How can I get my 14-year-old daughter to be more active?

My 14-year-old daughter spends hours on Facebook every day. How can I get her to be more active? 

Ellen Rome, M.D.

Ellen Rome, M.D.

Dr. Ellen Rome is a board-certified pediatrician who was among the first in the U.S. to be board certified in adolescent medicine. She... Read more

Teens find Facebook so alluring because it’s peer-driven -- they get to choose their friends, be in constant contact with them and exercise their freedom of speech. But all Internet/video game/TV/computer time should be monitored, with loving limits in place. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than two hours of total screen time (not counting homework) a day, or 14 hours per week. The more screen time allowed, the more you increase the odds of negative behavior and outcomes in a child, including violent and aggressive behavior, obesity, poor body concept and self-image, substance abuse and early sexual activity.

All that screen time isn’t doing her brain any good either: When the computer is on and the quality of what’s she’s engaged in is low (social networking sites vs. learning games, for instance), not only is is physical activity limited, brain development is as well. In two studies so far, inner-city kids given laptops or computer access as a means of intellectual stimulation actually scored lower on standardized testing, since they spent time on recreational games rather than on reading or learning games.

I’m also an advocate of having kids earn their screen time. If you adopt this approach, let your daughter know that she must do some form of physical activity before she logs on. This will act as a built-in motivator for her to move (while also automatically cutting back on the hours she spends on Facebook) and assure you that she’s getting the exercise that’s so important to her overall health and development. Or maybe she’s already active, but a reticent reader: Challenge her to earn that screen time by putting in some reading first. When she goes above and beyond the normal expectations, reward her on the weekend with an extra hour or two of screen time.

Besides limiting her screen time, parents also play a key role in protecting their children online. So as much as possible, monitor what your teen sees (start by “friending” her on Facebook) and offer her advice on how she can protect herself when she’s using social media. Talk about the role of Facebook as a permanent Internet “tattoo.” Make sure she realizes that anything she posts there, or on another medium, is findable forever. The challenge with this is the lack of abstract thought in the average early to middle adolescent. The ability to foresee consequences does not come until late adolescence, if at all. Use examples that hit close to home: Is that funny picture she uploaded of herself pretending to smoke a cigarette something that she wants her college admissions counselor, future boyfriend or Grandma to see? How about the girl whose boyfriend enticed her to take a compromising picture of herself and text it, and it’s now on Facebook for the whole school to see, traceable directly to this girl -- does she want that kind of permanent commentary aimed at her? Helping your daughter set limits for herself and see the potential outcomes for poor choices is a valuable and powerful lesson for her to learn sooner rather than too late.