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Parents Key to Creating Active Kids – Or Couch Potatoes

Parents Key to Creating Active Kids - Or Couch PotatoesIt is common knowledge that kids are more sedentary these days. Many believe the couch-potato behavior relates to the proliferation of technology including electronic games, television, cell phones and the like.

But a new study disagrees with this assumption, placing blame on parents, not electronic screens. In fact, experts state that children are innately active, and become sedentary because of the constraints adults place upon them.

In the recent study, Oregon State University researchers first confirmed what we knew all along — children in the U.S. are increasingly sedentary, spending too much time sitting and looking at electronic screens.

Then, as investigators studied the problem in more detail, they performed two studies that examined how parenting style — whether a strict but loving parent or a less-involved and more permissive parent — was associated with sedentary behavior.

The findings are published online in a special issue of the journal Early Child Development and Care devoted to “Parental Influences of Childhood Obesity.”

Researchers discovered kids spent 30 minutes more screen time on an average each week day in family settings where parents admitted spending less time with their children (“neglectful” parenting).

Moreover, researchers discovered all of the children ages 2 to 4 were sitting more than several hours per day, said lead author David Schary, a doctoral student in exercise psychology.

“Across all parenting styles, we saw anywhere from four to five hours a day of sedentary activity,” he said. “This is waking hours not including naps or feeding. Some parents counted quiet play – sitting and coloring, working on a puzzle, etc. – as a positive activity, but this is an age where movement is essential.”

Researchers grouped parents into four commonly used scientific categories – authoritarian (high warmth and control), authoritative (controlling, less warm), permissive (warm, low control), and neglectful (low control and warmth).

Sadly, investigators discovered all the children in the sample of about 200 families were sitting four to five hours in a typical day.

Among “neglectful parents,” children spent an additional 30 minutes a day watching television, playing a video game or being engaged in some other form of “screen time.”

“A half an hour each day may not seem like much, but add that up over a week, then a month, and then a year and you have a big impact,” Schary said. “One child may be getting up to four hours more active play every week, and this sets the stage for the rest of their life.”

Unfortunately, weekend activities did not make up for less active during the week. In fact, just the opposite happened. Sedentary time increased nearly one hour each weekend day.

Dr. Bradley Cardinal, a professor of social psychology of physical activity at OSU, co-authored both papers with Schary. Cardinal said sedentary behavior goes against the natural tendencies of most preschool-age children.

“Toddlers and preschool-age children are spontaneous movers, so it is natural for them to have bursts of activity many minutes per hour,” he said.

“We find that when kids enter school, their levels of physical activity decrease and overall, it continues to decline throughout their life. Early life movement is imperative for establishing healthy, active lifestyle patterns, self-awareness, social acceptance, and even brain and cognitive development.”

In a separate study, Schary and Cardinal looked at the same group of participants and asked about ways parent support and promote active play.

They found that parents who actively played with their kids had the most impact, but that any level of encouragement, even just watching their child play or driving them to an activity – made a difference.

“When children are very young, playing is the main thing they do during waking hours, so parental support and encouragement is crucial,” Schary said.

“So when we see preschool children not going outside much and sitting while playing with a cell phone or watching TV, we need to help parents counteract that behavior.”

Source: Oregon State University

Parents Key to Creating Active Kids – Or Couch Potatoes

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Parents Key to Creating Active Kids – Or Couch Potatoes. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 5, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 22 Jun 2012)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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