A new research suggests that adults who try to use reverse psychology or guilt middle-school children into exercising will not see any positive results. The technique does not help them become more active – instead they feel pressured and unable to control their exercise choices.

Pressuring Children To Exercise Backfires

Published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, the study revealed that students who feel intimated or pressured into exercising are not more physically active. Middle-school children who feel they are in control of their exercise choices see themselves as people who would engage in a physical regime, thus developing into adults who are more likely to exercise.

Middle-aged children are at a critical stage in their lives, since their physical activity generally decreases by 50 percent between fifth and sixth grades, explained lead author Rod Dishman, Professor of Kinesiology in the UGA College of Education.

“Parents and teachers should avoid creating a sense of guilt for not exercising. The research tremendously found that students who felt obligated or pressurized into being more active were less likely to embrace activity overall.”

 Helping Children Become More Physically Active

Dishman and colleagues from the University of South Carolina are considering ways to help young children develop a liking for exercise, so that when they reach middle-school they would be able to identify with someone who exercises. This could include teaching-structured games during elementary school, integrating physical activities and classroom lectures, or expanding community recreational leagues to help children engage in and improve a specific sport.

Dishman highlighted the importance of drawing those kids towards exercise who would not otherwise engage in any sort of physical activity.

“Our results confirm that the beliefs these kids hold are related to physical activity levels. The question is whether we can place these children in circumstances where they come to value and enjoy physical activity”, he explained.

The best policy is to state that exercising is a fun thing, and then adopt techniques to make it fun and exciting for students. As Dishman puts it: “It’s the kids who say they are intrinsically motivated who are more active than those who aren’t”.