Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Kid gloves

There was an item in this month's Runner's World on children running, stating kids under 5 shouldn't take up regular running. The reason -- kids that young are still developing their gaits and sustained long-distance running might cause injury problems later. That's fine, but this is what peeved me a little -- the suggestion that toddler runs are OK, little fun races of 50 yards or so.

I'm not trying to dismiss the advice that everyday distance running for kids is a bad idea. But isn't suggesting kids that young stick to 50 yards essentially discouraging kids from being active? There are longer kids runs -- I've seen them up to a kilometer or a mile -- why not let a preschooler try those longer noncompetitive races if they want?

Eldest was in the stroller with us when we did a 5K (slowly) recently, at about the 2-mile mark, we let him out of the stroller, and I ran the rest of the race while Wife and Eldest were going to walk the rest of the way, then run across the finish line. Eldest got so excited that he ran most of the rest of the course, getting high-fives from other runners encouraging a little person having fun. Now, imagine if we stopped him after 50 yards, saying it wasn't healthy for him to run?

I'm not begrudging the need to keep our kids safe and healthy, I just think we've come to a time where it goes overboard. Runner's World's advice is similar to advice I've seen in parents magazines that kids under 3 should stay off playground equipment (slides and such). Littlest has already gone down a park slide, under close supervision (me holding him as he slid down), before age 1, Eldest has climbed things at parks I can't fathom a 3-year-old climbing. And though I don't want them to get hurt, and there are obviously limits to what I'll let them do (I have warned Eldest not to try sliding down the pole, it's for older kids, and he hasn't), I am not going to be so overprotective that I'm denying my kids to be, well, kids.

A long time ago, I saw a newspaper editorial lamenting the removal of playground equipment deemed to lawsuit-dangerous. The editorial stated that part of being a kid was the chance you'd break an arm simply playing. Of course, I don't want my kids to get hurt, but I know the odds are good they will suffer a concussion, fracture or cut necessitating stitches at least once before they turn 18, more likely 12.

With adequate supervision, plenty of encouragment and a little faith, parents should be able to come to a reasonable decision to let their kids try something a little out of their age bracket. Yes, they will fail sometimes, and they might get hurt. But that's part of growing up. Some schools have banned tag at recess because someone might get hurt. I wish our society wasn't so litigious that schools have to worry about lawsuits, but what are we teaching our kids when we deny them the chance to actively play? Especially when childhood obesity is such a problem?

Eldest will want to try that pole one day, and I'll help him, probably nervously hold my breath when he tries it on his own for the first time. And when he wants to run a long distance again, I'm going to let him, and not worry about his gait. Denying him that fun is simply unhealthy, and I just don't mean for his body, but also for his mind.

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