Physical activity is important for everybody, including all teenagers, but especially for girls who are generally less active than boys the same age. As teens juggle the transition from primary school to high school there are other pressures that come with it – socially, at home, and at school. Physical activity sometimes takes a back seat to other priorities. However, physical activity is an important part of health and wellbeing, and we need to encourage girls to remain active as they grow up.
Generally, teenage girls are less active than boys the same age. Issues such as body image, the onset of menstruation, and general feelings of insecurity about their changing bodies can surface in these years.
Rewards of physical activity for teenage girls
Some of the many benefits of regular physical activity for teenage girls include:
- increased strength, stamina and flexibility
- helps maintain a healthy body weight
- improved fitness and heart health
- decreased incidence of stress and depression
- increased self-esteem
- positive body image
- opportunities to have fun and interact with friends and family.
Common barriers to physical activity for teenage girls
Some of the reasons why teenagers, girls in particular, might avoid exercise and sport include:
- copying the behaviour of their physically inactive parents
- lack of energy due to poor physical fitness
- the myth that you can’t be ‘feminine’ and play sport
- peer pressure, such as having friends who don’t exercise or play sport
- lack of basic skills (such as throwing and catching a ball)
- fear of feeling incompetent on the field
- fear of looking silly in front of other people, especially peers
- fear of being teased or mocked by other players for being unskilled
- previous bad experiences during physical education class (such as teasing from peers)
- embarrassment about wearing sporting uniforms (such as bathers or short skirts).
Physical activity tips for parents of teenage girls
Teenagers should do at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day. This can be built up throughout the day with a variety of activities. Being physically active doesn’t mean you have to do competitive sport, or go to the gym – any physical activity is good for you. To reap the greatest benefits, physical activity should be done at a moderate to vigorous intensity.
In addition to building physical activity into their day, also think about reducing the amount of ‘sedentary’ activities your teenager undertakes (things done lying or sitting down). Limiting the amount of screen time (time spent watching television, or using electronic screens) to less than two hours each day may be helpful.
Tips on how to help your daughter develop a more positive attitude towards physical activity include:
- Talk about it. Ask what bothers them about exercise. Understanding the reasons why they avoid exercise is important because it can help you discuss possible solutions. For example, if your daughter is shy of revealing her body, don’t suggest that she try swimming. Instead, pick an activity that can be performed wearing tracksuit pants and a t-shirt.
- Be a role model – don't just watch, be active yourself. Go for a swim, walk, play tennis. Invite her to exercise with you. Go for a walk together or enrol in a class that appeals to both of you.
- Watch women’s sports – attend sporting matches together or watch on television. Show her that sport isn’t a male domain.
- Provide support – offer to drive your daughter (and her friend) to the waterpark. Teach her skills, such as throwing and catching a ball and explain the rules and jargon of different sports.
- Have fun – inactive girls tend to think of exercise as boring hard work. Try to show her that exercise can be fun. Try out different things such as dance or rollerblading.
- Keep it simple – emphasise that physical activity is not just sport or going to the gym and that it doesn’t need to be a structured activity. It can be integrated into daily routines through walking, using stairs, walking the dog, cycling and so on.
- Build exercise into your family routine. For example, weekend activities could include bushwalking or throwing a frisbee on the beach.
- Discover her potential interests. For example, if she likes watching tennis on television, perhaps she would like to take a few lessons herself.
- Talk to the school’s physical education teacher or contact your local council for information on physical activities in your neighbourhood.
- Talk to her friends and their parents and suggest that some of the girls enrol in an activity at the same time. This social element will help to boost the ‘fun factor’ and encourage enthusiasm for regular exercise.
- Consider involving your teenaged daughter in same-sex rather than co-ed physical activities. Teenage girls are keenly aware of boys. In a co-ed class, your daughter may worry that the boys are judging her body or her sporting skills, which may dampen her enthusiasm for the activity.
- Don’t focus on physical appearance outcomes, and let your daughter know that health is not defined by body size. While physical activity is an important part of health, being skinny is not. People of a variety of weights and body shapes can be healthy.
Praising teenage girls for physical activity
Parents have a profound influence on their children. Take advantage of your influence and praise your daughter for being physically active. Positive feedback will reinforce the exercise habit. You could consider giving her little rewards, such as clothing or movie tickets, whenever she reaches a health or fitness goal.
The aim is to make her feel good for being physically active. Soon, the benefits of exercise – such as weight management and increased self-esteem – will make her seek out exercise opportunities on her own.
Where to get help
- Your doctor
- School physical education (PE) teacher
- Other parents
- Your local council
- Neighbourhood gym
- YMCA Victoria
- Smartplay Tel. 03 9674 8777
- Sports Medicine Australia Tel. 02 6241 9344
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