Getting Your Teen to Move

I'm finding is that most teens use the word "movement' synonymously with "exercise", and that's connection may be part of why they are struggling.

What is movement to you?

When you hear that word, what images does it bring up? What I'm finding is that most women use the word "movement' synonymously with "exercise", and that's really the last connection that I hope you make. Because, while exercise is movement, there's a whole lot more to movement than the time we spend working out or at the gym.  

As parents, we are desperate to help our teens establish a healthy wellness practice, and our preference for more traditional forms of exercise and to bring it to the gym could be the obstacle our kids are facing. Not all teens enjoy working out and the idea of doing so in the public spotlight of a gym is intimidating, and often brings up anxiety and stress. We have to remember that exercise is just one piece of the movement bubble, and that our own entry point to working out was a process.  

I believe that our inability to separate the two is what's causing so much stress in the lives of our teens. 

"How do I get my daughter to exercise? She doesn't want to join me for a workout and shuts down when I ask."

This was a question that I received from a parent of one of my PE students. Since the class is online, the students are asked to submit a Fitness Journal weekly that shows their efforts for the week. The goal is 20-30 minutes of dedicated exercise and a reflection for the week. This is really their only grade for the class.  

You'd be surprised how many of these students are failing. I have students from middle through high school, and they are consistent on one thing - most don't understand exercise and don't enjoy it.  

We feel like we are chained to this idea of needing to exercise, and if we don't do it or miss our workout, we are somehow lesser people. For some reason, society has told us that exercise only counts if we do a structured workout, usually including weights, reps, timing, and often pain. If we don't exercise in this way, we have failed, and all of these expectations that we fail at are weighing us down.  

Our teens experience enough feelings of failure or not being enough each day - the last message that they need on top of this is that how they are approaching their wellness is wrong too.  

I'm suggesting that if we can look at movement outside of traditional workouts, not only will we be healthier in general, but we will also be free. And that freedom is the gateway to bring our teens into a movement practice.  

Here's a secret - I despise the gym.

This is nothing new, but most people assume that I love going to the gym because of my career in health and fitness. They couldn't be further from the truth.  

My history in my physical wellness has always been deeply rooted in play. I never stepped foot into a commercial gym until I was in college. Before then, it was my play that kept me fit. My interest in sports. My natural tendency to want to be active and climbing, flipping, and hanging kept me physically fit and helped to keep my mental demons under control.  

When I got to college, that changed. I became more sedentary. I began to fall victim to using food for pleasure over movement. The stress level increased, and while I literally walked all over Tacoma, WA that first year, it wasn't enough to ward off my declining health. Some people experience the Freshman 15, but I experienced the Freshman 40. I knew that I wasn't happy and needed to find a physical outlet, and I was pushed toward the gym.  

The school fitness center and also the commercial gyms I went to were difficult.  

They were cold and uninviting.  
The sheer amount of equipment was overwhelming.  
It was boring.  

At some point, I found some comfort in fitness classes, but eventually shifted to buying fitness videos that I could do at home. Billy Blanks and Cindy Crawford were some of my favorites. I enjoyed TaeBo and Step Aerobics because it was active and fun. It was like a game that I could get lost in.  

The game resembled the play I enjoyed as a kid. The game got me to come back.  

Eventually, I found a new sport to get lost in. Rowing became my return to physical and mental fitness. For me, training for a sport or just playing made a lot more sense than simply lifting weights or doing cardio for the sake of logging those minutes.  

Over the years, I have discovered that I have a very finicky connection to "exercise":

  • I don't want to join a gym. While there are some amazing communities that are built-in gyms, I know this isn't a good fit for me. I don't enjoy the workouts enough to stick around. 
  • I need variety. I'm basically a "Daily Play" mover, meaning that what I want to do changes each day. I may decide to lift one day and run on another. Some weeks I want to follow a plan and schedule, and other weeks I just want to throw things around at will. 
  • I prefer to move outdoors. Get me on a hike and I'm one happy girl. Playing on the playground with my kids is amazing. I'm looking forward to doing some SUP this summer.

I've taken my own insights about exercise and have started to apply them to the teens with who I work.

We know that there is a direct connection between heart-raising exercise and physical and mental health, but it is also directly related to our teens' ability to learn and academic performance. So, finding their wellness fit is a huge goal for me as both a coach and a teacher because it's a gift that I can give them that will benefit them on their journey through adolescence and into adulthood.  

It's really like we need to revert back to elementary school days where they met their friends on the playground and we answered the question "what are we going to do today?" Maybe it was the monkey bars, maybe it was soccer, or possibly a crazy game that we make up on the spot.  

When movement was play and not part of your social status.  

For the dad who asked me the question about his daughter, my question back was "what does she like to do?"

  • Archery 
  • Hiking 
  • Fishing 

My answer? Great, start there. Those are all wonderful activities that get her moving, and a foundation to build on when she's ready. Stop pulling out all of the fitness equipment that you have and making your teens use it. Continue to invite them, but it should never be forced.  Teens just need to move.  Teens just need to be allowed to play again and rediscover the joy of movement, and then celebrated for doing it.  And then they need to find their group of friends to meet on the playground and ask them "what are we going to do today?"

Categories: identity, life balance, mental health, movement


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