This past weekend, my 8 year old daughter had one of her friends over. She was proudly showing me her FitBit that she had just gotten and all that it could do. Every part of me cringed as her innocent voice said, “it shows the steps that you take and the calories you burn.” When I told her that she didn’t have to pay attention to that, she said that she just tracked it on her hike that day. I have friends on Facebook saying that their kids are asking for FitBits for Christmas and there are threads of reply’s supporting the purchase.
This brings me to a topic that I am very passionate about. The message that is being sent to kids about their relationship with food, exercise and their bodies. I want to start by saying I am anti-FitBit for anyone. I can see the concept of having something encourage you to move your body more as a positive thing. But that is not how the FitBit is used, for the majority of users. Now when there are situations, such as having to walk further somewhere, there is inevitably someone saying, “At least I get my steps in!” But what happens on the days you don’t get “all your steps in?” If I don’t take 10,000 steps in a day then does that mean it was a bad day? The FitBit just puts people more in the all or nothing, black and white thinking. “Should-ing” all over themselves. So just think about what that is doing to a kid?! It’s a measure of whether they were “good or bad” that day. And to even have a child be aware of the calories they are burning, think about what that is saying to them?! Think about what you, as the buyer, the parent, are saying to your child. This message that how many steps they take, how many calories they burn, that it is important, to you. I am telling you from years of being in private practice, working with eating disorders, that you are laying an unhealthy foundation. Kids should have no idea that the walk they just went on or the game they just played with their friend burned 200 calories and was 800 steps. All they should walk away knowing is that it felt good to move their body and that they had fun.
We are surrounded by a fitness and weight focused society. A $60 billion industry. Standards that are set so high that 95% of adults feel as if they are failing and not living up to the “thin enough, fit enough” ideal. Kids should be outside running around, playing sports, being kids, completely unaware of how many steps they took and how many calories they just burned. It’s just “the industry” trying to put their claws into our babies and make them feel like they “should” be doing more so they will fall prey just like we have. So before you check that purchase off your list, rethink what you are really buying into.