How (and Why) to Keep Teens Active During the Summer

School’s out for the summer! As your teen rejoices for the much needed break, it shouldn’t mean that they sleep the day away or sit in front of a screen for hours. How can parents and caregivers keep teens motivated to stay active during the dog days of summer? Dr. Rebecca Unger, a nutrition expert at Lurie Children’s Wellness and Weight Management Clinics and pediatrician at Northwestern Children’s Practice, provides some solutions to keep your teen engaged.

Why Teenagers Should Stay Active

For teenagers, a healthy dose of physical activity and participation in family and community activities is a prescription for illness prevention, obesity prevention and reducing risk-taking behaviors. Summertime, when the livin’ is easy, is the time to take advantage of potentially more flexible routines and easier access to physical activity resources to encourage teenagers to enjoy activities both independently and with others (friends and family members).

There are obvious physical changes in teenagers but there are also less obvious changes taking place in the brain. It is helpful to understand these changes so parents can help optimize the teenage experience. Teenage brains develop for different people at different speeds. Part of the brain (the part that helps regulate mood, impulse control and the ability to think through ideas and plan ahead) does not develop fully develop until potentially 24 years of age. Parents can help teenagers to think through their plans. Some teenagers might need gentle reminders about getting out of the house to be active. Having a conversation with your teenager about how much help he or she welcomes is a good way to work together.

What Is the Recommended Activity Level for Teenagers?

Teenagers should follow the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans released in 2015 by the US Department of Health and Human Services. Children who are 6 – 17 years old need at least 60 minutes per day of physical activity, including muscle and bone strengthening activities. Older teens and adults need 150 minutes of moderate physical activity/week and muscle strengthening at least 2 days/week. For additional information about how much physical activity a teenager should get, visit the American Academy of Pediatrics site

Teenager jogging in park-min

Summer Activities for Teens

Without school, there's a lot more downtime during the summer and that can seem daunting. Here are some ideas on ways to encourage your teen to stay active:

  • Start local. Encourage independent activities as well as engagement with others. It is helpful to find activities that are easy to do out your front door, as well as more complicated things that might require more people, more equipment and/or going more places. Start locally by chatting with neighbors or expand your community by connecting with others at the park district or recreational center to find common interests. 
  • Include the entire family. It's a win-win situation to include activities that are multigenerational – such as outings with grandparents, walks, helping with chores, days at the beach, cooking or barbequing together. Activities that get the whole family together is time well spent.
  • Encourage helping others. Nothing helps build character more than helping others. Encourage your teen to mentor or tutor younger children (sports, reading, big brother/sister type of activities) or helping neighbors with tasks (gardening, mowing a neighbor’s lawn, walking a neighbor’s dog).
  • Recommend physical activity. Out your front door are activities that your teenager can do alone or with others: walking, bicycling, dancing, jump roping, dancing, kite flying, playground fitness and more. Check out your local park district to see when the pool is available or encourage your teen to get a group of friends together once a week for a softball or volleyball game. Any type of movement helps.

What If My Teenager Resists My Suggestions?

Take time to talk about obstacles and how to deal with them. Help your teenager come up with goals that are realistic for him/her, your environment, and your family schedule. Consider using a reward system (some people call that bribing, but it can also be thought of as behavior modification). Even better, engage your teenager to help identify realistic goals to work on, help him/her focus on a plan to work on the goals.

It is important for family members to be role models for each other to learn about being active and engaged. This includes parents as well as other caregivers and siblings. Families learn a lot from each other. It is part of that prescription for healthy living.

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