Monday, September 05, 2005

You're an adult. Act like it.

My husband and I were at Wal-Mart this evening, when I saw something that dropped my jaw. A toddler -- perhaps three years of age at most -- stood up in the cart and dove at her mother. Expecting it, the mother caught her easily, hugged her, and put her back in the cart. A sweet moment, really.

The jaw-dropper was the fact that the little girl wasn't so little. She was obese.

Being politically correct, I told myself that perhaps there was a medical reason for the child to be so heavy. It's possible. No need to silently disparage the parents who were, incidentally, rather rotund themselves.

Unfortunately, when a three-year-old has thunder thighs, it stays with you. I started looking around at the other shoppers and their children. I want to believe that tonight was simply coincidental, but I can't. There were so many heavy children -- with heavy parents -- that I was dumbfounded.

Teaching at a post-secondary two-year college, I live by the phrase "you're an adult." I truly believe that those over the age of 18 are more then capable of living their own lives, making their own mistakes, and enduring the consequences. Protecting them from themselves does nothing but prolong childhood and encourage irresponsibility. When students come to me and ask if they might skip class, not take a test but do the make-up, or not do homework for whatever reason, I always give them this response: "You are an adult. You can make your own choices so long as you can live with the consequences." (For the most part, they hate that answer. But since I tell them on day one that I do not coddle or chase students, they pretty much live with it. I have to hand it to my students, they may not like what they hear, but they appreciate the predictability. )

So, if you are an adult and you want to live on potato chips, fast food, and soda pop, go for it. You're an adult. If you don't know that fast food is fattening, then you have bigger problems in your life.

But what the hell are you doing feeding that same garbage to your child?

Some parents claim that they can't control the child's appetite, that the child will throw a tantrum unless placated. Ha. As Supernanny might ask: who's in charge in this house?

I have my share of relatives and students who talk about their children's behavior. I have a toddler in the throes of the "terrible twos." Some parents have control, others don't. There are days when you feel you have control and others were you're convinced that the child does. And, yes, when it comes to food, there are days when it's easier to make the begged-for pizza then broil chicken breasts, mash potatoes, and steam broccoli. Yes, I have taken my son to McDonald's (once) and Arby's (once). And, believe me, there are days when getting him to eat a single brussel sprout is WWIII, and I wonder why I bother.

But to allow someone who doesn't even know what a calorie is to dictate his own diet is absolutely irresponsible.

We close the curtains to our dining room during dinner. There's no need for the neighbors to see my son's tantrum over getting milk -- and not juice -- in his sippy cup. Nor do they need to see the battle of the chair. He wants to eat one bite then leave the table, coming back when the mood strikes him. I expect him to sit until he's finished. Believe it or not, I only have to pop him back in his chair an average of three times a meal now. When we first started letting him sit on a regular chair, my dinner got cold long before he even started to think about finishing.

I've learned to put smaller portions on his plate, since he can always have more, and Gavie's learned to sit in his seat for most of the meal. Hey, he's only 2 1/2. "Most" and an empty plate are a good start. He's trying to assert his independence, to test his limits. I'm not about to crush him, but I've no intention of throwing my hands up and saying "woe is me!"

Why are there so many parents out there who can't tell their children what needs to be done, and what are the ramifications upon our country? When a levee breaks (God forbid) a generation from now, will our country be too fat to get up and help? Will those refugees be so used to someone handing them self-esteem, direction, and everything they demand that they'll be incapable of caring for themselves in the days following the disaster? Will our politicians be too busy blaming someone else... opps. They're doing that already. Never mind that last one.

The point is this, are we -- the adults -- going to raise a generation of children who remain children? The best thing we can do for our children is to not to do things for them.

If Johnny doesn't study and fails a test, don't call the teacher and demand a retest. Let him live with the F and learn from it.

If Sally tells you that she wants fried Oreos (they exist, trust me) for a snack every day after school, tell her no. If she says you don't love her, give her that maddening parental pat answer: "It's because I love you that I'm doing this."

When Billy screams in frustration because the square peg won't go into the round hole, encourage him to find a new approach. Don't take the lid off and toss the peg in.

So adults of the world, unite! Let them scream for their junk food, accept the fact that you'll be accused of being mean and heartless, and live with the reality that you are not meant to be your child's friend 24/7.

The truth is brutal: a failure to prepare your child for a world that links weight and intelligence, that values appearance, and that demands that successful people truly think, will condemn that child to a standard of living that is lower then what you have now.

Go buy the ear plugs and start being the parent.

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