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How to Use Exercise to Connect with Your Teenager

By their teenage years, your kids have settled into a routine — often either as active teenagers who participate in several school sports or as couch potatoes. If your teen is of the inactive variety, or is active for one or two school sports seasons but not year-round, you can help your child become more active by taking a few simple steps.

Planning new traditions around exercise

Does your family’s routine center around food and comfort, or are you an active family that heads out the door whenever possible? Whatever your current routine, talk to your teen about some new traditions you can put into place.

  • Is Saturday morning a time for sausage and pancakes? What about replacing that with a brisk walk to the local coffee shop or a bike ride around the city?

  • Are birthdays usually celebrated with a heavy meal and rich birthday cake? What about taking your teen out of school at lunchtime on his birthday and heading to the nearest city or state park for an afternoon hike, complete with a picnic lunch?

  • When you go to the mall, do you and your kids spend more time in the food court than you do strolling around? If so, consider eating before heading out the door and/or walking two laps around the entire mall before heading into any stores.

  • Is the time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day a routine of too many cookies and candies, rich holiday meals, and inactivity? What happens if you just don’t buy or make any holiday treats, focusing instead on stocking up on holiday fruits, such as sweet, delicious Clementine tangerines or Pink Lady apples? And how about if you spend holiday mornings taking a brisk walk (with snowshoes, in certain climates) or going sledding?

Talk to your teen about how, together, you can change your routine in fun, creative ways. Although you may not be able to pull your family away from the traditional Thanksgiving football game, you may be able to get your kids to toss a football around with you during halftime.

Letting your teen find his groove with sports and other exercise

If your teen is active in school sports, you’re facing one of parenting’s toughest tests. You have to fully support your child by purchasing equipment and paying for camps and other sports fees, attending as many events as possible, giving rides to and from practices, and so on. But after that, you have to back off. No matter how badly you want your child to be the next city swim champ or earn a sports scholarship to college, no amount of cajoling, pressuring, or forcing your teen through extra workouts will make that happen.

If your teen wants to devote herself to one sport and pursue it passionately, support that without reservation — you’ll spend countless dollars and hours supporting your child in that endeavor. But if she loses interest or decides to try a variety of sports, allow her to enjoy that process, because along the way, she’ll develop lifelong friendships and internalize valuable lessons about teamwork and etiquette. Very few kids who are forced into one particular sport stick with it very long.

If your child opts out of school sports completely, you have a rare opportunity on your hands to work out together, if she agrees. Choose any activity that appeals to both of you (from yoga to in-line skating and everything in between), make sure you both have the best equipment you can afford, and focus on having fun together.

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