Little girls run free on the playground, without a care for a muddy knee or a ponytail jostling loose. But as girls hit the tween and teen years, something changes. Recess typically ends, and if they’re not involved in sports, daily physical activity declines.
According to the American Psychological Association, girls’ activity levels drop dramatically in middle school and often stays low through high school. While reduced levels of physical activity can have a negative impact on a girl’s physical health, there is new evidence that it can also impact her mental health, as staying active and moving regularly are shown to boost happiness and mental wellness.
How To Keep Your Teen Girl Moving
Here are some tips to help your tween or teen daughter stay active as she moves through adolescence.
1. Identify barriers.
While your girl might not know exactly why she’s moving less than she used to, as a parent you can work to identify and remove barriers. Think through your daughter’s schedule and consider if she has time to move throughout the day. Also consider whether she has the things she needs to stay comfortable as she moves (like a sports bra) and if there might be social reasons she’s not moving as much as before, such as stress around being good enough at a sport or activity.
2. Look for non-competitive options.
Often, the drop in physical activity we see in middle school girls coincides with a drop in involvement in youth sports that tend to become increasingly competitive once kids enter middle school. If your daughter tends to shy away from competition or gets stressed in more competitive environments, work together to identify some fun options that keep competition to a minimum, like rec league sports or non-competitive classes at your local YMCA or recreation center.
3. Make movement a family habit.
If you’re interested in increasing family time and keeping your girl active, consider consciously integrating movement into your family routine. Go for a walk as a family after dinner. Choose to bike to lunch instead of driving. Head to the pool instead of a movie in the summer. You can also explore new ways of moving that might feel fun and adventurous or spark a new interest for your daughter. Go mountain biking on vacation, plan a camping trip that involves backpacking, or train together to participate in a 5k.
4. Create conditions that encourage movement.
If you want your girl to stay active, it’s important to create conditions that encourage movement. As a parent, you’ll need to create both the time and the space for her movement. You can make sure there’s time for movement by not overscheduling your girl in sedentary activities, like tutoring or music lessons. You can create the space for movement by ensuring she has somewhere safe to try out new skills and ways of moving, either close to home that she can access herself or further away that you commit to getting her to.
5. Encourage social movement
Even if your girl doesn’t enjoy sports, there are plenty of group activities that keep kids moving without introducing competition. Consider encouraging your daughter to try out a local backpacking or hiking group for teenagers, a youth group that schedules lots of active field trips, or a volunteer opportunity that will keep her physically active, like working with younger kids.
As you help your tween or teen girl stay active, remember not to tie her physical activity to her appearance.
Girls should learn to love movement because of how it makes them feel, not how it makes them look. And remember, your daughter is looking to you to set an example of what adulthood is, which includes how and when you incorporate movement into your own life. Let your daughter see your joy in movement. You’ll likely see that she is able to find her own happiness in being active too.