All eyes are on London as the Summer Olympic Games commence, and, according to an expert at Baylor College of Medicine, the sporting events are a great opportunity for children and adolescents to learn about physical activity and goal setting.
According to Dr. Jorge Gomez, associate professor of pediatrics in the division of adolescent and sports medicine at BCM and a sports medicine physician at Texas Children's Hospital West Campus, Olympic competitions will encourage children to do something fun and active, and the activity can vary depending on a child's age. Young children will have an impulse to do something active with their parent, whereas older children may way to get out and try something on their own.
"Research has shown that the strongest predictor of children remaining physically active into adulthood is having experiences of being active with their parents," said Gomez.
Make it fun
Either way, "fun" is the key word when it comes to encouraging children to be physically active and trying new sports.
When parents are watching the Olympic Games with their children, it's important to point out that the athletes do what they do because it's fun for them.
"When you start taking the fun out of physical activity is when you start turning kids away from physical activity," said Gomez.
It's also necessary to emphasize that they got where they are after years and years of dedicated hard work. Parents can make it clear that they don't expect children to necessarily pursue a sport to that extent, but they do want their children to try new physical activities that they enjoy.
Parents can also take the opportunity to discuss what it means to be a team player and to have good sportsmanship.
"Most Olympians won't be on the medal stands, so it's helpful for parents to point out that the individual with the bronze medal is a very good athlete and that they deserve recognition," said Gomez. "They weren't the best, but look how they are responding, shaking the hand of the gold medalist, giving them a hug – that's a really good sportsman and we should all try to be like that."
Emphasize health over looks
Children and adolescents can feel intimidated by the athletes' build, but it's necessary for parents to focus on the fact that these athletes are fit because they take good care of themselves.
"These athletes eat well and watch their weight, and it's important to tell children from early on that everybody has to take good care of themselves, everybody has to watch what they eat and everybody has to exercise regularly, not just Olympians and not just people who are overweight," said Gomez. "Focus on the health aspect of it versus the look aspect of it."
While encouraging children and adolescents to explore new activities, be sure to keep safety in mind.
"Doing something alongside a parent, particularly a new activity, ensures that children do it safely," said Gomez. "Most accidents happen when children are trying to do something new and they are not properly supervised."