The Weekly Boost

The Brief

Rea, a 12 year old girl, is in serious need of help. Her weight is becoming an issue and whilst she spends an extraordinary amount of time online chatting to “friends” on Facebook, nobody calls at the house or invites her to their house. She has just started in a local secondary school. She is the youngest in her class by 8 months. Her self-confidence is very poor.

The Task

Her mother (Mary) has asked you to advise her on doing something positive for Rea. Every week for the next 12 weeks, think of simple things that you believe could help Rea in a positive way. You will send a weekly update to Mary which she will then do over the following seven days. The objective is to get Rea active and prepared to join in. You will never actually get to meet Rea!

The Plan

Over the next twelve weeks we will look at and address what I feel are the three core issues causing concern here.

  • Diet.
  • The issue with social isolation both in and out of school.
  • The lack of physical activity related to the excessive amount of time spent on the internet.

Together we will put in place a plan of attack for each of these three areas. Each plan will weave together in both of your daily lives over the course of the twelve weeks gradually forming a smooth transition to what will be a new lifestyle for both of you and in particular, Rea. Every week we will address an aspect from one or more of these three areas giving you a weekly task/s to be carried out as best as possible.

The first thing that can begin immediately is amending the diet in particular the amount of sugar in the foods we eat.

Sugar not used up by the body for energy will be stored as fat.

When this is coupled with a lack of exercise weight gain is almost always inevitable. So much of the food we eat contains way too much sugar in particular processed foods. Processed foods are foods which have been subjected to anything between one and possibly dozens of processes to get them to the stage they are at when you pick them from the shop shelf. Each of these processes usually include adding sugars, chemical preservatives among other unnatural ingredients which takes the food item further away from the form in which nature intended it to be in and the form in which our bodies have evolved to digest it.

Try as best as possible to begin a “whole food” diet. That is, foods in their natural state such as whole veg, fruit, freshly butchered meats from the local butcher, eggs etc. Think of food on a scale of 1 – 10.

10 – Heavily processed such as confectionary and biscuits

1 – An apple picked from a tree in your garden or freshly dug organic potatoes.

Think about every food item you buy and how it was produced. What processes do you think were involved, what was added and can perhaps a shop bought ready-made meal be made with fresh whole ingredients at home? Get Rea involved in food preparation. Take her grocery shopping with you. Introduce her to the healthy foods available. At first it can be a difficult and expensive task to source food which is low on the scale but you will find it easier as the weeks and months go by.

The goal for this first week is to work towards getting everything you eat from now on as low down on this scale as your budget will allow. As well as the long terms effects of a healthy diet more immediately this new approach will give both of you more energy to approach the challenges ahead.

Week Two.

We’ll begin this week by addressing the excessive time spent by Rea on the internet. First of all you are not unique in this regard. Here is an interesting article which may shock you but ultimately may alleviate some concerns. We need to accept that the internet is here and here to stay. Its positive and negative effects will continue to play a huge role in the lives of everyone. Negative effects include missing out on physical exercise, time spent with family and friends, failing to do homework and chores around the home but it is also a rich source of information which can enhance Rea’s education and it is fun. So, let’s not dismiss it from your lives completely.

The long term plan with Rea is to eliminate the negative effects ending up with a situation where on week days’ time online is reduced down to an hour in the evening after dinner and when all homework is finished and two hours a day at the weekend. The daily weekend hours can be divided into two or more blocks as long as it does not interfere with daily activities or chores. All internet sessions will take place on a device which is permanently based in the main living areas of the home, either the living room and/or kitchen. No more internet access in the bedroom. This will be non-negotiable. You will have control over the security and safe search settings and regularly monitor search history.

You need to think through your approach to this and what you are going to say. Beware of the possible responses from Rea. If she is becoming addicted to the internet or perhaps already is, an unpleasant emotional response is likely. Acknowledge her responses but do not get drawn away from the issue of internet usage into an argument over disrespect. ikeepsafe. (2013)

Let Rea know your concerns about her spending too much time on the net. Let her know that over the next few weeks the length of time online will be gradually reduced in line with the long term plan above.

This week, together with Rea begin a logbook. In This logbook keep track of the time spent online, the log on times, the sites visited and the time spent on each site. It should be fairly obvious if Rea is being honest with you on this. The idea of this logbook is to build trust and also to come to an agreement on which sessions could, without too much confrontation, be shortened, cut out or condensed into another session.

Gradually begin cutting some of these sessions out and replacing them with activities such as, helping to prepare meals, the shopping trips we discussed last week or give Rea the responsibility of walking the dog on a regular basis. Because Rea will no longer have internet access in her bedroom she should be out spending more time with you. She will most likely be moody for a few days or more but will eventually settle into this new routine.

Reference list

http://www.ikeepsafe.org/be-a-pro/balance/too-much-time-online/ [accessed 27/09/2013]

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/news/7118354/Children-spend-7-hours-38-mins-a-day-online.html [accessed 27/09/2013]

Week Three

A lot of schools across Donegal have adopted or are looking at a branch of a strategic plan developed by Donegal Sports Partnership called Schools Active. The Donegal Sports Partnership mantra is that they are committed to working with children and young people. They believe that increasing participation at a young age is the basis to a lifelong engagement in sport and physical activity and the maintenance of a healthy lifestyle. Equally as important I would add that it is also a place where lasting friendships are made.

As part of this plan Donegal Sports Partnership has a programme available to schools called Girls Active in-which schools partake in a huge range of sports and physical activities. Include are field trips to places like Garten Outdoor Education Centre where activities such as kayaking, rock climbing, orienteering, archery, raft building and most importantly, fun are the order of the day. Often, sharing in exhilarating new experiences such as these new friendships can develop and flourish.

This week contact Rea’s school. Ask the PE teacher if the school has signed up to the Active Schools Programme in particular the Active Girls. Recently a PE teacher told me about an on-going and widespread trend where a majority of secondary school girls can always produce a parental note excusing them from PE class. Is this the case with Rea? If so, we can look into that in the coming weeks. Also this week speak to the parents of other girls in Rea’s year. Are they concerned about their daughters’ low levels of physical activity? Inform them of the Girls Active programme. Maybe they could add pressure to the school to implement it. This is a link to some information on the Sports Plan which may be useful when talking with the other parents.

You may have noticed the advice this week has been orientated towards you rather than Rea. The restrictions on internet usage has probably been a sore point this week so, let’s not add more fuel to the fire by laying down even more demands. In saying that, there should now be a considerable reduction in time online. Keep going with the logbook and keep working towards the daily allowances. Hopefully Rea is putting this new free time to use as prescribed, helping you with chores like cleaning, preparing meals, shopping, walking the dog and importantly spending less time in her room and more with you.

Week Four

The amount of time Rea spends on the internet should now be coming close to the recommendations from two weeks ago. She should now therefor have plenty of free time which we will now try to fill with more social activities with exercise in mind. This week we will begin by getting Rea out and about perhaps meeting up with her classmates or even new kids her age that may not necessarily be in the same school

Are there any hobbies or passions Rea may have or are there classes or local clubs whose aim is physical exercise and fun for kids her age that she may be interested in? An important point here is to not force Rea into doing an activity if she is not eager about. She will lose any feigned interest very quickly with feelings of resentment possibly rising if she is forced to keep attending. Instead, have an informal chat with Rea about activities she might like to try out.

There are lots of groups and clubs around Letterkenny. There are bound to be something out there to grab her imagination. A quick search of the internet will throw up a range of activities that might be of interest. Among them are various different classes available in the Letterkenny Community Centre including Karate on Tuesday and Thursday evenings at €5 per class and Irish dancing on Fridays 4.30-8.00pm and Wednesdays 4.00 – 5.00pm. There is also Recreational Gymnastics available for kids who have never tried gymnastics. These classes are not competitive, just for fun. Introductory courses are from €30 – €40 for 8 weeks with classes lasting 60 – 90 minutes. There’s also the Fox N Crew Dance Academy who do hip-hop, street and modern dance.

This is just one example of centres around town where there are a wide range of activities on offer. Encourage her to try all the activities she is interested in to see which ones she is happiest with.

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One Response to The Weekly Boost

  1. paulmccusker says:

    Brendan you have broken the code to writing a good blog…Structure. this is an excellent piece and i felt i had learnt something worthwhile after reading it. well done. trick now is to develop the structure over the next 12 weeks into a training manual for young teenagers like Rea.

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