Originally published: February 2022
Though it may not always seem like it, teens notice and care about what adults say and do. They listen to our words, watch our actions, and tend to follow our lead. This is especially true when it comes to physical activity—there may be no greater influence on a teen than parents and family members.
Active living boosts physical and mental health, and can improve school performance, self-esteem, and social emotional development. It also helps families create shared experiences, memories, and bonds.
Read on for helpful tips to influence your teen’s physical activity. These actions can go a long way to helping them stay healthy and happy.
Make physical activity a way of life
Physical activity gets easier when it’s a natural part of everyday life. As much as you can, weave active living into your family’s routines, norms, and culture. For example:
- Travel in active ways. Help your teen find safe routes to school and around the community so they can cycle, walk, scoot, rollerblade, or even snowshoe. Give them a chance to build their active travel skills and independence. For example, teach them how to use public transit, or how to tune a bike.
- Make time for unstructured physical activity. Give your teen opportunity and space to get active in ways that make sense to them. They might want to walk to the corner store, skateboard with friends, or just spend time outside.
- Get outside in all types of weather. Each season presents families with unique ways to get active. Whether your teen is hiking with the dog, playing catch with a friend, or shoveling snow for their grandparents, it’s likely that they’re moving more, sitting less, and feeling good.
Plan for active days
Daily responsibilities can take time away from physical activity. As a family, commit to getting active as much as possible, and plan how you’ll make it happen. Every family is unique, so there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. Try these ideas, and do what works for you:
- Set family goals for how much time you’ll spend getting active each day, week, or month.
- Make a written plan or calendar of the physical activities each member of your family will do. This technique helps to keep adults accountable, and it’s a handy life skill for teens to learn and practice.
- Get everyone involved in choosing and leading family physical activities. Teens are more likely to take part when they’ve had a say in the decision-making.
- Have family conversations about why it’s important to balance time spent sweating, stepping, sitting, and sleeping. Try the Build Your Best Day online tool for ideas and conversation-starters.
- Keep it interesting! Encourage a variety of activities, including heart-pumping, vigorous physical activities (like jumping rope, dancing, or running) and light physical activities (like stretching, walking, or yoga).
- Set an example by continuing to do physical activities you enjoy. Invite your teen to join you!
Model and encourage healthy screen use
Devices like TVs, phones and tablets can pull our time and attention away from physical activity, conversation, and connection. While screen time is necessary for most teens in order to keep up with their school and social lives, it can be helpful to create a family culture where some time is screen-free.
Talk openly with your teen about the pros and cons of screen use. Get them involved in creating family plans, pledges, or agreements—they’re more likely to buy-in when they’ve had a say in the decision. For example, together as a family you can:
- Agree on an amount of screen time that’s acceptable
- Identify screen-free zones in the home, like bedrooms or the dinner table
- Set priorities around screen-free family activities
- Figure out how to make screen time more active, like through movement-based video games, geocaching, or how-to videos for learning a new skill
Once your plan is in place, remember that you’ll be held accountable too! Set a great example by putting down your device when you’ve agreed to unplug. Give your family your full attention.
Have fun with it
Keep family physical activity focused on fun. Model how to let go of things like ability, achievement, or competition. Studies show that enjoyment matters more—when teens do physical activities they love, they tend to stick with them for life. Here’s what you can do:
- Let your teen choose their active clubs, sports, and teams (even if they’re not the same ones you would choose).
- Challenge your family to try new activities together or start active family traditions—go ice fishing, play cricket, or hike a new trail.
- Connect with culture—explore physical activities, sports, and games linked to your family’s heritage or diverse cultures. For example, try Ukrainian dance, traditional Indigenous games, or Nordic skiing.
- Accept that sometimes your teen would rather get active with their friends than family—it’s only natural! Help them meet up with friends for active play, organized sport, or just to spend time outside.
- Show your teen that you’re never too old learn, play, and try new things. Let them choose the next family activity, and give it a shot even if it is something outside your comfort zone. You’ll be glad you did.
For more tips for your active family, go to:
For financial assistance to get your teen into a sport or physical activity, go to Jump Start: Individual child grants.