As an avid exerciser, I have been observing an interesting phenomenon—parents exercising with their children and teenagers. Initially, I celebrated what I observed in my regular exercise classes, and I considered how things have really changed from the 70’s and 80’s when I grew up. And then my therapist brain kicked in and I began to think through the impact of an extreme exercise regimen on a parent-child relationship.
I’m a psychotherapist in Washington DC, and I regularly counsel teens, parents, and families through the impact of eating and exercise disorders. Let me be blunt–these disorders tear these families up! Often, these families are loving, attentive, healthful families who would never in their wildest dreams have thought that their child would develop an eating disorder. So, when I attended my Saturday morning spin class this week, I had to seriously confront the conflict between these two parts of myself—exerciser and therapist. I admit, my lens is skewed by countless hours of trying to help families rebuild after the impact of an eating disorder.
That lens accompanied me to the spin studio this past Saturday. I clip in, and I start pedaling to the beat of very loud music among 40 other riders. I start to warm up, sweat, and take a sip of water. I look around to notice my fellow riders, and then I take stock—3, 4 maybe 5 or 6 parent-child duos sweating it out together. In some ways, I love this observation. Kids and parents spending Saturday mornings together—check! Parents getting exercise, teenagers waking up early—check, check! And, then I turn to read the writing on the walls, which chants the bliss of feeling obsessed, addicted, irrational in regards to this extreme version of exercise and I just want to stop pedaling. I pray that nobody in that room is suffering from the misery of an eating disorder, and I silently commit to write this blog.
So, are intense exercise classes bad? No! Is it wrong to exercise with your teen? No! Yet, are there some warning signs that we all must take note of if we decide to invite or attend extreme exercises classes with our kids? Yes!
- First, if you are obsessed, don’t exercise with your teenager or child. Motivation is great, yet obsessive habits often cause us to lose control of our healthy actions and are anxiety-driven rather than healthful. Your invitation could feel more like a trap then a release to your child, which is the true psychological function of exercise.
- Second, talk to your teenager about what their goals are for attending such classes—fun, stress release, fitness. Be mindful to incorporate other slower-paced methods into your lifestyle to relieve stress as well, such as reading or walking.
- Third, focus on healthful, hearty eating with your teen. Don’t discuss your dieting concerns. Remember that they do not have your metabolism, they are still growing their own metabolism, which will be destroyed by any dieting fads tried at this age for them.
- Fourth, do everything that you can to enjoy the experience of exercise with yourself and your child, no matter what the outcome is. The older we get, the harder it is to achieve the visible results that we strive for through exercise. However, we don’t want to color our teens view of themselves with our negative self-talk or older body-image.
- Try to incorporate many different ways of nurturing your relationship with your child—talking, silently reading or working side-by-side, cooking together, having fun together, along with walking or exercising together.
Perhaps there are many more thoughts to keep in mind as you sweat it out with your teen. Until then, just try to tune in to your teen’s and your own motives for each class that you attend and enjoy the ride!