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Encouraging your child to be active when their priorities change

31 Aug 2018
Exercise is great for young people’s mental health – especially in Year 12

As your kids grow, you might be noticing a few changes in their behavior and activity levels. It makes sense – as young people develop their personalities and start to juggle more and more responsibilities, priorities are bound to shift (we’ve all been there, right?). For many, exercise can fall by the wayside.

According to Professor Alex Parker of the University of Melbourne, “between the ages of 14 and 16 there's a marked reduction in how much activity young people are doing.”

There are a lot of reasons why this can be the case:

  • P.E often becomes an optional subject at school

  • Organised extra-curricular sports can become more intense or competitive at higher age brackets

  • Social opportunities with friends become more important.

But most of all, study can trump everything – especially in year twelve or university.

Being active helps to improve physical and mental health – especially in young people. Research shows that even relatively small increases in physical activity can have a noticeable impact on a young person’s motivation, mood and self esteem.

Keep things balanced

While it might seem supportive to clear your child’s calendar of anything not critical to their academic success, experts say that young adults need to stay active to reach their full potential – and avoid stressful burnouts. It can be useful to not think of time exercising as potentially wasted study hours, but instead, as an important aspect of creating a more balanced life for your child.

Professor Parker says there’s a link between time pressures – particularly study stress – and finding the time to exercise. However, there’s also a strong indication that getting active has a large impact on a young person’s ability to study – “because of the benefits it has on concentration and sleep.”

Help them find their thing

When choosing a form of activity for your kids, social options like netball, soccer and basketball are usually quite common and convenient. But some young people just aren’t into team sport. Luckily, that’s not the only kind of exercise that can have a huge positive impact on a young person sense of wellbeing. If you couldn’t pay your teen to pick up a football or netball, encourage them to find the kind of exercise that’s right for them. That could be swimming, cycling, running, dancing, rock climbing, yoga, martial arts – or even Pokémon Go!

Physical activity doesn’t have to cost money or be in a formal setting to count. Simply encouraging them to increase how much they walk in a day can have a real impact on your young person’s mental health too.

Join in

Nobody likes being forced into doing something they don’t want to. That’s why it’s important to gently support a young person to live a healthier lifestyle, without making them feel bad for not exercising. Being too forceful can set a negative connotation in their mind about being more active or could lead to excessive behaviours like over exercising. Leading by example is a great way to start encouraging your child and it’s also a fantastic opportunity to get more active yourself. Plus, it could even be a great way to connect with your kids and find a shared hobby.

Worried your child's change in priorities is more than just juggling different responsibilities? Contact your local headspace centre.

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