By Julie Samrick
I served as a juror last week and along with eleven of my peers found the defendant guilty. The young man had been charged with drug crimes, yet it was still a tragedy to see him squandering his life away. I kept thinking of my own sons, ages eleven and nine, and how someone just a little older than they are could already be so far down the wrong path.
Whether it be internet use, bullying at school, peer pressure, drugs and alcohol, sex, you name it, most parents are concerned about their kids and want to help them make the right choices.
I went to a presentation given by a District Attorney in my county several months ago about cyber safety and the number one thing I took away from it was to keep talking to our kids.
There is no way we will get ahead of cyber predators’ savvy skills or bar children from accessing every questionable website or app out there. Instead, she kept repeating, “Talk to your kids and talk some more.”
Recently news circulated on the web about a mom receiving a “fat letter” from her 11-year-old daughter’s Florida school. Apparently her muscular, athletic sixth grader has a Body Mass Index of 22 and that, to school officials, was alarming. I asked the executive director of the Summit Eating Disorders and Outreach Program about this to which she said, “As a parent and the wife of a teacher, I understand that the intention in sending these letters is to educate or support families by making them aware of their child’s health and wellness. If the intention is to provide support, then we need to do more than just send a confusing, incomplete letter.
At our treatment center, we never use the BMI – it was never intended to be an assessment tool, and it does not take into consideration bone structure, cultural differences or muscle mass. As a provider in this field for more than 10 years and someone who has done extensive prevention work in schools, I am well-aware of the challenges associated with finding a cost-effective way to measure a child’s wellness. But this is not the tool. In that sense, it is taking a shotgun approach to a complex problem.
I recommend that we educate children about what is normal in terms of weight, puberty and changes during adolescence. I would also take a thorough evaluation of what a typical week looks like in terms of family meals and activity. Finally, I recommend identifying activities the family and child actually love. Goals would focus on increasing cooking together, family meals and engaging in a diverse array of activities most days of the week. And most importantly, drop the diet-based, good food/bad food talk, and if there is a scale in the home, throw it out.
The most important thing is to promote balance across the board, from food to exercise, from academics to downtime. The messages that should be promoted are that we need food for fuel and food for fun, and we need to engage in activities that we love. It may sound simple, but given our stressful and overly scheduled lives, trying to incorporate these simple things is no small task. It’s important to support families and children without shaming them, and make goals simple and achievable in order to promote sustainable change.” It boils down to the same theme: communication.
My hairdresser has a son in 12th grade and he is often my sage, parenting counsel. “Parents need to keep talking to their kids,” he often says. “When they’re little they may share things that seem mundane, but they’re not mundane to them- they’re really important issues. When parents brush off that talk, before long those kids will stop talking.”
I sometimes expect to sit down when I’m ready and my kids will spew their lives to me. Though some kids are that way, mine aren’t and neither are many others. Instead, try doing an activity with your children and if you have more than one, try special alone time with each child. It’s amazing how they start to talk. Just last week I jogged around our neighborhood with my daughter while she rode her bike. Within minutes, she started to share the latest social dynamics of second grade, which she hadn’t done yet this school year. Instead of trying to solve her problems or chime in too much, I listened and tried not to act surprised, which is another tool to having your kids open up. If you act shocked, they often withdrawal.
The answers aren’t always so crystal clear, but communication with our kids is the best defense against bad choices. Keep talking, and then keep talking some more.
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