A few weeks ago we went for a walk along the bike track by our local beach. During the stroll we passed a couple of girls who looked about 10 years old. They were shouting to their friends, climbing on fences and generally having a good time. As we got closer one of the girls said to the other (in that American accent they think makes them sound like adults): “C’mon, we’ve got to go do our exercise!”
They scurried off with hilariously exaggerated running styles. Nothing wrong with a couple of kids running around—it beats staring at a screen! And we’re sure they didn’t really mean they HAD to exercise. Harmless, right? Well, maybe not.
They had obviously heard someone (maybe a parent or older sibling) refer to “doing their exercise” often enough that it became something to emulate when they played adult.
We remember pretending to drive to the shops, do the shopping or make lunch when we imitated our parents as children. We were plenty active, but we never consciously thought of it as exercise. Is it a warning sign that our fitness-obsessed culture has gone too far that when our kids think of grown-up activities one of their first thoughts is working out?
Last week Natalie McNamara from Our Parallel Connection wrote a post about the effect adult dieting has on easily-influenced children. It’s scary stuff, and the same principles can easily be applied to fitness.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to stay fit—as long as it’s for the right reasons. But kids are so impressionable, and exposed to so much that tells them appearance is the be-all and end-all, that it’s more important than ever that we teach them that exercise is a tool to help us do the things we love. Not a way to make up for ‘bad’ eating or to get ‘beach body ready’.
Our image-driven culture is already damaging kids. Through our Instagram account we’ve connected with loads of young people from around the world who are struggling with eating disorders and body image issues. Most are still in their teens.
This is not okay.
We have a responsibility to the kids of today to help them avoid the errors we’ve made. And they have an awesome opportunity to learn from our mistakes and grow up with a healthier outlook on food, their bodies and life. Let’s help them take it.