Get your boy in motion

The summer is fast coming to an end and, depending on where you live, your son is just about to go back to school, has just gone back to school, or (for those in the southern hemisphere) is in the middle of the winter term. Look at what he’s doing – is he sitting playing games on a tablet, phone, or computer? Is he sitting doing his homework? How much activity does he get in school? The point of all of this is … how much does your boy move?

photo of boys outsideWhen he was little, it was all you could do to get him to stop moving, right? Little boys seem to be in constant motion. I was traveling on a train this summer (going to the annual meeting of the International Boys’ Schools Coalition) and was walking down the aisle in the train toward the café. As I lurched along with the movement of the train, a young boy passed me, moving quickly up the aisle. Before I could get to the door of the car, he was back, passing me again. By the time I got to the door, he had turned to go back through the car. I got my bottle of water in the café, and when I came back to that train car, the young boy was still at it. He wasn’t running, just walking quickly back and forth in the train car. I was amused. That train is the Crescent, the one that travels from New Orleans to New York City taking over 30 hours. Most people do not go the whole way, but for any little boy, the lack of movement must have been difficult. He had discovered a great way to burn off a little energy, while not bothering other travelers.

I also noticed a somewhat older boy in the same car who was playing with his tablet–that child never moved. He was motionless, sprawled across a seat both times I passed him. I noted the activity level of the two boys because the younger one was so active and the older one was so inactive.

Why might this be a problem? According to some research, the child who gets less activity may have more trouble developing reading skills. It has long been known that infants who watch a lot of TV are slower to develop verbal skills, but the theory is that they are not developing language because they are not being spoken to. This is part of the reason that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children under 18 months not have any screen time at all other than face time with distant family members. Other aspects of this have to do with what information the child is being exposed to, the child’s lack of exercise, and the likelihood of increased calorie consumption by the child while sitting in front of the screen. We have also discussed the problem of sleep deprivation because of the effect of the light on the production of melatonin which is a substance thought to help with going to sleep.

Here is another reason you need to get your boy outside. The more time he spends outside, the less likely he is to need to wear glasses when he is older. I come from a long line of people who need heavy prescriptions to correct their vision, but my son does not. I encouraged him to play outdoors a lot when he was little, long before this research came out, and I am so glad that I did. As he ages, he is going to need reading glasses, but he does not need glasses in his daily life. Who knew that would make a difference?

The point is, your boy needs to move, he needs to move a lot, and he needs to move outside. All of this is necessary for him to develop in ways that will make a difference in school. The more he moves outside of school, the less he will feel the need to move inside of school. The more he moves, the better his reading skills may be and if he is outside, the healthier his eyes will be. More importantly, the less time he spends in front of a screen, the better his verbal skills will be and that is a major issue in school.

So, unless your son is asleep or in school, get him moving! Get him up, get him out, and he will develop skills that will help him succeed in school.