Our oldest boy who just turned 6 recently finished his 1st experience with Elementary school as a Kindergartner. We immediately liked the school and loved his teacher since orientation night. It's a very clean and tidy school; well maintained and filled with the kind of caring faces you'd love to see your kids learning from every day. Our boy always came home happy with his day's experiences, always looking forward to his next day. He's learned a ton in his 1st year of schooling and we couldn't be happier with the outcome of his 1st year, except for one very annoying little factor; JUNK FOOD is everywhere!
School of Sweets
What do sweets have to do with his schooling you might ask? Sweets have so much to do with school...I feel like the cafeteria and school room closets are lined with sugary treats for all to enjoy. Why does this bug me so much? It bugs me because my husband and I do everything in our power to try to limit our children's sugar consumption as much as possible and ever since our boy started Kindergarten, he's eaten more sugary treats and junk food in a weeks' time in school than we give him in a couple months.
You might be saying to yourself right now, well, so what? What does it hurt? So what if they eat a few sweets here and there at school. I can see it and experience the difference first hand when my kid gets off school. On days when I picked him up from school when he seemed mellow getting into the car, things would switch quickly into a wild fit in the car after one of his little brothers asked him a simple question or two about his day, I would calmly ask my son, "Did you have any treats at school today?" The reply was always yes and he'd proceed to tell me exactly what treats he'd had, sometimes adding that he had extra in his backpack for later. Then we'd proceed home and the crying fit would escalate to kicking and screaming all the way home. It was like my kid was going through "withdrawals" from the junk food he ate a couple hours back. Most non "treat" days we'd go home perfectly calm and collected. You can't tell me that's simply a coincidence.
The more sugar laden food we eat the more we want it. It's addictive. We're getting our kids addicted to sugar from the start of school even if you're a parent like me trying to keep it to a minimum. And don't forget, it's not just in candy or desserts, it's in processed food and junk food like pizza and chips. That's how the big dogs making the big money in these commercial companies selling funny ads on TV are making their big bucks; by lacing their products with sugar that's getting us and our kids sick. They could care less about you and your health, they just want you addicted to their products and they're doing a might good job of it.
We've Done it Too!
We're all about rewarding children for good behavior and good work, but there's no reason every single reward has to be a sweet treat or junk food. That's at least what's happening in our school, so I'm sure it's happening in many more across the country. I admit, there were times in the past that we treated our kids to some small sweet treats for potty training (we were desperate, potty training 2 yr old twins and an older toddler almost at the same time), but we realized that was not the right move and switched to stickers which they were actually even happier with and they got trained faster. I stepped away from the candy treat for potty training after realizing the kids would give me even a "sprinkle" for another single piece of candy. They became addicted to the sweet reward, but weren't really fulfilling their "duty" for it. I knew that habit had to stop and it did. Our kids never even threw a fit for switching.
The Truth: Like it or Not
Why do kids need sugary sweets for just making it to school and doing the work they're supposed to be doing anyway? Can't stickers or simple words of praise suffice for their small yet significant successes? This is instilling the wrong message to kids regarding food and eating; it becomes what seems like an innocent reward at the time to a potentially dangerous emotional attachment. Not only will the child not work very hard for that reward (they'll only do the minimum) but it could set them up for the unpleasant and dangerous road toward childhood obesity and even diabetes. Here's just one article on how food treats do not work for kids. It still blows my mind how this hasn't sunk into the thought process of the general public. I know I won't be liked by some for saying this and I might even lose some followers for this harsh stance on sweets and junk, but it's worth it to me to get the word out, just to possibly save a young child or few from future misery; dealing with health issues, weight issues, needing medication to get by or even surgery. If you don't think this issue is that big of a deal and still think it's not harming your child feeding them desserts, juice (I'm talking the processed stuff you buy at the store) and sweets every day, please check out this documentary
I just love what great cooks like Jamie Oliver are doing to fight this war on food and nutrition, especially in the U.S. If you feel as strongly as I do that big changes need to be done in educating kids properly on food and nutrition, please check this out and sign it.
Now you might be thinking that we're just mean for being so strict about our kids' sugar consumption, after all they are kids...but we are not tyrants. We let out kids have cake on their Birthday or anyone else's Birthday, so please don't get me wrong, but there has to be a balance. Sweets or junk food on a regular basis will have it's consequences. We know that sugar is the main cause of childhood obesity in this country. We treat sugary treats just as that, as "treats." To us treats are supposed to be occasional and "out of the ordinary." There is not a week that goes by at school that we didn't hear about the sweet treats our boy got at school; averaging 2-3 times per week. Those treats are ranging from cupcakes and doughnuts to juice and candy; whether it be from teachers or other parents.
Junk for Excellence!
So, my question to parents, teachers and principles is, Why not reward kids for good behavior and good work done with educational rewards instead of sugary sweets? Doesn't that just make more sense, especially when they're in a learning environment? Our son was awarded a "Pillar of Excellence" award at school for displaying "Fairness." The reward all the kids received after being handed the a certificate by the principle was doughnuts and orange juice. Besides the fact that that combination of orange juice and doughnuts is just awful together (come on now...) why couldn't they give the kids a small book or maybe "credit" for let's say....a "Scholastic" book instead of doughnuts and juice? Why is it that sugar and junk food have to be the reward at a school? It just doesn't make sense to me that that is the reward always.
Junk over Education
Another program the kindergarten class did was reading 10-15 minutes each night with a parent, so many nights per month. The reward at the end of the month for completion was for a free personal pan pizza from a well known commercial brand pizza company. Yes, I know this is because this company decided to sponsor this program to make more money, but tell me why school book companies or some sort of educational company can't sponsor such a program. How about a small book or credit toward a book as a reward? Why are schools just allowing junk food companies to sponsor such programs. They're only doing it to get your kid addicted to their food and to make more money. None of that benefits your child!
My Junk Food Rant
If you've stuck around for the conclusion of this post, I thank you! I know this post sounds like a rant, well...it is, it really is and I don't take this matter lightly. Writing this piece made me even get emotional at times thinking about the kids I've seen in person and on screen fighting battles resulting from this subject.
I am passionate about food. I love food and trust me, I even love junk food once in a while, but all in moderation. I know that a heavy intake of junk food especially starting at an earlier age, 9-10 months out of the year is damaging to kids' systems, not only physically, but mentally. We're allowing our kids to get hooked on junk. We're impeding their learning process because the junk food is making them sleepy, cranky and hungrier for more junk.
I don't have a solution to this and don't have the means to make a big change in this situation, but I can help spread the word with my little voice right here on my site, possibly reaching those of you reading this from around the world. Maybe some day I can figure out a way to spread the word more, but right now, right here, I can share my rant to those of you curious enough to listen and hope it makes a difference in someone else's life; especially a little kiddo's who is just trying to enjoy life to the fullest before they have to stress about adult-type problems. No child should be forced to deal with an unavoidable health issue like Type II diabetes, hypertension or obesity due to us adults not teaching him or her better. We can do better!
Thanks for listening and please feel free to share your comments.
If you want to learn more about the subject or take action here are some good links: