Want to support your ninth-grader's physical health? Here are some tips that experts suggest.
School districts vary widely in the amount of physical education they offer in the curriculum, and by ninth grade physical fitness is usually no longer a daily part of the school curriculum. Find out how much physical activity your child is getting each day at school and what sorts of activities they are doing in gym class. This will give you a better understanding of their overall level of physical activity. According to an Institute of Medicine report on physical activity among young people, even the best physical education curriculum fails to provide the necessary 60 minutes of recommended activity a day.
It’s especially important for parents to step in and fill the void by encouraging physical activity after school and on weekends. One of the most effective ways for parents to do this is by modeling good behavior. Organize family activities that incorporate physical activity, such as walks and bike rides. Outdoor chores such as raking leaves or shoveling are a good way to squeeze exercise into a busy weekend. Finding a physical activity that you and your child can do together, such as swimming at the local YMCA, is a great way for both of you to exercise and for you to spend quality time together.
Research has shown that even relatively small variations in the amount of physical activity young people get can make the difference between a healthy weight and being overweight. If your child is not physically active enough, encourage their to start by changing their behavior gradually. Even setting aside some time each day for jumping rope, kicking a ball in the yard, or skateboarding around the block will soon make a difference that your child will be able to see and feel.
If you are concerned that your child is not active enough, try to find ways to make physical activity appeal more to them. If your child enjoys competition, suggest competitive team sports that might appeal to them. If they are more solitary, running or swimming might have more appeal. If they are shy about exercising with other children, home exercise videos could help their be more active.
One reason that children are less physically active than in previous generations is that fewer and fewer children walk or bike to school. If doing so is a safe alternative for your child, encourage the practice.
Lessons in sports
Explore lessons and organized sports for your ninth grader. These might include gymnastics classes or soccer or basketball. As your child grows and their physical abilities progress, your child may express an interest in sports that even a year ago were of little interest. Expose them to as many options for physical activities and sports as possible. Community organizations like the local YMCA can be a great exercise venue for the whole family.
Encourage your child to try out different sports and activities and to find one that suits her. Some children resist team sports but can excel at individual sports like tennis or track. Make sure you let them sample a variety of sports to find their interest, and think of non-traditional sports, like fencing or frisbee, that might appeal to her. Reward and encourage persistence, so that even if your child is not a “natural athlete” your child learns to enjoy participating and pushing themselves to improve.
Exercise & self-esteem
Exercise and regular activity help children feel comfortable with their bodies, which becomes especially important during puberty. Make sure your child knows about the changes that will take place in their body when they go through puberty—things like sweating more, developing stronger body odor, growing pubic hair, and having acne.
Exercise & academics
The link between physical activity and improved academic performance is becoming increasingly clear. According to a recent report from the Institute of Medicine, children perform cognitive tasks better after participating in a session of physical activity. The report also notes that “frequent bouts of physical activity throughout the day yield short-term benefits for mental and cognitive health.” Encourage your child to take play actively or exercise before doing their homework or studying and to take short active breaks from sedentary activities. For example, if they are getting bogged down on some especially homework difficult problems, suggest that your child clear their head by walking the dog or kicking a ball outside.
Limit the amount of time your child is sedentary in front of the television or computer monitor. Your teen should remain inactive for no more than an hour at a time.
In addition to being aware of whether your child is not getting enough exercise, pay attention if your child appears to be exercising too much. It is around this time that many children become susceptible to pressure to lose weight and develop a certain body type through exercise and diet. Children who participate in certain sports or activities that emphasize weight targets or body shape, such as wresting or ballet, can be especially vulnerable to this kind of pressure.
Talk to your child about the body changes that accompany puberty, such as menstruation, an increase in body odor, the growth of pubic hair, and the development of acne. Encourage your child to come to you with questions about health and hygiene or to seek advice from a physician or other reputable sources.
Make sure that your adolescent understands that their personal hygiene routine will have to be more rigorous than it was when they were younger. Showering or bathing daily with attention to the underarms, groin, backside, and feet is more important than ever.
Discuss with your adolescent whether your child should be washing their hair every day. As their hair becomes greasier with the onset of puberty, your child may need to do so.
Talk to your child about good menstrual hygiene and make sure your child all the supplies they need. Explain the difference between sanitary pads and tampons, and make sure your child understands that menstruation does not need to limit their ability to be physically active.
Talk to your child or daughter about shaving when you start to see facial hair on him or hair on their legs, and give them the necessary equipment to start doing so if they want to.
Body image issues increase sharply during adolescence. Use your child’s physical development to guide you through what subjects you should be addressing. If acne is a persistent problem, for example, consider seeking advice from a dermatologist.
Make sure that the information you’re passing on to your child is current. Some of the hygiene advice you may have been given when you were younger, about things such as shaving or menstrual hygiene, may no longer apply.
Learning to handle their changing hygiene needs can be a challenge for some adolescents. Don’t be too hard on your ninth grader if they are struggling or resistant. Make sure your child understands how important hygiene is and that it is their responsibility to take care of their body and keep it clean.
Make sure that your adolescent has all the necessary supplies to insure that they are well-groomed and clean. Help them shop for razors, deodorant, and other necessary toiletries.
Your child should see a dentist for regular annual checkups, just as your child sees a pediatrician regularly. Discuss your child’s oral hygiene with their dentist and ask about measures such as fluoride supplements and dental sealants, which protect your child’s teeth against cavities and decay.
Tooth decay and cavities
Tooth decay and cavities are entirely preventable yet remain widespread and affect children in the United States more than any other chronic infectious disease. Untreated dental problems can become infected, causing pain and problems with eating, speaking, and learning.
Your child should be brushing their teeth at least twice a day, and after eating, if possible.
Your child should be flossing every day.
See a dentist immediately if your child injures a tooth. Dental injuries are common among children through age 14, and if left untreated can result in severe complications.
If your child plays a contact sport, they should wear a mouth guard to protect against dental injury and concussion.
If a child’s permanent tooth becomes dislodged due to an injury, place the tooth in a container of milk and seek dental advice as soon as possible. Permanent teeth can sometimes be re-implanted successfully.
Your child may try to make up for an inadequate sleeping schedule by binging on sleep during the weekends. By creating a rule that your child cannot sleep in later than 10 a.m. on the weekends, you will establish clear expectations around sleep and help them to avoid the drowsiness caused by an uneven sleep schedule.
Since most teens are not getting the recommended amount of sleep each evening, a 20-minute power nap could be helpful. However, experts caution that adolescents should not be sleeping after 4 p.m. because it will disrupt an evening of restful sleep. If your child chooses to nap, have them set an alarm to ensure that your child wakes up after 20 minutes.
With age comes greater responsibility. Now that they are in high school, your child will most likely be setting their own bedtime. Work with them to create a plan that sets aside enough time to sleep each evening. If their bedtime is constantly getting pushed back, they are probably overscheduled and should consider dropping some of their commitments.
Help your child maintain a regular study schedule so that your child isn’t cramming the night before a major test. Researchers have found that the cost of losing sleep far outweighs the academic benefits of staying up late to study. Studying for a few hours every night will ensure that your child can get plenty of rest prior to an important exam and retain the information that they learned.
Does your child have a lot of homework? Encourage them to complete the homework that requires a computer earlier in the evening. This way your child avoids exposure to the stimulating lights of the computer or television during the time right before bed.
Check your child’s bedroom to see if it is a dark, calm, and quiet environment. When you turn off the lights, there should be no illumination. Remove the television, computer, and other electronics from the room since they emit a blue light that disrupts your child’s sleep cycle.
It is important to lead by example. Establish an electronic curfew for the entire family at least 30 minutes prior to your child going to bed. Model the behavior that you want to see in your child by also turning off your cell phone and other technological devices. If your child owns a cell phone, encourage them to charge it in a different room from where they sleep. This way your child will not be distracted by tweets and texts.
Caffeine and nicotine are both stimulants and prevent a healthy night of sleep, especially if consumed after 4 p.m. If your child is having trouble sleeping, consider having their cut out caffeinated soda, energy drinks, chocolate, coffee, and nicotine for at least two weeks.
To learn more, check out our ninth grade physical health guide page.
Parent Toolkit resources were developed by NBC News Learn with the help of subject-matter experts, including Dr. Natasha Burgert, Pediatrician, Pediatric Associates and Dr. Jayne Greenberg, District Director, Miami-Dade County Public Schools.