Surely we can find a better way to get kids to engage with exercise than slapping a monitor on their wrist ( Photographer: Kevin Cremens/Fitbit)
I’m not sure how many children were crying out, ‘Mummy! Daddy! Please! I really want to be able to track the number of steps I take in a day!’ but alas, the gadget world never sleeps.
Following the launch of the Ace fitness tracker last year, Fitbit have introduced the Ace 2, which uses bright colours, animation and is cheaper than its predecessor.
While this is being pitched as an aide to help lower childhood obesity and diabetes rates, surely we can find a better way to get kids to engage with exercise than slapping a monitor on their wrist and getting them to track all their movements.
As a fitness instructor, I see the impact of fitness trackers every day in my classes.
People can barely wiggle their pinky toe without clicking some buttons on their Fitbit to light up the screen and see how many calories they’ve burned, points they’ve earned, miles they’ve walked, what their heart rate is and any other variable their device is willing to share.
I’m not sure how many children were crying out ‘Mummy! Daddy! Please! I really want to be able to track the number of steps I take in a day!’ but alas, the gadget world never sleeps.
So much of people’s focus is on the stats rather than the workout itself – and these are adults.
Kitting kids out with fitness trackers and encouraging them to view fitness through stats, data, numbers and targets is setting them up to see life as an endless competition.
There is a commendable aspect to what fitness trackers are out to achieve. I’m all for encouraging people to move. They have served as great motivational tools for many people who find themselves in an exercise slump.
But when they start to market that to kids, it gets a little dicey. Whoever was in charge of the children’s edition decided to not include calories burned or body fat percentages as a measurable, and thank goodness for small mercies, I suppose.
Research from The Children’s Society reported that almost half of girls (47 per cent) felt they had to measure up to depictions of ‘ideal’ female bodies in the media. Meanwhile, NHS statistics reveal that admissions of young women with eating disorders had almost doubled from 2012-2018.
And in the last seven years, the number of boys in hospital for eating disorders rose from 235 to 466.
So are these fitness trackers going to lay a more positive foundation for kids? Or will children internalise it as a message that they should be aiming to get their body to look a certain way?
As a fitness instructor, I see the impact of fitness trackers every day in my classes (Photo: Bangs Carey-Campbell)Granted, I was raised in a simpler time, where exercise for kids was about playing tig or hopscotch and probably the most traumatic thing to happen would be having to borrow shorts from the lost property box if you forgot your PE kit.
Sport and exercise at that stage, if it’s done right, introduces you children to the idea of friendly competition, teamwork, confidence building and how powerful your body can be.
But add a fitness tracker to that and suddenly it becomes the kid versus themselves. They’ll feel bound to hit targets and aim for certain stats, they’ll get consumed in numbers and forget about why they’re moving in the first place.
The academic side of school provides them with more than enough pressure as it is. Exercise should be where they can blow off steam and let loose, not another avenue that sees them having to perform to a certain standard.
These fitness trackers are encouraging kids to engage in an hour of activity a day and that is a great goal for everyone, not just kids. But exercise should never be a punishment or a chore. It should be a fun, joyful part of every day life, especially in childhood.
Let them just have a kick about in the park, dance to their favourite music videos, walk to school with their friends instead of taking the bus. There are all sorts of ways they can build movement into their day without having to electronically monitor every moment of it.
For whatever else they may monitor, these trackers don’t measure how much fun you had practicing handstands, how many times you laughed chasing each other around the playground or how many memories you made in that epic netball final.
Let kids just be kids. Let them run, jump, dance, play – no pressure, no competition, no stats. Just let them enjoy it. Hell, maybe we should try that, too.
Muireann Carey-Campbell, AKA ‘Bangs’, is the author The Pocket Cheerleader: A Badass Guide to the Life Changing Power of Movement published by Unbound.
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