Parents and mentors can help kids choose fun, real-life activity over excessive digital device use.
wphoto by T. Lee Brown
Parents and mentors can help kids choose fun, real-life activity over excessive digital device use. wphoto by T. Lee Brown
Being active. People know it’s good for their bodies and minds. It’s essential for the developing minds, emotions, and bodies of children and teens.

Sometimes, though, it’s hard to get kids off the couch, off the phone, and moving around. Families in Sisters Country enjoy a plethora of options (see related article, page 22).

Local mom Brittany Morioka believes that being active starts with being in community.

“Our neighborhood has created an environment in which our kids don’t want to sit inside,” she told The Nugget. “We’ve intentionally taken play out of our backyards and homes, into our front yards. Kids want be where other kids are.”

The neighborhood in question is the Village at Cold Springs, a development in the west end of town near the middle and high schools. Morioka said that kids “desire at their core to belong and be in relationship. As parents, we just have to foster the right atmosphere in which to do so.”

Residents take care to put fun playthings like pools, sprinklers, and toys in their front yards.

“As other kids walk or drive by they are enticed to come play,” she said. “Our kids, now that they have had a taste of real, ‘old-school’ community, want to take everything outdoors to share with the neighborhood.”

Simply playing together can keep kids active. Morioka said kids of all ages ride bikes and scooters around. They run around and socialize. They even built a “mini town” in the roundabout in front of her family’s home.

Lonnie Liddell has been the owner and director of Sisters Dance Academy for over 10 years. She told The Nugget, “Overall, what I’ve seen is kids need to find something that they really love, that’s really motivating for them to do, as opposed to something that their parents are forcing them to do.”

Liddell recommended, “Have the kids try lots of different things. Have them try a sport, have them try music lessons. Help them have lots of experiences so they can find what they truly love.”

She has seen kids become passionate about dance.

“It changes them,” she said. “They feel like, ‘I love this!’ They want to be at dance class, they are excited to come. They learn to get ready, they’re constantly asking, ‘When is my next class?’”

Sometimes, of course, kids will say they’re not up for their scheduled activity. They’ll say they are tired or don’t feel like going to class or sports practice. Parents can teach kids how to commit and develop discipline. That can help them in many areas of life, including work, school, and relationships.

Following through on a commitment “helps them develop discipline in themselves,” said Liddell. Parents should strive to be “super consistent” about attending class and practice so that kids grow up learning the benefits of dedication.

She said kids can learn, “I’m committed to something, so I’m going to show up and give it my best, whether it’s in soccer or hip-hop or swimming. I can be dedicated, following through on the days I want to go and the days I don’t want to go.”

Liddell noted that some kids seem over-programmed — like they are doing too much in terms of planned activities.

“Downtime is also really valuable for kids,” she noted. “Just having a good balance.”

However, downtime shouldn’t be confused with screen time, when kids and teens can get absorbed by phones, televisions, and tablets. Drawing, reading, playing with Legos, or watching clouds scud by would be better for their emotional state and brain development.

Too much screen time can contribute to problems such as depression, anxiety, lack of empathy for others, and addictive behaviors. Liddell said increased screen time has changed the academy’s students and her own kids, who range in age from second grade to a recent high school graduate.

“I’ve been observing the effects of technology at every season of their development,” she said. “The ramification is that we are seeing a lack of focus, especially among our 9- to 11-year-old students.

“A lot of those kids have access to screens, phones, and devices. Maturity-wise they’re not able to handle what it’s doing to their brains,” she said. “These kids are not able to just focus on what we’re doing for a full hour of class.”

Kids with unlimited access to screens develop the expectation that they will be overstimulated and entertained at all times.

“Parents have to be purposeful about downtime,” Liddell said. “They have to say, ‘No, no screen time.’”

Morioka said that her own kids have stopped asking to stay inside and watch TV or use their tablets.

“It’s now a rare occurrence, after fostering outdoor community,” she said.