Your kid's making a list and you're checking it for the first time...
As you scan through the list, it's pretty typical to start:
1. Hot item toy this year which is highly marketed and my kid will forget about by this time next year. Got it.
2. Item specialized to their interests (sports, art, music, etc). Check.
3. Personal activity and fitness tracker, or its more common Kleenex'd name, Fitbit. Hmmmm.
If your child or preteen is requesting a Fitbit for Christmas (or, honestly, any time of year), this isn't necessarily cause for alarm, but it is definitely something that should raise a few questions on our parent radar before going ahead and grabbing one up for them.
Opinions on whether or not kids should have and wear Fitbits range from Yes! Encourage those kiddos to move! to Those things are a breeding ground for exercise and food related disorder!.
YOU know your child best. And as of right now, you might not be too sure where you and your child fall on the spectrum of possible outcomes from them owning a Fitbit.
Here are three things to consider before encouraging your child to strap a step counter to their wrist:
1. Fitbits, in essence, are corrective devices.
Just like the gym is a corrective device. Our bodies were designed to move for hours upon hours a day. The reason gyms and Fitbits exist is because our technologically equipped lifestyles allow for us to survive without having to do so. We invest in these corrective devices and methods to get our bodies back to moving like they were designed for.
How's your child's movement in general? Do they bounce off the walls like a crazy person? Do you wonder daily "how they get all this energy"?
If the answer is "yes", you essentially have nothing to worry about. They're moving their bodies and listening to their energy cues on when to expand it and when to save it.
However, "real life" creeps up on us quick, especially spending 6 hours per day in a classroom. So those kiddos are going to need some extra proactive habits engrained in them through way of example and adult encouragement.
Does your family value healthy amounts of physical activity? Do you lead by example by having a healthy relationship with activity? Do you guys go on outings together where movement is encouraged and/or necessary? These are the habits that will set your children up for maybe not ever needing a corrective device of their own as they come into adulthood.
2. Why do they want one?
Do all their friends have one? Do you have one? Do you talk about your "steps" a lot in front of your child? Do they have body image issues, perhaps feel 'fat', and think that getting in more steps per day can help combat that (this starts as young as 5 years old, by the way)?
Open a dialogue with your child about the why behind their request. Some kids might be at a defensive age for such a sensitive subject. Is there an adult, a coach, an auntie or uncle, an older cousin who perhaps you can employ to take part in a dialogue with them about why they think they want one?
Do some research as their parent or primary caretaker. Do you believe your child has a body image issue? Is there a professional you can speak with about this to better equip you to help them through it? Here's a great list of resources for you to peruse if you believe your child might be suffering from body image issues.
Let's make sure we're not playing into the notion that exercise is a penance for our body fat and/or the foods that we choose to eat. It's my personal and professional opinion that we can NEVER be too careful here.
So if that means being an asshole parent for saying "no" to the Fitbit while you address one or more of the concerns listed above, call me at 714-696-9FIT and I'll tell you to your gorgeous face CONGRATULATIONS for being a part of the stinking solution, you beautiful asshole parent, you. If your child is young enough, I'll pretend to be Santa and tell your kiddo that my Elves are fresh out of Fitbit parts this year- but eat some veggies and have a dance party every once in awhile and fill that list up with fun toys instead!
3. With great data comes great responsibility
You've had the open dialogue. Your kid is a body image superstar. They're comfortable in the skin they're in, they love moving around constantly. They don't obsess over what other people think of them. They enjoy partaking in family activity outings. You're 99.9% sure you're not projecting your own food and exercise related issues onto them.
They just want DATA! And who can blame them? Data is rad.
Maybe they wonder how many steps it takes them to walk to and from school. Maybe they wonder if they can hit EXACTLY 10,000 steps in one day without going one over or under (I was that kind of data kid, so I get it). I don't know. Kids are weird.
Your kid still wants one, and you're pretty sure they've got a good mindset around it.
Very cool- get them a Fitbit. But the parenting about the Fitbit should not stop there.
Monitor their usage. As you may know, it is easy for anyone to become obsessive and compulsive about technology (smartphone compulsions, anyone?) especially when our society allows us to be predisposed to body image issues- so this Fitbit thing is like a double whammy risk that a lot of us take ourselves when we strap one on. I'm looking at myself here, marching in place in the living room before bedtime (gotta get my steps!).
Let's choose to break the cycle with our kids in all the ways. Including the obsessive and compulsive step counting ways.
If at any time you sense this device is causing your child any sort of stress, please address it with them (or employ that cool older helper in your kids life to have the convo).
The thing is, kids can't really articulate stress well. Shoot, adults have a hard time talking about what's making them tick. So it's our responsibility as adults in their lives to observe and decide when something is a stressor for them. We cannot wait for them to come to us, because by then there is more damage done than necessary.
- they talk about their step count a few to multiple times per day
- they're constantly double tapping the band to check their step count, even without mentioning it
- they become visibly upset when/if they forget a day wearing their Fitbit
If any of these situations arise or if you sense the Fitbit is causing your child stress in another way, use prudent parenting to determine your next best steps looking out for your kiddo's physical, mental and emotional health.
Parenting is hard. Parenting does not get easier this time of year. I totally get it.
No matter what you decide, communication, awareness and openness will be key to ensuring your child has the most positive possible experience surrounding the Fitbit request.
You got this.