News Opinion

Thursday 20 October 2016

Dr Ciara Kelly: Let's give our children a sporting chance

Ciara Kelly

Published 25/04/2016 | 02:30

Boys continue with sports into their teens.
Boys continue with sports into their teens.

At the risk of stating the bleeding obvious, teenagers nowadays are growing up in a very different era to ours. There are pressures that we simply could not have conceived of back in the day. Yes, we too suffered the social humiliations of spots and bad perms. OK - they don't get bad perms any more and even if they did, this bunch of adolescents would somehow avoid them. (When did young Irish people become so good looking? It wasn't the way back in the eighties. And yet we were always appearance-conscious. But I'm not sure that there was this level of conformity 30 years ago that there is now for the 'always on' generation. They simply can't get away from the constant peer pressure which dilutes the influence of family, teachers and adults.)

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I could witter on endlessly about the different ways that's affecting them, but specifically I'd like to talk about how their uber appearance-conscious culture is having a detrimental effect on their health. Ah, we were always appearance-conscious, I hear you cry! Maybe so - but we were never in a position of posting a photo of ourselves looking our very best, 12 times a day for the approval or otherwise of hundreds of friends we barely knew. That is their reality.

This desire to always look well - apart from breeding insecurity and the feeling that your value is intrinsically tied to your appearance - has contributed to adolescent girls falling away from sports in their droves. Girls almost overnight when they hit first year, are dropping their balls and their sport kits in favour of their make-up kits. An apparent fear of looking red faced, sweaty and unattractive seems to be at the heart of why teenage girls don't continue with sports in their secondary school years. And, simply put, it's bad for them to give up sports.

It contributes to obesity for one thing. Or if they're watching their weight - as they often are - at the same time as taking no exercise, it means they start to cut what they're eating. Which is far from ideal for growing girls. It also affects their bone density. At a time when they should be laying down bone for their strong future skeletons -they're not. Plus they miss out on the mental and physical health benefits of sports and activity.

Boys on the other hand do continue with sports into their teens. Physical activity doesn't seem to undermine the attractiveness of boys in our society. Just girls. So boys keep playing GAA, soccer, rugby. Or the new favourite MMA - where horrifyingly, a young man was beaten to death before our eyes recently - but is now part of transition year programmes around the country. For boys, the goal is to look ripped, shredded. Huge. Teenage boys are now weight lifting and taking - my pet hate - protein powders and other supplements to bulk themselves up to a size that no teenage boy should be.

I've been shocked over the past number of years at how common it is for young lads to be taking this muck. Although I shouldn't be - when I see it on special offer, on the shelves of my local supermarket. I also see it, incidentally, when I take blood tests on adolescent boys and see their kidney function is not right and I ask the question - have you been taking protein supplements? The answer is invariably yes.

Kids are by definition immature. They don't always think about the consequences of their actions. They do what their peers do. And they want to be liked by the opposite sex and admired by their own. Girls giving up sport and boys pushing their bodies too hard are two sides of the same coin. And it's all down to peer pressure about their appearance. Some counterpoint to this is needed.


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