January 17, 2016

Warning: this is not a soft article!

The most common conversation that I have in my office these days is about parenting around food and devices. Somewhere in the last 15 years, many parents have found it necessary to abdicate their role as protector and teacher of their child.

This is a hard newsletter to write because it will directly offend those readers that will look in the mirror at their parenting style and find that I have attacked it. Alas, I have to write because I am a teacher and have a mandate to teach regardless of unintended consequences. These parental problems are growing in frequency even among the supposedly highly educated.

What seems to be the disconnect? Why has this happened? I think back to a fantastic history book by William Strauss, The Fourth Turning. In this multigenerational look back at American and British parenting and societal history, the authors point out that parenting styles and social styles cycle in 20 year patterns. We are a direct reflection and response to our parents and society of the time.

Often the response is vastly different than what your parents would have done. Most parents of this 0-20 year old generation were parented by an "old school" methodology. You earned your keep and there were rules to be followed. Currently, based on my clinical observations, it appears that we are heavily stuck in a cycle of fear and friendship. We are afraid to fail for our kids, afraid they will not like us, afraid to challenge them to be better lest they fail and ultimately stuck as observers of them and not teachers.

Nary a day goes by where I do not see children that are consistently exposed to inappropriate device media, poor quality food and have atrocious behavior. Paradoxically, the parents are beside themselves with wonder as to why their child is acting this way.

I have many examples of parents that will tell a child 15 times not to do something and never follow through on a consequence. Then sit there exasperated and embarrassed by the child. Within a few minutes the child is rewarded by a junk food snack in order to "shut him up". The end result is stressed out parents and children. No one wins. The friendship between the parent child dyad is inevitably dysfunctional because of the anger that results from the consistent disobedience and parental shame and guilt.

Friendship with one's child is inappropriate. A parent is not a friend. We must be parents that make the hard choices fully knowledgeable that at times we are not well received by our child. Their growth depends on us to make the choice that benefits their growth and not a short term child/parent happy moment.

To that end, parenting around food is the ultimate mess that needs fixing. Mothers are not short order cooks! The red sauce on pizza is not a serving of fruit for the day. Kids menus at restaurants should be illegal. I know these statements sound draconian, but they are true. If the quality of food ingested had no effect on human behavior, health or society, we would not be having these discussions. Healthy food is probably the most important avenue to a healthy mind and body for a child.

Without a confidant, stoic and healthy parent, a child will rarely choose healthy food. This is primarily because our genetic predispositions are rooted in wanting sugar and fat for survival. Children gravitate toward food that is sweet, fatty and salty. Unfortunately, in 2016, this is the clearest route to disease and behavioral dysfunction.

What we really need is a desire for change. We need a shift in the collective consciousness of all parents toward goal oriented parenting. The primary goal is your child's growth and that is all.

What to do:?

1) Prepare for the shift - Read a few books - The Fourth Turning by William Strauss, Nurture Shock by Po Bronson, Food Rules by Michael Pollen, The Inside Tract by Gerry Mullin

2) Take a Love and Logic parenting course and stop being your child's friend. It takes effort to learn to be an effective parent. We would never be on a soccer team without a good coach. Why do we parent without coaching????

3) You must Lead by example!!!! Put down your phones and devices and have fun with your kids. Eat according to the Food Rules of M. Pollen.

4) Tell your kids that you love them too much to give them what they want. Make them strive for things and earn a living. Self esteem is built on self work.

5) Get all unhealthy foods out of your house - period!

6) Have screen rules - no screens from Sunday night at 5pm until Friday at 5pm. All devices docked in kitchen after dinner.

7) Make sure they are getting a good night sleep.

8) Stop being afraid! You WILL make mistakes. Learn from them and forget them immediately thereafter. Parenting is hard. Be humble and have faith that you will learn and get better everyday. Your kids will grow with you. You are a team.

9) This year there will be an enlightening book for the journey of parenting, food and family. Stay tuned for publishing.

10) Love your children so much that you refuse to go back to any old patterns that do not serve them.

Dr. M