• The advent of computers, video games, and other electronic substitutes for outdoor activities have translated into a more sedentary lifestyle for both parents and children. Following are a few suggestions for helping your child to become more active and to find a sport or physical activity to suit his or her interests, abilities, and temperament.

    Make sure your child is physically active on a daily basis. Experts recommend 60 minutes of active play each day. While outdoor play is ideal, indoor activities, such as gymnastics, martial arts, or a fitness video workout, also fit the bill. Fitness activities can be low intensity for longer periods of time, or higher intensity for shorter segments of time. Children should participate in activities that increase their heart rate (and make them sweat). Activities like running, playing basketball, and riding bikes all increase heart rate. However, many activities— not just sports— can get your child’s heart pumping. Jumping rope, dancing, even raking leaves can rev up your child’s heart rate (pulse). Learn how to check your pulse and show your child how to do the same. Help your child maintain a healthy weight. Obesity leads to a host of chronic illnesses. Examples of general fitness activities include walking, jogging, running, climbing, riding a bike, or participating in sports or recreational activities for an hour or more. Perhaps the best way to help your child to get off the couch is to model active behavior yourself. Look for fitness activities that you can do as a family so that everyone benefits!

    Encourage activities in which your child stretches and lifts body weight to help build flexibility and strength. Keep in mind that strength training does not mean powerlifting or bodybuilding. Experts recommend that kids and teens use proper stretching and lifting techniques, using low weight and high repetition under trained adult supervision. Children who have not reached puberty should be cautious when participating in strength training activities due to the potential for overuse injuries.

    Consider these questions when helping your child select a sport or other physical activity. Perhaps the most important question is this— What are your child’s interests and what will he or she enjoy most? Forget your own glory days on the gridiron if your child really wants to try gymnastics or hit the links. Experts say casually exposing a child to various sports and activities through recreational leagues or in-school intramurals may be the best way to find a good “fit.” Let your child’s interest and abilities guide the decision to commit to a sport. Does your child have the physical maturity for the chosen sport? Do associated costs for equipment, league fees, or lessons fit your budget? What about the time commitment? Do practices, games, and meets or tournaments fit your family’s schedule?

    Get your doctor’s OK and the appropriate health screenings. Make sure your child has had a recent physical examination by a physician prior to participating in a sport each season, whether or not one is required. While Sudden Cardiac Death in teen athletes is not common, a simple and inexpensive medical procedure can identify the underlying condition, giving families peace of mind. Periodically, Heart Screens for Teens offers low-cost screenings through area schools. Your private physician also may be able to perform the screening. Chronic health issues, such as asthma, don’t necessarily mean that your child can’t participate. Ask your doctor for guidance on health-related restrictions and recommended options for staying active. Gwinnett high schools and some local leagues participate in ImPACT, a program to screen for concussions. Learn more if your student is involved in a contact sport.

    Model, and expect, fair play and sportsmanship. Children learn by example. A fun and educational atmosphere promotes healthy self-confidence. Encourage your child to do his best, to be responsible, and to be respectful of teammates, coaches, officials, and opponents— win or lose. Whenever possible, attend practices and games. Avoid either pushing too hard or being overprotective of your child. Stress the joy of the sport. While playing to win is part of competition, pursuing victory at any cost defeats the purpose of sport. Be encouraging of your child’s efforts and be positive when offering suggestions for improvement. Treat other children as you would want your own child treated.

    Be aware of the inherent risks associated with the sport your child plays. The risks for contact sports are fairly obvious. Adequate and properly fitted safety equipment is critical. Properly trained coaches and officials also play an important role in keeping your student-athlete safe. Non-contact sports, including individual sports, may have injury risks as well, such as stress fractures for the runner or cheerleader or joint issues for the golfer or tennis player. Good preparation, solid technique, and supervision all contribute to a safer, healthier sporting experience.

    Help your teen steer clear of dangerous performance-enhancing drugs and supplements. Teen athletes— especially football players, wrestlers, gymnasts, and weightlifters— may turn to a dangerous “shortcut” to add muscle mass or increase speed or strength. Educate yourself about the dangers of using performance-enhancing drugs and supplements (such as creatine, anabolic steroids, or steroid supplements) and have a frank talk with your teen. We’re all familiar with high-profile cases of professional athletes using illegal or prohibited substances to gain competitive advantage, but students may not be aware of the dangerous psychological and physical side effects, especially for young people. Even supplements that are available over the counter can have detrimental effects on your teen. For some, researchers don’t yet know the long-term effects, and many don’t even live up to their advertised claims. Being the strongest or the “best” isn’t worth the risks associated with these drugs and supplements.