Should You Let Your Teenager Join a Gym?

If you have a teenager who is interested in physical fitness, they may be asking to join a gym or community fitness center in your area. Physical fitness is definitely important for teenagers. Adolescents should have at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day, and, at least three days a week, this should be vigorous physical activity. School physical education programs may not be enough to meet this need, and some high schoolers may not even have enough room in their schedule to take a school-based physical education course. But does that mean that they should be able to join a gym and work out with adults? Take a look at what you need to know about teenagers and gym memberships.

Age Restrictions

Many gyms have some sort of age restriction. Some limit themselves to adults only. Some allow minors to accompany a parent, and some allow teenagers to have their own membership, as long as a parent or guardian signs an agreement allowing the teenager to work out there. There are gyms that offer special programs geared towards teens and even a few that cater only to teenagers.

You may need to check with several gyms in your area to find one that will accept teenagers as members. You may have more success with non-profit community fitness facilities, like the YMCA or a neighborhood gym operated by your housing development, but there are some commercial fitness centers that accept teens as well.

Health Precautions

Before allowing your child to join a gym and begin a new exercise regimen, it's a good idea to take them to their primary care physician for a physical. If your teen plans on significantly increasing his or her activity level, it's a good idea to check with the doctor to make sure that they're healthy. Your doctor can also talk to your teen about transitioning safely to a higher activity level. Your doctor may recommend that your teen gradually increase the amount of time they spend exercising, for example, rather than trying to do too much at once and risking injury.

In addition to checking for common conditions that could affect your child's ability to work out safely, like asthma or eye problems, your child's doctor can also keep an eye out for signs that your teen is suffering from a serious condition like an eating disorder or body dysmorphic disorder. While most teens who want to join a gym are simply interested in better health, some teens can develop an unhealthy relationship with exercise and dieting because of insecurities about their bodies. Before giving your child access to a gym, you want to make sure that they have a healthy interest in exercise.

Safety Practices

If you decide to allow your teen to join a gym, you should make sure that they're familiar with the gym equipment and how to use it safely before letting them work out on their own. For this reason, it's better to choose a gym or fitness center that has a teen program, as they're more likely to have staff that are used to demonstrating safe use of the equipment to teenagers, and may require that your teen sit through a demonstration before they can start working out.

However, even if a teen program does not exist in your area, you can still make sure that your teen learns to use gym equipment safely. Most gyms are staffed with professionals who will demonstrate how to use their machines properly. You may want to accompany your teen in the beginning and make sure that they request a demonstration if one isn't offered. Many gyms also employ or contract with personal trainers you can hire for an additional fee. You may want to consider using a personal trainer's services for your teen, at least when they're first getting started.

Physical activity is an important part of your teen's development, and, in some cases, a gym membership could be just what your teenager needs to become more fit or maintain their current level of fitness. Just make sure that you take the proper health and safety precautions to protect your teen.