Family Running Survey: The Results

A summary of your stories and experiences, from tackling peer pressure and self-consciousness to concerns over sport in the school curriculum.

Posted: 5 February 2007
by JJ

Every running parent – elite or beginner, sprint or endurance – wants their child to grow up fit, healthy and active. And of course there will be a bias towards running as a means to that end. But kids being kids, it’s never going to be straightforward. At RUNNER’S WORLD we often see threads with headings like Advice for a parent? and a few months ago we ran a special article about children’s running. It’s an area of such interest among our readers and our online community that we ran a survey to see what was going on in terms of family running. Is it popular? Is it easy? Is it worth while? Or is it a chore – a source of frustration, guilt or anger?

Nearly 600 of you replied, telling us about your children, who were pretty evenly mixed between five and 16, with a bit of a peak between seven and 13. But the differences in activity were staggering; while some ran in play for an hour a day or more and a further hour in other sports, others logged precisely nothing in play and a minimal 15 minutes in other sports. Generally speaking, a lot of parents were happy with the amount of running their children did, though one in three weren’t and there was a variety of reasons for that.

‘He’s far too keen to get a lift anywhere rather than use his legs,’ said one dad. ‘It’s hard to find the time to fit it into an already overloaded schedule,’ said another. Many parents made the point that their children didn’t get nearly as much general exercise as they did at the same age, and it was also clear that unless a child was involved in competitive sport, he or she was less likely to stay interested or involved as they grew older. Peer pressure and self-consciousness have much to answer for.

Sadly, while competitive children are encouraged at school, there seems to be little support for the ‘ordinary’ child. It’s not like it is for us grown-ups, who take to the roads regardless of our ability, age, shape or background. ‘Not enough encouragement at school; everything is too academically focused with teachers playing a less than significant role,’ was the comment from one parent, which will undoubtedly be echoed by many others. And how many mums will agree with this: ‘My once active daughter has followed the typical teenage girl model and stopped all sport. I would like her to do some sort of physical activity, but it must be voluntary.’

It’s the ‘voluntary’ aspect that seems all-important. And with 75 per cent of children apparently having NO compulsory running as part of their school day, it seems that ‘voluntary’ has to be the way to go. But there are clearly degrees of ‘volunteering’. Nine out of 10 respondents said they had tried to encourage their children to run – and while more than half of these did so because they wanted their kids to understand the enjoyment there was in running, one in five said it was because their child was overweight or unfit.

So how successful has that encouragement been? Well – the older they are, the less successful. So there may well be a lesson here: make running a normal part of life and something that mums and dads do and it will seem natural as the child grows older. We hope. The most telling answer to that question was: ‘Will tell you in 10 years!’

Running as a family isn’t quite The Thing, it appears. There were relatively few positive responses to this one, though the obstacles weren’t always the lack of ‘cool’ associated with running with mum and dad. There were plenty of cases where logistics made it difficult, children of differing ages and parents of differing abilities being quite common.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Three-quarters of our parents said they thought their child would continue with their running after they left school or went into the sixth form. Who knows if that’s related to the little darlings’ attitude to the running habits of their esteemed parents? We asked what they thought of your running. How reassuring to see that 37 per cent were ‘proud of you’, and it made 31 per cent of them ‘want to run with you’. Only 2 per cent said they embarrassed their children, with an almost as insignificant 4 per cent who found their parents ‘amusing’.

It was interesting to discover parents’ fears for their children’s fitness futures. The anxiety ‘that political correctness, a child’s “human rights” and a belief that competitiveness is bad mean that a whole generation of children never discover what they are truly capable of’ was echoed one way or another several times. Even more common was the fear of the sofa and the computer game, the TV and the bottle.

The key thing for us at RUNNER’S WORLD – and one that we will address in a future article – was the desire for information about running for children. When we asked parents what questions THEY wanted to ask, we found common themes in:

  • Nutrition
  • How fast, how far and for how long?
  • Shoes
  • The difference between parental pressure and competitive coaching
  • Suitable races
  • The likelihood of injury and the development of young bodies
There were a number of questions that we will be putting to our experts, and we shall be bringing you the answers in a feature soon.

Until then… think about their fun, think about their health, and perhaps, maybe, if it’s appropriate – think about their winning.

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Discuss this article

Can anyone help me? My daughter - aged 8 - would love to run with me, and I would love to have her come along. I
feel it would not only wear her out, she is hyperactive (!) , but increase her fitness, as, like the RW survey discovered, she does not do enough exercise compared to when I was her age.
However, as I road run, and do quite long distances, what can I do to start her off? And keep her interested?
What about footwear for her?
Is anyone else in the same dilemma?

Posted: 07/02/2007 at 16:27

Hi there. I've got a 9 year old son who runs with me. I tend to go out for my longer runs then return past my house, pick up Ben then continue for a couple of slow laps around the block or the nearby park. This seems to work well as I get to do a gentle finish and Ben gets to take things at his own pace.
In terms of shoes I bought Ben a pair of decent boys cushioned trainers from a sports shop and these seem fine. Saying that he's nearly caught up with me in shoe size!!!
I really enjoy our running together and hope that it will start him on the road to a life long passion for fitness.
Hope you enjoy it with your daughter.
Posted: 07/02/2007 at 17:49

i fit in a 15-20 min jog with my daughters aged 7 and 8. Then we do some sprints, relays, play it, stuck in the mud. All good fun. Plus they cycle while i run
Posted: 07/02/2007 at 17:52

What initiative! Make it fun for them, rather than treat it as serious as us adults tend to!
It is also a good way to have time with her rather than trying to squeeze it into an already hectic day - we both benefit.
Posted: 08/02/2007 at 15:27

Posted: 08/02/2007 at 15:30

Hi there
It's very disappointing that kids do very little PE at school. So I've recently started taking my 2 kids out for a jog. I have an 8yr old daughter and a 9yr old son. We go out 3 times per week for a mile jog. We jog slowly .... my son is always ahead, and my daughter way behind, so I stay with her. Am entering them for a 2.5k fun run in March so hopefully that will spur them on to become a bit faster and to leave the computer games behind! The plan is to build up slowly so they get fitter and more confident.
Posted: 14/02/2007 at 01:34

my 7 year old really loves to run, and is always on the move. Last year, i ran the London Marathon, so she is well used t going out for a run. she would oftern come out with me on my warmup laps,then i would drop her off before my longruns. Unfortunatley, I cannot get out as much as i'd like to now, and I was wondering if anyone knows of a southeastern running club for under 12yrs olds. She adores running but i can't find anywhere to take her to practice. Any ideas anyone, please??!!
michelle aka fizzymoon!
Posted: 14/02/2007 at 17:16

My nine year old daughter has been running with me since she was five. We run at her pace and rarely do more than three miles together, if I want to go further we do a three mile loop from the house and then I go out and do the rest. If she doesn't feel like it she doesn't come out, I always leave it up to her. She cycles with me on my Sunday 10+ milers.

Keep it fun, keep it simple, don't be pushy.
Posted: 14/02/2007 at 23:14

Michelle - what county?
Posted: 15/02/2007 at 14:21

Thank you all for some great ideas! Will try to prize my 14 yr old son away from the X-Box and get him out there too!
Here's 2 some fit kids on the block!
Posted: 15/02/2007 at 18:58

Hi Tequila, I live in Maidstone, Kent. Do you know of any running clubs in this area? Thanks to everyone that replied to my original message. If I can't find a club I'll carry on doing my warm ups with her instead until she is older.
Thanks- michelle
Posted: 19/02/2007 at 17:02

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