How do you persuade a reluctant teenager to be more active?

Will you judge me harshly when I tell you the most effective answer seems to be chocolate?

But let me start at the beginning…

Since joining Newcastle Can and becoming healthier I’ve tried to bring my family along with me. My partner has joined a gym and has promised to come along to a parkrun when the weather’s better. My daughter has also joined a gym, although this may be due to peer rather than parental inspiration. My kids have both said they’ll join me for a parkrun when they can.

My son likes to see the maps of where I’ve run. He, perhaps even more than the rest of us, may benefit from getting into the habit of regular exercise now. He faces a double whammy in the obesity odds, having both a family history of obesity and an undiagnosed genetic condition causing a learning disability. It’s widely recognised that:

People with a learning disability are more likely to have problems with their weight.

NHS Choices

I wish I’d been a better example to my kids when they were younger, but it’s too late now to change their childhood. What I can do is provide a good example now, show them you can change bad habits and make a positive difference to your health no matter your starting point. I know they are proud of the distance I’ve come.

I’m still looking for future challenges, runs and races I can sign up for to add variety to my running and gradually build me up to my planned half marathon later this year. And thus I heard about the Prudhoe Easter Egg 5k. Chocolate stops and spot prizes! Suddenly my son was more keen to accompany me than he had been for anything else I’ve signed up for.

This, it seems, is how to persuade a reluctant teenager to be more active! Image from Pinterest, as is chocolate image above.

I tried to persuade him that 5k is a long way and will take practice…

He tried to persuade me that I was selling him short and should have more faith in him…

I persuaded him to come for a practice run with me this evening, where he could go slow at my pace and show me how far he could run…

The practice run/walk (as it turned out) persuaded him that mother really might know best and he’s agreed to join me for more practice runs.

2 miles in 27 minutes isn’t bad for his first attempt, although you can see we needed to walk often.

He is faster than me, but so far only over short distances. I have more stamina. But he knows he will improve, because he’s seen me do it, so he has no doubt he’ll manage 5k in Prudhoe and get some chocolate.

My partner will be joining us then too. And my daughter was going to, but it turned out it clashed with a course. Our whole family are definitely fitter and more active now than we were a year ago. And maybe by Easter I won’t be the only family member who’s a regular runner.

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Pondering Certainty #Undiagnosed

Something a little different today. Three years ago my then 11 year old son asked me to stop writing my blog about his disability, so I stopped, and several years of posts are no longer visible. Now my blog is mainly about me trying to get healthier, physically and mentally, interspersed with random pondering on life, the universe and everything! But on Undiagnosed Children’s Awareness Day my son accepts that I can write about him to raise awareness without breaching his privacy. 

(Image by Swan UK)

My son has an undiagnosed genetic condition. A lot of people don’t realise this is possible. The normal experience is 

  1. Something is wrong
  2. Doctors investigate
  3. Something is diagnosed
  4. A treatment plan follows

But its not always like that. 6,000 children born in the UK every year will have a genetic condition which remains undiagnosed. 

Some children are undiagnosed because things stall at the investigation stage, tests show nothing despite there clearly being a problem. This may be because they have a genetic difference too small to be spotted by current tests. Some are eventually diagnosed, but only after many years of uncertainty and testing. Others, like my son, are undiagnosed because a genetic difference is identified, but it doesn’t link to any known condition. As DNA testing advances, and can spot smaller and smaller genetic differences, this group is likely to grow. The clinical side can’t keep pace with the genetic side.

My son has a genetic diagnosis, a string of letters and numbers that documents exactly which genes make up his extra chromosome, but no clinical diagnosis. No idea how it will progress, what he can expect as he grows up, or even whether it’s the whole extra chromosome, just one gene within it, or something completely different that causes his disability. He does have a list of conditions: global development delay, moderate learning disability, severe dyslexia, severe dyspraxia, autistic traits, sensory issues, speech and language issues etc. etc. But these are each just a part of the jigsaw puzzle. We’re missing many pieces and can’t find the lid with the complete picture on it. 

Things have come a long way since my son was little. There’s a charity, Swan UK, providing much needed support to families of undiagnosed children. They launched when my son was 8, before then I’d been struggling alone. With them we have a network of supportive families going though similar situations. My son loves meeting other undiagnosed children, and strongly identifies with being a Swan child, with having a Syndrome Without a Name. But many people still think you need a diagnosis to get support. 

(Image by Swan UK)

My son has grown into a confident cheerful young man, who talks openly about his genetic difference and the difficulties it causes him. He can explain what support can help him cope when things are difficult. He’s becoming a wonderful advocate for himself and other undiagnosed children, he thinks as many are non-verbal he should use his voice for them too. Today he’s persuaded his school to raise money to support Swan UK. Nothing is certain, we really have no clue what the future holds. That does worry me as he moves towards adulthood and I see services failing, but we are supported. 
Society seems to be craving certainty more and more. Everyone has to have a definite opinion on everything, it’s got to be certain, it’s got to be now, ideally in a short soundbite. Facts are less important than how convinced you are. Saying you would have to study something in detail and then make your mind up is seen as weakness. There’s no more discussion, no debate, no prospects it seems of people changing their views, just name calling and division. 

Perhaps its because I’ve had to come to terms with so much uncertainty at home that I find this especially challenging. 

I don’t believe things are that simple, that definite. I’m rarely certain of anything. I think the drive to certainty creates a harsher more divided society. Everyone has to be on one side or the other, for or against, in or out, right or wrong, and the opposite side is the enemy. What if the solution isn’t in or out, what if it’s up or down or diagonal? What if the world is not made up of the right and the wrong but of many possibilities, each with the potential to have good and bad effects? 

The Swan community is made up of families who encountered a possibility they may not have planned for. My son’s genetic difference is a random blip, a spontaneous mutation affecting every cell in his body. And then affecting every person he meets. It can be isolating, it can be frustrating and it can cause stress, but it has also brought us into a wonderful community, showed us how strong and resilient we are, and improved our lives. Just because it’s uncertain doesn’t mean its terrible. 

I think that’s another lesson for life. 

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Please visit Swan UK to find out more. You can donate to support their work by texting SWAN11 £3 (or any amount up to £10) to 70070. 

Swan UK want to reach as many families with undiagnosed children as possible. Please pass on this information to any family you know who have an undiagnosed child.