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New Book on Raising Healthy, Active Boys

In his new book The Way of Boys: Raising Healthy Boys in a Challenging and Complex World, child psychologist Anthony Rao, Ph.D., urges parents to stop treating young boyhood as an illness.

These days, Rao suggests, boys accused of being too restless and acting out in school end up with diagnoses that don’t always fit: ADHD, Asperger’s Syndrome, Bipolar Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder, etc.

In our quick climate of quick fixes and pills, these diagnoses often lead to medication. In many cases, Rao says, these are normal boys behaving as boys always have. Rao, who is a big advocate of more physical activity for young boys, recently spoke to Core Performance.

Core Performance

It seems like twenty years ago you never heard of ADHD and similar conditions. How did this become such an epidemic?

Anthony Rao

It used to be when we saw boys with behavioral issues, we never automatically said it was a biological or neurological disorder and rarely would a kid be given an ADD or ADHD diagnosis. He certainly would not be medicated as the first and only approach. I think what’s happened is we’re getting faster as a culture and expecting more from younger and younger kids even though they’re sitting longer indoors. They’re more sedentary than ever and they’re cutting recess, cutting gym, physical education. We have a series of trends coming together and medication is being looked at as the first solution.

CP: It seems like there’s a rush to judgment at every stage of childhood development.

Rao: We should leave kids in early childhood to explore and play and try new things but instead we’re scheduling them into indoor activities or when they’re outdoors it’s in organized activities earlier and earlier. It’s part of the culture going faster; it’s more competitive and frenetic and it’s trickling down to kids 5 and 7 who still should be having a lot of free play. That’s very important for their physical as well as mental development.

CP: Does it seem like the age for organized team sports keeps getting younger and younger?

Rao: Yes and one of the things I push hard in the book is to push away from team sports in early childhood. They’re just not set up very well for young kids. It’s the cutest thing in the world to see little kids in caps and shirts trying to hit a ball on a tee. It’s very cute but other than giving them the basics of what baseball is, they’re not getting a lot of physical activity. They’re waiting around trying to hit this thing at the end of a pipe and it’s too much of a parent involvement thing. There are too many of them hovering around not letting kids come up with their own rules and solutions to problems, be with kids of different ages, learn the skills and let their bodies move in a natural way. The move is to more organized, supervised and indoor play.

CP: In your practice, what approach do you take with kids and physical activity?

Rao: It’s one of the first things I talk about. I try to get kids away from team sports if they have not been successful. A lot of the boys who come to see me, they may be more awkward or not natural athletes. For some kids, team sports are great. They get right into baseball, football, basketball, or soccer and have success and that’s great. For other kids, that’s not a great way to train them for a long life in terms of staying healthy. So I look for alternatives. It might be martial arts, pick-up games, dance, and swimming. I push them to the individual sports and I coach parents away from the team elements of sports as the only way for their kids to get exercise.

CP: So team sports aren’t always the means to lifelong fitness?

Rao: Think about it. If we’re going to stay healthy the rest of our lives, it’s not because we can find a bunch of guys with hockey gear and go out and find a game on a regular basis. It’s not going to happen. Softball games, as fun as they are, are not about physical activity. You want to do things you can do yourself: swim, run, martial arts, go to the gym – rather than assemble a large group of people so you can have a game every so often. That’s not a good long-term plan for cardiovascular activity and weight management.

About The Author

Pete Williams – Pete Williams is a contributing writer for CorePerformance.com and the co-author of the Core Performance book series.

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Tags: Youth Fitness, Family, Disease