by Nicholas King
Carolina Week, Sports Anchor/Producer
I recently turned 22, and it dawned on me how much different it and 21 are. It doesn't seem like it should be, it's only one number higher, but maybe for the first time ever, when someone asks me, "do you feel older?" I can say yes.
The reason I bring this up is I always thought I'd get married about 25, 26, 27? and have kids a few years later. Well, that just doesn't seem so far away anymore. There's a problem I've given plenty of thought to with regard to kids, however. Really, three different problems with the way kids are being raised I'd like to consider.
• Physical activity
• Youth athletics
The first issue is physical activity. When I was a youngster, all I did was run around and play games. I spent most of the day outside, swinging a golf club, climbing trees, throwing a football around, riding bikes, dressing up and creating adventures. I probably came in to eat once or twice, but that was about it.
I didn't have Sega or Nintendo, and though we had a computer, it was a special treat once or twice a week if I got to play a game on it. At night, I would engage in a book and then either watch Sesame Street or a sporting event of some sort.
Today, every kid has an Xbox or PlayStation 3, and spends half his day on the computer. Every 5th grader has a cell phone too, which is just ridiculous. In my opinion, kids lack a lot of the imagination past generations had. Before there were video and computer games you made up things to do. My brothers and I played basketball outside and talked to each other the entire time like we were the announcers, creating teams, players and scenarios. We would draw up tournament brackets and play them out, playing as different teams throughout the day or week until a champion was crowned. We would cut out batting lineups from the newspaper, and play baseball games where we batted as each player on the lineup card, batting right-handed or left-handed based on who was supposed to be hitting. That's only the beginning, believe me.
Kids come home from school and go straight to the computer. They talk on instant messenger, play World of Warcraft, play online poker, who knows what else. They just don't spend enough time outside.
Now don't get me wrong, the advancements in video gaming are incredible. The fact that Wii attempts to make the kids active while they're playing is great. But what's better for them, swinging the little controller to play tennis or baseball, or going outside and actually hitting real balls around?
The fact that our nation is so overweight can be attributed a lot to the lack of physical activity. The other half of that story is the nutritional values we have, or more appropriately, lack. According to the CDC, the percentage of overweight children between ages 6-11 has increased from 6.5% to 17% since 1980. Those numbers are based on the last time a study was done, over the period of 2003-2006. I have to believe those numbers are continuing to rise today.
Looking back at my childhood again, there are a few things I can pinpoint that made a difference. For one, we didn?t drink soda. Much like playing computer games, it was considered a treat. That's all it needs to be when you're growing up, it's just not a healthy drink. I drank a ton of water, maybe some Gatorade or juice, and milk at dinner. When families allow kids to drink two and three sodas a day, especially with meals, it just doesn't make sense. My girlfriend is a nutrition major, and she recently learned children consume 6% of their daily calories from soda. I don't normally pay attention to calories, but apparently that equates to close to two sodas a day. Why jeopardize your kids' health at such an early age?
Another thing I noticed is kids don't eat fruits and vegetables. At lunch, it's a sandwich, cookies, chips and fruit snacks.
Fruit snacks don't count as fruit.
I didn't love every vegetable as a kid. It took me a long time to really eat a variety of veggies. But I found things I did like, and I ate them a lot. I ate a salad most nights for dinner. And if you're having lunch, why not throw in an apple, carrot sticks or maybe some yogurt with your junky snacks. If you want to spice it up, dip the apple in peanut butter or the carrot sticks in some ranch dip sometimes.
It's not like I'm going to deprive my kids of all junk food. I ate, and still eat, plenty of chips, cookies and ice cream. There just has to be a balance.
The final point, and this ties back in with physical activity, is the skill level of youth sports. There's just not the same skill level there was when I was a kid, and it doesn't make sense to me because clearly there are so many technological advancements that continue to make it easier in athletics.
When I was seven years old, we had T-ball All-Stars for baseball. Our age group for my town was so stacked that we had two teams of equal skill, and we played each other in the championship game at a local tournament. Everyone could hit, everyone could field, everyone could throw and everyone had a semblance of an idea of what they were doing on the field.
The past two years, I've helped coach my little cousins' T-ball All-Star team. There are a few kids who are strong players, but the majority of the kids on the "first team" wouldn't have made either one of our teams when I played. The joke is, the parents think they're all great, and they're coddled to the point where nothing is ever wrong. There's a difference between positive reinforcement and explaining to a child where he can improve, in a helpful manner.
It seems as though too many people are perfectly complacent with mediocrity. And when you give every kid a trophy, they're happy. These days you can't give just the winning team a trophy, because then maybe the other kids won't be happy. As long as you make every kid happy, who cares if they're getting better or learning?
OK, seven years old is still very young you say. This probably sounds a little harsh. But that's where it starts. I can go watch the 10-12 age group, and still see a bunch of kids who aren't near the players my age group was at that time. I still see a bunch of kids who have spent too much time inside sitting on the computer.
I'm sure I'll have plenty to learn when I do become a parent, which I hope is still plenty far away. I just can't help but notice a strong correlation between the increase of technology in our world and the decrease of healthy, athletic children, or healthy adults for that matter.
So, I hope my generation of parents will remember how they grew up when it comes time for raising children. Believe me, I had a hell of a childhood, and I didn't play video games, didn't drink soda, and was never spoiled. I couldn't be happier with the way I've ended up, and I'll be sure to raise my kids with the intention of having them end up a lot like myself.