Goodnight, chair

I saw an article the other day about a study whose results suggest that getting frequent exercise isn’t enough – how much total time we spend in chairs matters too. In the past, many such studies have concerned themselves only with recreational seat time. The updated message seems to be much bigger than “Too much TV is bad for your health!”*

This is where things get tricky, particularly when it comes to what we say to kids about it.

We’re used to expecting most kids to spend somewhere between 7 and 9 hours a day in a chair.  There are about 6 in a standard school day, if you subtract the few minutes here and there spent moving about the building, and then add back the several on each end for travel to and from.  And then for many children there’s an hour, two, or more for homework.

Have we decided that that’s how much is good for kids?  And then in addition that this number of hours should be spent on academic work, such that we’re free to insist on it and then vilify the seated component of the games they want to play?

This is one of those places where we lose credibility with young people.  In one breath, we tell them exercise is important, that they should be physically active.  In the next, we tell them to sit down and do their homework.  When we do it without acknowledging the apparent contradiction, without dealing with the nuance (assuming we perceive complexity in it, which I think we do), it’s confusing, and it debases our words in general. Part of the reason we try to get away with not dealing with it is that we haven’t reconciled it for ourselves.  We’re just following suit.

It’s a huge can of worms, this one.  If sitting for long periods of time is not a good idea, we’ve got a lot to deal with as a culture.  We’ve spent many generations aspiring to lifestyles dependent on seat time.  We’ll have to rethink more than what we say to kids about their schoolwork if we’re going to take this one on.

But it’s time.  Children have been squirming in their desk chairs for a very, very long time, trying to tell us that something is not right.


* Sarah Bennett and Nancy Kalish call attention to the recreational/desk time issue in The Case Against Homework: How Homework is Hurting Children and What Parents Can Do About It. It’s worth a read if you’re interested in what research has shown in this realm.