In this era of online socializing, DVDs and video games, tweens often get too little physical activity in the course of their day. This is a problem since physical activity brings tweens both physical benefits - such as lower rates of obesity and stronger hearts, lungs and muscles - and psychological benefits. Why should tweens be physically active? Consider the following.
Being Physically Active Promotes Mental Health
Tweens who are physically active have been found to have fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety. In addition, fitness can help support a positive body image, which may help to head off eating disorders during the tween and teen years. Finally, developing an active, healthy lifestyle during the tween years can set up a lifelong habit, which may aid in adult mental health. Among other psychological benefits, adults who are regularly active have lower rates of major depressive disorder and insomnia.
Physical activity may also boost self-esteem, although some researchers debate this conclusion. If physical activity does increase self-esteem, it probably does so by giving tweens a sense of mastery - that is, a sense of "I accomplished something!" Sports naturally provide the opportunity to set and work toward concrete goals. For example, your tween might aim to lower her time in the mile over the course of the track season. In this setting, she can readily see her improvement and feel good about how her efforts have affected her performance. Most other aspects of a tween's life do not provide such clear and constant feedback, making physical activity a unique arena for the building of self-esteem. And if a tween does not meet sports goals, a natural and healthy lesson in resilience presents itself.
Builds Social Skills
Being involved in group physical activity, such as team sports, can also help your tween develop social skills. Sports involvement promotes cooperation, teamwork and a variety of characteristics that fall under the heading of "good sportsmanship" - such as fairness, respect for others' efforts and humility. These are the same characteristics that we work hard to instill in our tweens in their everyday lives. Therefore, physical activity in the form of team sports can naturally promote social skills and character development.
Supports Girls' Futures
While physical activity provides benefits to both girls and boys, some particular benefits have been noted in girls who play sports compared to those who don't. For one, physically active girls tend to get better grades than less active girls. Secondly, girls who play sports have higher high school graduation rates than uninvolved girls. Finally, rates of unwanted pregnancies are lower among physically active girls. All of these factors may help to promote stronger futures for girls who play sports compared to those who don't.
It may be hard at first to get your tween to be physically active. In the end, though, the benefits make it well worth the effort.
Let's Move.gov. "White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity Report to the President." Accessed May 23, 2010:
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. "Physical Activity has Many Health Benefits." Accessed May 23, 2010: http://www.health.gov/paguidelines/guidelines/chapter2.aspx
Women's Sports Foundation. "Benefits - Why Sports Participation for Women and Girls." Accessed June 1, 2010: http://www.womenssportsfoundation.org/Content/Articles/Issues/Body-and-Mind/B/Benefits--Why-Sports-Participation-for-Girls-and-Women-The-Foundation-Position.aspx