Plenty of parents are uneasy seeing their kids sitting on the couch instead of playing sports and socializing the way they did during their own childhoods. Only seven percent of kids today are getting enough physical activity, as outlined by Active Healthy Kids Canada.
“Sometimes there’s a feeling of disconnect,” says dad Jason Schreurs, in Powell River, BC. His kids are 14, 11, nine and five. “Often I’ll walk up to the TV and turn it off in the middle of the game to jog them out of fantasy and back to reality. I just want to get them outside so we can do something more productive.” According to Statistics Canada, fewer boys participated in organized sports in 2005 than in 1992. (Fewer girls did as well, but the decline was bigger for boys — from 66 percent to 56 percent.) Households with higher incomes are much more likely to sign their kids up for organized sports — perhaps due to prohibitive costs, and the challenges of shuttling children to games and practices.
Rachel Balducci, the author of Raising Boys is a Full Contact Sport, is a mother of six, including five boys ranging from age five to 15. She’s seen some of her sons drawn exclusively toward sports, and others less so. “I think there can be social pressure for boys to play and enjoy sports,” she says. In one recent US survey of 2,000 parents, an alarming 75 percent of respondents said they would rather have a pro-athlete son than a son who gets straight-As. But times are changing, and other extracurriculars are becoming common. “If one of our boys would rather work on drawing instead of being out on the basketball court playing with his brothers, we don’t make a big deal of it,” says Balducci.
Kimberly Sogge, a clinical health psychologist in Ottawa, says it’s important to look at long-term behaviour patterns. If your child has never been into team sports, try to encourage other forms of physical activity, but don’t worry too much — it doesn’t necessarily mean your child is anti-social or learning unhealthy habits. Limit screen time to two hours a day, as recommended by The Canadian Paediatric Society. “But if not joining an organized sport is a big change from a boy’s baseline behaviour, then I would be concerned,” she says. Your child may be feeling pressured by team culture, or by his parents. In Sogge’s opinion, it’s not wise to force a child to join a team he’s not interested in. “Instead, look for a good child-sport match,” she says. If your youngster still doesn’t want to participate, determine whether this is “true resistance” or normal “kid inertia” before coming up with an alternate physical activity plan for your family.
A version of this article appeared in our December 2012 issue with the headline “Game boy”, p. 76. For more School Age discussions, join our community message boards!