September 10, 2008

EIlipticals and Treadmills... For Kids?

[By Crabby]
(There are some here if you want one.)

Anyone happen to catch this Boston Globe article on fitness equipment for children?

Yep, that's right, there's a company that now makes treadmills and elliptical trainers for children as young as three.

What do you think?

When I read the article, I had mixed feelings.
My First Reaction: Aaaaahhhhkkkk!

Truly, I saw the headline and thought: What a f*cked up world we live in. What happened to the notion of "play?" Exercise is not supposed to miserable until you're an adult, damn it!

(Warning: Grumpy Old Fogey Alert)

I know kids are getting fat. And I know they need more activity. But not this way! What happened to playgrounds and front lawns and freeze tag and kickball and stupid dangerous made-up games involving jumping off of things and tackling each other?

I'd never trade the bruises, gashes, scrapes and stitches I got as a kid for hours spent in front of a tv, computer, or video game console, broken up by "structured" exercise sessions on a piece of equipment.

I'm not a parent, so I have no idea of how the transformation happened by which kids have been declared too fragile to "go out and play" like we did. I know you all think the world is much more dangerous now. Maybe it is. But I think it's more our thinking that's changed.

Here's the thing: Forty years ago, we still had traffic, pedophiles, rusty nails, drugs, bullies, broken glass, rattlesnakes, and even serial killers. We just assumed all the bad things happened to other people, and usually it did. Mom said "go out and play" and we did. We played kickball in the street until someone yelled "Car!!!!" We climbed trees and water towers and roofs where we didn't belong. We ran around not because we had to, but because we wanted to.

I know not every neighborhood is safe enough for kids to go out and play in. Yet doesn't it almost seem like the safer the neighborhood, the less likely you are to see kids playing in it? 'Cause they're all inside, or they've been rounded up and shipped off for officially sanctioned activities.

We probably had a lot more accidents and injuries forty years ago. Because, hey, every now and then it was your turn to jump off the top of a ladder with a grocery bag for a parachute.

But today the young 'uns are all completely safe and supervised. And a good percentage of them are fat and are going to die early of heart disease and diabetes or liver problems. Unless they get on a ridiculous little kiddie treadmill or hire a personal trainer or wear a pedometer? Yikes.

Sigh. The world's goin' to hell in a handbasket.

(This Concludes the Old Fogey Rant; you may now safely resume your regular blog reading activities).

My Second Reaction: Well, OK, Maybe in Some Cases...

On further reflection, and after a more careful reading of the article, I realized that there might be some times when having a kiddie treadmill or elliptical would make some sense.

If you're a busy mom, and the kids are watching everything you do and wanting to join you in your workout? Well, that might be a cool! And having their own little junior version might help keep them off your equipment, which could be an expensive/dangerous proposition.

After all, we buy kids junior versions of cars and vacuum cleaners and ovens and garden tools. As I recall, imitating adults can feel like "play" when you're a kid, even though the actual activities might be "work" for the adults themselves.

So if you're buying a kiddie treadmill or elliptical as a "toy" that your kid will enjoy, and you can "play" together, that seems pretty reasonable.

(But how "fun" is a treadmill gonna be for a kid after the first few minutes? Just wondering.)

So enough of the Crab and her grumpy-ass opinions. What do you all think?


  1. Our YMCA has those little tiny (non-motorized) treadmills in the daycare area. I think it's cute, and sometimes the kids are playing on them (I've never seen any toddler in a full sprint checking his time and heartrate). I think its nice to get young kids used to seeing them in a fun environment, to reinforce the idea that exercise is GOOD.

    Conversely, I don't think buying one for your home would be fun for more than about 10 minutes. Afterwards, it would just become mini hanging rack for onsies, spongebob jammies and swim diapers. Certainly don't think any parent should be making a little kid run on a treadmill, that would probably cause some major issues.

  2. You know, it's funny that you wrote about this because on my normal morning dog walk this morning, I saw one of those little bubble-blowing lawn mowers for kids, and I was thinking about how when you're a kid all you want to do are the big-kid things that you're parents do. So, I can see the case for that. But, like you said, that excitement has to wear off pretty quickly. Especially if mom isn't watching cartoons while she's on the tread.

  3. While it's sad that we've come to this I cannot help but think about all the kids who don't have anyone to play with or are lousy at team sports. I would have loved to spend my gym time at school on exercise equipment.

  4. Oooh, a Crabby rant! I missed those. Frankly, it worries me when this blog gets filled with too many chipper positive-thinking posts. Makes me feel like I'm ruining the place ;)

    Personally, I think that fun exercise should not be the sole prerogative of children. What about fun for adults as well? :)

  5. Also, after ten minutes on a treadmill my inner child starts to whine.

  6. kids should be kids most of the time....running, playing but I have to say, the treadmill is kind of cute :)

    TLC had a real eye opener on last night in their My Shocking Story series.....Too Young to be so Fat. Everyone with kids needs to watch this one!

  7. I'm torn on those things too, like the video games that "get your kids moving". There are other games that get kids moving that you don't have to pay for, like tag.

  8. My 7 year old is constantly after me to let her "play" on my treadmill, so she would love something like this, but I would never actually buy one for her.

    The nice thing about living in a semi-rural area on a dead end street is that my kids can (and do)play in the street and ride bikes. They also have contests on the trampoline, climb trees, and explore the 5 acres we live on. But lest you think they are perfect, there are days when I have to peel them away from the tv and force them to go outside and play. We are fortunate that we live where we do, so I feel very safe letting them roam the neighborhood all afternoon. Kids do still play, at least the kids I know.

  9. I totally agree with both your points. Which makes me think... I need to send my son out more often to play. I just need to remember to put bug spray on him so the mosquitos don't carry him away.

  10. I remember doing all those things as a kid (falling out of trees, etc) and it's not that the world's dangers have changed all that much, but with the perception of the changing dangers, there's this one:

    If someone sees your 7 year old wandering the streets by herself, that someone is going to call Social Services and you're going to find yourself up on Neglect and Endangerment charges.

  11. I think this could be great for kids that live in an urban environment with not a lot of room to go out and play. Provided they find this fun (a la the trampoline or swing set). Parents can't be always at the playground with their kids. We've got to cook dinner, do laundry, etc. So I see this as a potential "tool in the toolbox", for sure.

    They had a treadmill at a children's museum we went to recently. It compared your running speed to various dinosaurs' speeds. It was an extremely popular exhibit with kids running like crazy to see if they could avoid becoming snack food for a T-rex if Jurassic Park ever becomes reality.

    And if the parents have a treadmill the minimill would be likely to see lots of use. One of my sons' favorite toys is the baby vacuum cleaner. They practically begged for it!

  12. Two reasons I think there is less "kid play time":

    One, more moms work and kids aren't home.
    Two, more kids are shuttled around to camps and sports and clubs etc.

    My two cents.

  13. I agree, if I have kids I want them to play outside and I will feed them a better treadmill for kids!

  14. I'm not a fan of telling your kid to get his/her ass on a treadmill, but I can see kids wanting to do what mommy (or daddy) does, and it might be a good way to keep them off the treadmill or elliptical.

    Plus, if the kid likes it, then the parents might be more inclined to use it more. And if the parent does it in front of the TV, the child may associate TV with exercise later in life (wishful thinking, maybe).

    I do agree with you about the "safe' neighborhoods, but my brother did get 10 stitches as a result of a hide and go seek game, so maybe we needed more supervision (we being my siblings and I)

  15. Crabby - I LOVED the rant! We live in different times, now. When you mentioned not seeing children playing in the "safe" neighbourhoods, my immediate thought was 'that's WHY they are considered safe - no-one lets their children outside, so of course, no children are abducted or injured in any way!'

    I must be turning into an old Fogey, too, because I think these treadmills for children are just another gimmick to guilt busy parents into buying yet another expensive, useless item for their already over-stuffed homes.
    (wow, Bag Lady took her grumpy pills this morning, didn't she?)

  16. Crabby, I had the same reactions you did! I think more kids should just get together and play, but as it's already been pointed out, it's not always safe. I grew up in the middle of a city, with nothing but concrete and cars, so I didn't go outside to play as a kid (plus being an only child. I did play with kids in my neighborhood, but it was mostly inside (making forts, or playing games, but not as much physical stuff).

    I live on a residential street now with lots of trees, and lots of families. And it's amazing how shocked I was the first time I saw kids playing in the street. My first thought was "that's not safe!" then I thought "but seriously, that's awesome they're not playing video games." The parents just bought this big plastic thingie they put in the street that says "watch out! children playing"

  17. late to the party because I was outside in the backyard playing with my toddler tornado & then flopping on the grass to see what we shapes could find in the clouds (should I be worried she kept 'seeing' elephants? :)).

    it seems like the only time the kiddie stuff is a *great* idea is when the neighborhood is *that* unsafe...and methinks that's not their market ;)

  18. DANGER!


    Just got back from a run in Central Park and the endorphins are a' pumpin'. (Well, there was some caffeine involved as well).

    Right now I'm like all "oh gosh, was I too harsh? That treadmill is kinda cute!!"

    Shoot me now.

    There are some seriously great comments here this morning--thanks guys. And as soon as I get back home I will try to get caught up on blog rounds as I hate missing out!

    Have I mentioned I love New York?

  19. Weirdly, both my boyfriend and I live in very working class areas and there are always kids playing out on the streets at both of our houses. I don't see anything like that in the more suburban areas where our parents live, which are arguably safer.

    I'd never pay money for any kind of crazy fad like this - as a few other commenters have said, this stuff would surely get boring for kids very quickly anyway, once the playing-at-being-a-grownup aspect had worn off?

    TA x

  20. Not too bad an idea, altho I don't see why the parents can'[t just go for walks with their kids...outside...
    As a pudgy kid, I know my Mum tried to find active things for me to do. i even had a Mousercise exercise record. I think things to get kids active are great, but I wonder how many kids could stay on a treadmill for longer than 2 minutes without being bored to tears. I think the goal is to make it fun isn't it??
    Just get a good game of soccer or red rover going and most kids will run around in circles of their own free will. Even pudgy old me wouldn't turn doen a game of capture the flag...

  21. One problem that I didn't see mentioned was that many neighborhoods just do not have that many kids any more, and so you can't just run outside for a pick up game of soccer or tag -- families are smaller, kids are in day care or in camps, attend different schools because of school choice and what have you. My kids had nobody to play with, and they grew up in a semi-urban neighborhood. there were no pick-up games, there was organized leagues.

  22. Crabby, the "transformation is referred to as "Nature Deficit Disorder." My bf and I have wondered for a few years about his teens. He lives in a pretty shady(ass) neighborhood - one reason I don't go out much when I am over there except on my bike so I can get away quickly. His kids pretty much stay indoors except to go to school. A few years back I heard about this book called "Last Child in the Woods" and the guy who wrote it coined the term (NDD). It makes a lot of sense when you read it.

  23. Um...I vote no. But then again I was allowed (with my siblings) to run like wild kids around our neighborhood and the fields and woods surrounding us. Sooo...maybe it might not be a bad idea....

  24. My initial reaction: horror. And my secondary one. OK, tertiary, too. I wouldn't buy it. I do find ways for them to exercise when we can't go out because it's raining, but I wouldn't do this.

    Now, if I can just get them off my mini trampoline, exercise bike, and gazelle so I can actually use them... ;-)

  25. I grew up in a very small town - so not dangerous - but not many kids my age. I still played outside far more than inside, even if that meant I was climbing trees and reading books while up there.

    Now? We have only one family on my block with younguns, and they are ALWAYS outside (and now, I live in a city instead of the country). It's just a matter of what you make time for. Both my parents worked full time since I was 4, and they always made time for bike rides & walks & stuff. BUT - since I'm not a parent, I'm not sure how much my opinion matters on this, anyway!

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  27. First reaction - that picture is so cute!

    Second reacion - whatever happened to going outside to play?

    Third reaction - maybe it's not such a bad idea to get kids used to the idea of fitness equipment and exercising.

    When I was a kid, yes my Mom used to kick us outside to play. But we were fortunate enough to live in a place we could do that. What if you are in an apartment in a city?

    Also, note that I said Mom "kicked us outside". Left to our own devices, my sister and I would have quite happily curled up with a book. I hated gym class, was never into playing sports, and for years thought "exercise" was some hideous form of torture.

    Eventually I did realize it didn't have to be so bad. So maybe it's not such a crazy idea to have a kiddie treadmill. If I had a kid, I'd take it out to play, but I can also see parking the kiddie treadmill next to my adult size one, then we could both tread together. Why not?

  28. Lynn brings up a great point; parents who let their kids outside to play unsupervised are likely to find themselves in trouble. And a lot of hospitals keep a closer eye on patients' records. If my kids were to have the same number of injuries that I had growing up, Social Services would be at my home in a heartbeat, lol! I wasn't abused, I just fell. A lot. From trying to do kid things, like riding my skateboard at breakneck speeds down big hills and, yes, jumping off the garage with an umbrella, trying to be Mary Poppins.
    In our case, our kids have Autism. They need supervision. But a kiddie treadmill? Nah. They'd get bored. We do have a trampoline, however.

  29. Oh, wow. I had pretty much the same reactions you did, Crabby. But even if the kiddo wanted to exercise with me, I don't think I'd buy him/her a treadmill. S/he can use mine when I'm not using it (because yeah - I'm betting on 10 minutes of "I'm just like Mommy!" followed by never getting on it again.

    There's a third thing here too, though. We've covered "going out to play" and exercise equipment, but what about sports, dance classes, horseback riding lessons, whatever? I didn't set foot in a gym until I graduated college, and ironically it was only after I graduated that I started gaining wieght. But I danced. I danced a LOT. As a kid I usually had classes 2 or 3 nights a week, and more than one class each night. As a teen/adult, I danced almost 40 hours a week.

    Our neighbors' kids played soccer. Our other neighbors' kids played football (boys) and softball (girls). There was a LOT of activity on our block, much of it structured (as well as unstructured).

    I'm just not sure that putting kids on a treadmill/gym/whatever is a good idea. They'll be exposed to that when they're older, but in the meantime, going out to play or joining a team or a dance class or whatever will also give them another option.

    (By the way, you know the workouts I am STILL least likely to skip? Dance classes. Because they're FUN.)

  30. AAHHH indeed.

    There's a place for it for kids with serious problems.

    But regular kids? Um, how about they go outside and be kids and play? I'm pretty sure that that's how it worked "back in the day" and we all turned out alright!

    I'm concerned about what that could do for a kids psyche.

  31. Can I just clarify something? When I said "roam the neighborhood" I mean the 100 yards from our house to the end of the "dead end" part of our street, and there are 4 other families with kids who are all my kids ages so there are ALWAYS a few kids outside playing, AND two sets of grandparents sitting on their porches watching said kids playing. So it's not like I'm turning my kids out into the ghetto and letting them run around til midnight.

    Feeling a little attacked here by someone and I hope this clears things up.

  32. My new Club has a room for kids aged 8 to 14. My son is excited as hell to be in there because they have smaller sized workout machines. The kids have to have two training sessions and then be able to pass a written test before they are allowed to use the stuff.

    While I'm not a big proponent of weight training for kids that young, my son is jazzed. He'll get to work out like I do, he'll get to build muscle (his words, not mine!) to make him better at soccer -- and, from where I sit, it's better than making him sit in a room and play outdated video games (like he did at the old gym) while I work out.

    And when we get home and have recovered, then we'll go kick that soccer ball around the yard.

  33. in theory, i think it could be a good idea. the day care center at my gym showed this cartoony workout video that was very simple with ... someone i can't remember as the lead but it captivated the kids EVERY time we put it in. some of the kids would actually hop around and stuff with it too.

    however, i don't know when stuff, even in the 'burbs, got so safe and sanitized. the house my brother and i first grew up in had a front yard that was basically composed of lava rock and cacti as well as one HUGE rock near the path that was surrounded by aspens. we played on that rock all the time.

    when i was about 6, we moved to cali for two years. when we moved back to colorado, we drove past our old house - our gloriously xeriscaped front yard had been turned into grass - for, we think, the young kids who moved in after us since there was a plastic tricycle on the front yard. *sigh*

  34. This says it all: "Yet doesn't it almost seem like the safer the neighborhood, the less likely you are to see kids playing in it? "

    Too true, sadly enough. As far as the kiddie 'mills, all I can think is that they are indicative of a larger societal change rather than the impetus.

  35. I'm all about play time!! I feel like you do, Crabby! Of course, often when I look at all the adult folks at the fitness center working out on the various aerobic machines, I think, "What the heck is going on here?"

  36. Yes, times have changed a lot... And it is sad, because really, how much funner would it be for a kid to be running around the yard/park with his buddy, checking out bugs and making up superhero scenarios ...

  37. Those look so cool! What a great idea! Nice one! :)

  38. I just did a huge market research report about overprotected kids (dubbed "cotton wool kids" here in the UK). This treadmill is the tip of the iceberg. When I was a kid, we used to test our rollerskating limits by skating as fast as we could down hills. No helmets or kneepads. Many skinned knees. Great fun.

  39. I agree with you completely. I think it’s a sad state of affairs if kids have to get exercise on a machine. But this got me thinking. Why am I so outraged at thinking about putting a kid on a treadmill but it’s OK for me to walk and go nowhere? Why can’t I have fun running around and getting exercise in a fun way. I’m not saying I’m giving up my gym-time – it serves its purpose in my life, for sure. But maybe we should all think about how far gone we are when we keep inventing things to “save” us the trouble of moving (drive throughs, etc.) and then making ourselves find time to workout. It’s kind of ridiculous when you really think about it.

  40. Just came across your blog - LOVE IT- on this topic- I think it's crazy! I LOVED being outside and doing "obstacle courses" and playing active games like Mother May I and Red Rover, Capture the Flag, Tag, etc. I definitely remember the day I was introduced to a treadmill and I think it's a rite of passage that should wait until high school (in most cases...).

  41. My first reaction was "Gack!" My second reaction was "So why is adult exercise equipment always black or beige? Why no purple? Huh, manufacturers?"
    Then I thought "What happened to climbing trees? Wouldn't it be fun to have an indoor tree? Maybe with limbs that could be rearranged for variety and challenge? Much more practical than an indoor trampoline!"
    I gave up on Modern Kids thirty years ago. I've actively avoided finding out what it's like now.

    Mary Anne in Kentucky, quite curmudgeonly

  42. This is why we love living in our neighborhood. I let the kids play in the park and creek, or walk to the pool club across the street, and they have a blast. In fact, they are having a ball these days building forts with the tree branches blown down by Hurricane Gustav!

    I must admit, though, that I would have loved this in grade and high school as I despised P.E. This would have been a great alternative for the unathletic.

    Good to have power back and be able to read your rants, Crabby!


  43. "Sigh. The world's goin' to hell in a handbasket."

    I so agree. I think you should do a post on how politics is bad for your health!!! Literally. I'm waking up in the night with chest pains. Thought you might enjoy my latest drawing!!! (2 down, 8 to go)

  44. Ohhh, really gotta say I hate this development. Besides the fact that jogging on a treadmill simply isn't as good as jogging in a park (therefore developing misconceptions in children about proper exercise habits) I think the idea that we can just throw our kids some machine to take care of their health is just dangerous.

    Kids should be running, playing soccer, swimming and not eating rubish.

    This is not rocket science.

  45. Crabby, you just wrote my favorite piece of the month so far.

    I agree one hundred percent, and had the same reaction.

    Childhood obesity is very simple: we feed our kids too many calories particularly from processed sources, because we've been convinced that it's what everybody does. Compound that with a sedentary lifestyle example of parents, and guess what? Overweight kids.

    The answer is simple, though a little more difficult to implement: Feed kids better. Eat more vegetables and get rid of processed refined sugars. Don't drink juice by default - drink water, and make juice a treat. As parents set the example of being active yourself, and eating real food in moderation, and your kids will follow. they will certainly eat junk in their teens, and that's ok, but they will have a foundation in solid habits.

    This is just throwing money at a problem....


  46. "Exercise is not supposed to miserable until you're an adult, damn it!"


    I have to say though, my boys would probably love that little treadmill just like Jenn said, little kids always want to have little versions of grownup things. We've got toddler lawnmowers, a little vacuum, I even considered getting my boys a little set of 1 lb weights. Not because they need to LIFT them. Just cause they see me do it and they want to join in.

    (Although treadmills to them are not even "exercise" machines yet. They're more like fun-catapult conveyer-belt-type devices...made for dumping stuffed animals and baby brothers on to.)

    So I guess what I'm saying is, I'll kick my kids outside way before I'd ever even think of actually USING one of the tot-mills for exercise, but if they saw a picture of one I know they'd want one to play with.

  47. Ahh on my street, there are still many, many times per day when one of us yells "Car!" Yes our skinny kidlets are still into computer games and MSN, but they also play outside.. a lot. Bikes, balls and hockey sticks are strewn all over any given lawn. Child's play is not dead yet.. at least not everywhere.

  48. If they weren't so expensive, I'd already own one. My 2 year old is always trying to climb on the ellipcitcal or stationary bike while I'm exercising (as her 9 year old brother did before her). I might get a more uninterrupted workout -- now I always have stop and taste the "soup" she has made in her play kitchen.

  49. If they weren't so expensive, I'd already own one. My 2 year old is always trying to climb on the elliptical or stationary bike while I'm exercising (as her 9 year old brother did before her). I might get a more uninterrupted workout -- now I always have stop and taste the "soup" she has made in her play kitchen.

  50. I don't think I would ever do that to my kids. I rather them enjoy exercising through sports. The treadmill teaches them to get it in the boring way :(


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