Telling Your Child to Sit Up Straight Doesn’t Work: Why Criticism Doesn’t Foster Change
Childhood can be the sweetest of times, especially when enriched by loving family and friends and strong support systems. However, even with the best circumstances, children rarely come out unscathed, particularly in cultures which perpetuate an incessant need for acceptance offset by impossibly high expectations. While caring parents aim to guide their children through life and the emotional roller-coasters that ensue, well-meaning advice is often misconstrued or entirely ignored.
For example, the last thing an adolescent wants to hear is a comment about their body, even if the intentions are good. The majority of kids are well aware of what their bodies look like physically, even if they aren’t nearly as mindful of how their behaviors come across to others. I remember cringing whenever I was once told, “You kids care so much about what your friends think of you.” I didn’t think grown-ups had a clue about my life, and I immediately dismissed what they said as “old folk” blabber.
Yet time can furnish us with perspective and a few years ago I saw a group of teenagers dressed up for their school’s formal dance, parading around town in their fancy attire. The young ladies, giggling nervously; the young men, galumphing behind them. I could now see them through the lens of an “old folk” and it was painfully transparent to watch how much validation they sought for every word or gesture they made.
Yet, beyond their bumbling, there was one thing that stood out far more than their flagrant awkwardness. Not one of these youth stood tall. It was almost as though they were deliberately trying to shrink themselves to appear smaller and less visible. While the obvious reason would be their blistering insecurity, there were several other culprits at work.
First and foremost, kids today have not adopted the same inclination towards physical activity as their predecessors from 20 years ago. According to an article from the Journal of Pediatric Health Care, “Many people assume that children are naturally active and participate readily in physical activities that lead to and help them maintain high levels of fitness during their early years. However, society has changed to encourage a more sedentary lifestyle. Children’s activity levels decline through the teenage years, with girls being less active than boys. Today there is a greater availability of sedentary pursuits that can lure children away from physical activities.”
If the body is already used to slumping over for extensive periods of time throughout the day, why wouldn’t that posture also transfer to standing and walking? In contrast to my generation that spent hours walking and talking with friends around the neighborhood, today’s youth can talk to all of their friends — at once — on different social media platforms, without even having to get out of their chair. And with over half of their waking hours being spent in sedentary behaviors, screen time doesn’t stop once the lights go out.
A 2010 Pew study found that more than 4 in 5 teens with cell phones sleep with the phone on or near the bed and according to researchers from JFK Medical Center, teens send an average of 34 texts a night after going to bed. The latter study found that half of the kids kept awake by electronic media suffered from a host of mood and cognitive problems, including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety, depression and learning difficulties.
This is further compounded by a recent study by Dr. Erik Peper which found that it was significantly easier to recall/access negative memories in the collapsed position than in the erect position and it was easier to recall/access positive images in the erect position than in the collapsed position.