As the final moments of the London Olympics fade into our collective memories, we should take note of the less-recognised gold medalists who perform amazing athletic feats in our local streets, parks, and playgrounds — our toddlers, preschoolers, and school-age children. Did you know, for example, that the average 2-year-old is a long-distance runner? Scientist Karen Adolph at NYU tells us that toddlers take roughly 2,000 steps per day, travelling the equivalent of seven football fields every 24 hours. There are 4-year-old hurdlers who race over chairs and fallen tricycles to reach their desserts at warp speed and 7-year-old gymnasts who mount the high bars to propel themselves across a swing set.
With no Nike contracts in sight, the natural agility of our children is often below our radar screens. In fact, we may impede our children’s physical development by unconsciously coaching our budding Olympiads into becoming long-term couch potatoes with iPads and TV controls in hand. We are told that those old jungle gyms are too dangerous for our rising stars and that for legal reasons adults must protect children from any chance of getting a skinned knee.
It is time to get our children moving again and to ensure that our kids have safe spaces to play and to flex their muscles (literally). As Michele Obama’s MOVE campaign reminds us, obesity rates among the young have soared. According to the Centers for Disease Control, “Childhood obesity has more than tripled in the past 30 years,” and more than 30 percent of children and adolescents are overweight. Perhaps that is because our children seem more captivated by virtual realities than by real ones. Indeed, the Kaiser Foundation surveys suggest that our preschoolers are spending up to four hours a day sitting in front of screens — the equivalent of a part-time job — and older children have a full-time job with 40 hours of screen time a week. This number is likely to grow with the proliferation of apps spewing into the marketplace for early childhood and beyond. It is little wonder that we spend so much time sitting that sitting itself has become a health risk. In fact, sitting for more than three hours a day can cut your life short by two years – even if you have an otherwise healthy lifestyle!
To the millions of parents who have been glued to the tellie during the Olympic games, this is your moment to head for the hills — with your progeny in tow! And the soccer fields and the tennis courts. Your children are perpetual activity machines who benefit physically, socially and academically from running, jumping and somersaulting. Imagine how great it would be for all of us if we built on their strengths and interests and joined them in physical fun.
Let the games continue! In our own backyards.
By Roberta Golinkoff and Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, from The Huffington Post