Sam stirs up a lively debate about kids and treadmills and apologizes for ableist assumptions

From http://www.youjustmademylist.com/?p=774

This week on our Facebook page (which if you don’t “like,” maybe you ought to–we share lots of fun stuff there, mostly it’s me posting but some times Tracy, Catherine, and Nat chime in too) I caused a bit of upset when I shared an ad for a kids’ treadmill with a short note saying that I thought this was a terribly sad idea. I wrote, “A treadmill for kids? Can’t they run and play outside? This makes me sad.”

“Bit of upset” is an understatement when it comes to describing our readers’ reactions. I think it was the most controversial thing I’ve ever posted with my feminism called into question.  I was called classist and ableist, elitist and pretentious.

I think I forgot the cardinal rule of being a parent. Never, ever, ever criticize the choices other parents make. I confess I’d kind of forgotten how much shame and blame parents get for their choices. My youngest kids are in their late teens and I tend to forget how judgmental people can be, including me, apparently.

And I was also reminded that social media commentary isn’t like academic life. I get a lot of criticism of my ideas, as a professor, but there’s relatively little name calling.

But thanks for calling me to task. Yes, I was ableist for not considering that not all children can run outside. Yes, I was classist for not remembering that not all families like in neighbourhoods like mine. I’m sorry. I posted quickly, without thinking, and got it wrong. It’s a complicated issue.

Readers reminded me that there are all sorts of reasons parents might choose a treadmill as a way of making sure a kid gets enough movement in their day. Some kids might have disabilities and walking on a treadmill might be better and more supportive than walking outside. Some families live in neighbourhoods where it’s not safe for children to play outside. Some parents think it’s too cold to play outside in Canadian winter and that like adults, kids might prefer to run on the treadmill while watching TV to running outside in the snow. All excellent reasons. Well, except maybe the winter thing. Unless you live in Winnipeg. Otherwise, get a snowsuit and toughen up. Generally, speaking children love playing outside in the cold and the snow.

I’ve mentioned some of the reasons for the kiddie treadmill. What about the reasons against?

Savita, a Fit is a Feminist Issue guest blogger, wrote:  “This treadmill is a terrible idea, for several reasons. First, it is not a medical device, and so insurance will not pay for it. Second, if you live in an unsafe neighbourhood, it’s because you can’t afford a safer neighbourhood. How will a $100 child’s treadmill address the problem? Third, children need unstructured play for their neuromuscular systems and brains to develop. Fourth, weather is no excuse for children not to play outside. Children love running around in the rain, splashing in puddles, and can spend hours playing in the snow. It’s only we adults that find the weather bothersome. Fifth, kids are kids and the novelty of the treadmill will wear off after a few days. And finally….who here equates “treadmill” with “fun”? People call it the “dread mill” for a reason! I won’t judge the people who buy it; my judgement is reserved for the toy company that markets this thing as a “fun and fitness” tool. If you want “fun and fitness”, how about a soccer ball or a hula hoop or a skipping rope?”

Someone else noted, in my defense, that likely what made me sad was the thought that the treadmill could easily be used to make kids (girls especially) be forced into diet and exercise to fit societal thin standards far too young.

Truth be told, my thoughts were more like Savita’s. I’m concerned about the play deficit in our children’s lives, the lack of time spent outdoors in the wild. I’ve argued over at Impact Ethics that we shouldn’t think of debates about kids and physical activity just in terms of exercise. We should think about play and daily movement too.

Some people worry that kids are growing up without “physical literacy.” This includes skills such as balance and range of movement. Think of them as the building blocks of physical competence on which other skills are built. If you don’t acquire some of these skills in your childhood, you’re set up for a lifetime of inactive living. Dean Kriellaars is one of the leading experts in a movement called physical literacy. “A child that has low physical literacy skills has low confidence to perform any activity,” he said. “They have a very limited number of movements they can do well. And all of those bundled together blocks them from participating in any physical activity.” http://www.physicalliteracy.ca/node/48

Many children today lack basic balance skills, for example. When you fall you become less confident and more fearful and thus begins a vicious cycle of inactivity which starts with teachers and parents branding certain children “clumsy.” If you grow up without the basic skills needed to be active, it’s harder yet again to start as an adult.

I’m not sure treadmills help with this.

I got nervous about parents doling out TV and snacks only after children “earned” them by running in place.

But I should have considered the wide range of reasons parents might want a treadmill for their kids.

I also found out this week that neither treadmills for kids nor the debates about them are new. Here’s this from 2008, Mini Treadmills: Anti-Obesity Tool or Death of Playtime?

Parents and toy companies say the child-size equipment can get kids moving and teach a healthy habit. But exercise and child psychiatry experts say at the wrong age, for the wrong reasons, child exercise equipment may do more harm than good.

And Cranky Fitness considers both sides of the issue here.

 What do you think? Are treadmills for kids a good idea or a bad idea? What’s your worry exactly? If you think it’s good, is it always a good thing? 

About Sam B

Philosopher, feminist, parent, and cyclist!

7 thoughts on “Sam stirs up a lively debate about kids and treadmills and apologizes for ableist assumptions

  1. sydm says:

    For parents taking care of small children, it might also be a fun way to occupy the kids while mom or dad gets in some treadmill time of their own.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s telling that it was for sale on woot.com. They get a lot of inventory that didn’t sell well.

    Like

  3. ebay313 says:

    I find the comments about this being good for poor people in high crime areas odd. Not only is this pretty expensive as a solution for people living in poverty in high crime areas, the idea of forcing children to stay inside because they live in low income areas is incredibly sad to me…. and more than sad, seems like one more way for poor kids to be disadvantaged and limited in terms of brain development (given that play is crucial to healthy brain development).
    Of course, the reality in my experience is that poor kids in high crime areas still play outside. The reality (again, in my experience) of living in a low income, high crime area is that you have to actually LIVE there. It may not be the conditions people from high income areas would accept or could imagine living in, but when that’s all you have, life has to go on around it. Keeping kids locked up in their rooms is really not a viable option.

    More likely I can see this as being a fun toy for kids in families where parents have enough money to have a treadmill for adults and kids too young to use it want to play at doing the same activities they see their parents doing.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. You know, I agree with your gut reaction, but I think the criticism could be directed less toward the parents that might choose to use this (for which there are legitimate reasons) and more towards the fact that the company chose to make it.

    Because I bet you that the people selling it are not just targeting fringe cases in which outdoor exercise is impractical (super cold climates, disabilities, unsafe areas—this sure isn’t marketed toward low-income people). Sure, this could be useful in those cases and some others (it’s also easier to supervise than outdoor running), but nothing in the marketing suggests that this is the intended purpose.

    Instead, this seems to represent an effort to create a “child fitness industry” which looks and feels more like our adult fitness industry (which tends to be non-functional, non-fun, commercial, and loaded with toxic assumptions about weight).

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Anonymouse says:

    I actually wonder how much “white knighting” (used here to mean a privileged person trying to defend a marginalized group in a well intentioned but ultimately clueless and unhelpful way) was going on in the critical comments. The comments about classism in particular have me curious: how many critics were speaking from personal experience vs. those that were speaking FOR the groups?

    I ask because this is the first time that I’ve ever heard someone “call out” someone for posting against a costly item that’s trying to replace something free. I myself have class privilege so I can’t say too much on the issue, but… that line of reasoning looks to me less like the actual arguments I’ve seen used by people marginalized by class and more like the kind of thing that I’ve seen as the subject of thorough take downs by class activists. Not saying that it couldn’t have been someone speaking from experience, but without having seen the original comments I can only go on my gut feeling that the argument was mainly coming from privileged people. (I tried to find the original post on the Facebook page, but I scrolled for about a minute without success and, honestly, I find Facebook’s interface really stressful to use so I closed the page. Is there a reason you didn’t link the actual page? Does Facebook not let you? Did you delete it?)

    I mean, yes, it’s important to remember that there could be real barriers to outdoor play, but on any front it’s a long stretch to defending a costly TOY that is trying to sell itself as a fitness tool.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Anonymouse says:

    I actually wonder how much “white knighting” (used here to mean a privileged person trying to defend a marginalized group in a well intentioned but ultimately clueless and unhelpful way) was going on in the critical comments. The comments about classism in particular have me curious: how many critics were speaking from personal experience vs. those that were speaking FOR the groups?

    I ask because this is the first time that I’ve ever heard someone “call out” someone for posting against a costly item that’s trying to replace something free. I myself have class privilege so I can’t say too much on the issue, but… that line of reasoning looks to me less like the actual arguments I’ve seen used by people marginalized by class and more like the kind of thing that I’ve seen as the subject of thorough take downs by class activists. Not saying that it couldn’t have been someone speaking from experience, but without having seen the original comments I can only go on my gut feeling that the argument was mainly coming from privileged people. (I tried to find the original post on the Facebook page, but I scrolled for about a minute without success and, honestly, I find Facebook’s interface really stressful to use so I closed the page. Is there a reason you didn’t link the actual page? Does Facebook not let you? Did you delete it?)

    I mean, yes, it’s important to remember that there could be real barriers to outdoor play, but on any front it’s a long stretch to defending a costly TOY that is trying to sell itself as a fitness tool.

    (Apologies if this double posts, but the first time I tried posting the comment it didn’t show up–not even with the “Your comment is awaiting moderation.”–which has meant in the past that WordPress has eaten it. Have you ever thought of using Disqus? I’ve never had a problem with them, and also their comment widget is very mobile friendly.)

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I can’t really say that I neccesarily think excercise in any form is a “bad idea”but I can say that I sincerely doubt most children would find a treadmill to be appealing.Even as an adult I approach fitness as a form of “play”(this for me is about connotation I hear excercise and think “chore” I hear play and think Fun.) I do however understand that there might be kids with limited mobility that may use a treadmill or similar “adaptive equipment” for movement.I say whatever works as long as it doesn’t lead to an unhealthy preoccupation with weight. On Feb 20, 2016 3:46 PM, “Fit Is a Feminist Issue” wrote:

    > Sam B posted: ” This week on our Facebook page (which if you don’t “like,” > maybe you ought to–we share lots of fun stuff there, mostly it’s me > posting but some times Tracy, Catherine, and Nat chime in too) I caused a > but of upset when I shared an ad for a kids’ trea” >

    Like

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