ apps for outdoor fun >

We all look at those evil screens as the culprit in the hours outside of school, but the story also discusses the part parents play—not just at limiting screen time, but in being role models. They found that only 37 percent of parents said they often play actively with their kids. Again, I’m on the wrong side of the results. It’s not that I never do, but certainly not daily. Do other parents out there?

Granted, it’s all going to be easier for the next few months, but our cold spring hasn’t been a big help in this department, and our brutal winter even worse. I know—I should just bundle up and get out there. Deep in the core of my heart I want to, I swear. But instead, it goes like this:

After sitting all day long at my desk (can’t they just splurge on treadmill desks?) I then sit on the subway before I sit in my car to pick up my kids from where they sit at their after school program. By this time, it’s 6 p.m. We race (OK, drive) home, and then someone has to make dinner. While I’m doing this, they want to watch TV. I know lots of parents who say that their kids just run right outside to play and entertain themselves once they get home, but mine don’t tend to do that. And it is dinner time. They’re hungry and whiney and tired and I figure they’ve been “on” since 7 a.m. too, so I let them watch TV while I get our meal organized—if there’s time.

Read more: 50 fun, free spring activities >

Things go one of two ways after that: We have to be somewhere for an activity (at this point in the season, we have Girl Guides one weeknight and swimming another), or it’s a non-activity night, which means a very small pocket of free time after dinner, before baths. Some nights, we have to squeeze in homework, too. But my kids go to bed at eight (and need to), so really, it’s not like we have a ton of time for family frolicking in the evenings. Weekdays sometime feel like a complete blur.

It’s better on the weekends. I think my kids should be able to play around the house without my husband or me entertaining them, but their fun tends to be short-lived without us. So I admit, he’s often the one out there while I clean or prep snacks or organize the house (and sometimes I pretend to do this and have a quick nap or read a chapter of my book!). But it makes me face the fact that I’m not necessarily a good role model in this department. Do they tend to want to hang inside because that’s what they see me doing?

Read more: Is your child physically literate? >

There are things we do “right.” We walk to school, even if it’s raining (one of my biggest draws to our house was that it was in easy walking distance to the school). I do a bootcamp class two mornings a week (slipping out while they’re all still asleep) and once on the weekends. I think of this as good role modeling, but since they’re not there to see me sweat it out, does it send any message to them at all? Sometimes, I show them my moves and they enjoy that. My kids are always in some kind of physical activity throughout the year. And we do try to go for walks, or to the park, or on our bikes weekly, though definitely not daily.

As I said, the weather does play a role in all of this for so many of us, too. Their attitudes about being outside have changed drastically in the last couple of weeks. I just need to work on making it an all-year-round habit instead of a summer one. And maybe remind myself that getting out there with them will be as much fun as a nap. Well, almost.

How do you feel about your kids’ level of physical activity?

Follow along as Today’s Parent senior editor Tracy Chappell shares her refreshingly positive take on parenting her two young daughters. She’s been blogging her relatable experiences for our publication since 2005. Read more of her Tracy’s mama memoir posts and tweet her@T_Chappell.