I love playgrounds. There is nothing like finding a well-built playground that can accommodate the needs of both adults and children: monkey bars, slides, swings, and a nearby field. My basic playground workout consists of pull-ups and laps on the monkey bars; dips on the handrails at the top of some slides; knee-tuck push-ups on a swing; and running drills in the field. It’s a great place for both parents and children to get some exercise and have a bit of fun. Sadly, I rarely see parents using playground equipment with their children or while their children are playing elsewhere. They’re usually sitting on a bench talking with other parents or on the phone. On one occasion, while I was in-between laps on the monkey bars, a young girl would play on the bars – I wouldn’t rush her when she wanted to play on the bars, so I would do something else until she went to another piece of playground equipment. While she was on the monkey bars she would call out to her dad to watch her and play with her. He would lumber over to her – how such a small man could lumber was beyond me – and half-heartedly support her on the bars while continuing to yammer on his phone. After this exhaustive effort, he lumbered and yammered his way back to a nearby bench while his daughter shouted, “Come back daddy…DADDY!” Maybe he had a bad day. Maybe it was an important call – it wasn’t. Maybe he had crap parenting skills. Whatever it was – probably the latter – it annoyed me. Engaging in a few minutes of quality leisure time activity with his daughter could do wonders for her.
Researchers from the UK and US looked at the effects of changes in physical activity (PA) support from parents and peers in girls from nine to 15 years of age. Kirsten Davison and Russell Jago wanted to see if the support the girls received influenced their PA during adolescence. Participants for the study were part of a longitudinal study examining girls’ health and development across the ages of five to 15 years. One hundred and seventy-four Caucasian girls from Pennsylvania were assessed at nine, 11, 13, and 15 years of age. Both families and girls received financial compensation for their participation.
Parental support of their daughter’s PA was measured using the Activity Support Scale (ACTS). The ACTS measures logistic support (e.g. providing the girls with transportation to and enrollment in PAs) and modeling (e.g. teaching the girls how to be active and joining in activities with them). Peer support for the girls was measured using a modified version of the ACTS; however, it was not administered at age 15 to reduce research burden and facilitate participant retention.
Before age 13, the girls’ PA was measured using the Children’s Physical Activity scale, body mass index (BMI), a 24-item activity checklist, and the Progressive Aerobic Cardiovascular Endurance Run. At 13 and 15 years of age, PA was measured using an accelerometer. Data were included for analysis if the girls wore the accelerometer for four days or more and for 10 hours or more per day over seven days. Girls “maintained PA” if they recorded 30 minutes or more of moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA). If they recorded less than 30 minutes, they “did not maintain PA.” The authors could not use the recommended 60 minutes of MVPA per day as a cut-off because less than five percent of participants reported this level of daily physical activity. Furthermore, only 24 girls at ages 13 and 15 were able to maintain their PA over the seven days while 72 did not. These figures are very telling and, according to the authors, “The small percentage of girls who met current recommendations for PA in this study is consistent with data from a large national longitudinal sample of youth.” This paints a pretty bleak picture, but there is hope.
Results from Davison and Jago’s research showed that girls who maintained their PA across all ages had parents who reported higher modeling of PA than girls who did not maintain PA. Furthermore, girls with parents who sustained their level of logistic support across all ages maintained their PA. Conversely, significant declines in logistic support were associated with girls who did not maintain PA. The authors also found that there was not a significant effect of peer support on girls who maintained PA, but it did increase as the girls aged.
Davison and Jago identified parental logistic support as an important factor in maintaining PA. The researchers found that the greatest rate of peer support occurred between nine and 11 years of age and that peer support and logistic support were related over time. Davison and Jago speculated that logistic support might expose the girls to new PA behaviours, maintain PA by providing transportation to practices and events, and introduce girls to new peer groups who support PA.
“Parental modeling of PA before adolescence and logistic support during adolescence could help girls establish early patterns of PA and social networks that facilitate maintained PA during adolescence,” concluded the researchers.
So to my friend in the park with his little girl, get off your damn phone, and ass, and engage with your daughter. Show her, help her, and encourage her in her monkey bar endeavours.
Part two of “The Playing Ground” will focus on getting parents more active while at the playground with their kids.
Rodney Steadman 30 September 2014
Davison K, & Jago R (2009). Change in Parent and Peer Support across Ages 9 to 15 yr and Adolescent Girls’ Physical Activity. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 41 (9), 1816-1825 DOI: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e3181a278e2
Nader P, Bradley R, Houts R, McRitchie S, & O’Brien M (2008). Moderate-to-Vigorous Physical Activity From Ages 9 to 15 Years. JAMA, 300 (3), 295-305 DOI: 10.1001/jama.300.3.295