Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Flintstone Vitamins: Why Your Kid Isn't Going to College

It all starts there, with the flavored, chewy, gummy candy vitamins. I can understand making them chewable, since many small children are not able to swallow a pill. But why must they also be delicious? And then we have the bubble-gum flavored cough syrup, the chocolatey drinks to replace actual nutritious food, and a variety of websites devoted to helping parents feed their children.


When i was a kid, we had a rule: You have to try everything once. If you don't like it, you don't have to finish it, and you never have to try it again. But you have to try it. Our parents didn't make a big deal about it, and if we didn't like it, they stuck to their word: we didn't have to eat it. But we had to have some of every food group at least once a day. They were diligent and creative about finding fresh fruits and veggies that we liked, and they were careful to set a good example by eating lots of healthy, delicious foods.

I remember being appalled and a little embarrassed when the neighbor's kid threw a temper tantrum when asked to eat pizza with "green stuff" on it. (The "green stuff" was oregano.) Her parents picked off the dozen or so tiny flakes and then calmed her down so that she could eat her dinner. When my cousin was little, she didn't like cheese. So at a restaurant, when her parents ordered pizza for her, they were careful to say, "She wants plain, regular pizza," which of course meant cheese. My cousin never knew the difference.

If your kid is ten and doesn't want to eat broccoli, that's one thing. You can make him a different vegetable, or tell her to eat a fruit instead. Or, as many crafty parents have suggested, you can simply chop the vegetables finely or puree them and then hide them in spaghetti sauce or a casserole and the kid will never know the difference.

But if we are talking about a three-year-old, make them eat their damned vegetables. You don't have to yell, you don't have to cry, you don't have to threaten or bribe. But you are the parent, and if your kid doesn't respect you when you ask them to eat one bite of carrots, you'd better never let them have your car keys.

If your child refuses to take cough syrup and you give them liquid bubblegum, they have learned that all difficulties in life can be passed over in favor of something delicious. If you then reinforce this lesson with gummy vitamins and chocolate milk meal replacement shakes, your kid is never going to college.

My sister texted me this morning to tell me that she will be taking Honor's English next year. For her class, she is required to read three books. And she gets to pick the books.

I don't know if there is a list that they have to choose from. But i've seen these book lists (even the ones for private schools), and while they do contain a number of classic texts, they also tend to include pop-culture favorites. Now, don't get me wrong: i love Harry Potter and Ella Enchanted as much as the next nerd. But i am under no illusions as to their fitness for a school curriculum. I think that kids should be required to read a certain amount of the really difficult stuff and taught to appreciate it. I think they should be encouraged to find books that they love and to read them incessantly (especially since this will only make it easier for them to read the hard stuff). But if a student doesn't want to read Shakespeare, you can't substitute Twilight and call it an education just because Stephanie Meyer makes Shakespeare references. But this is what your students will expect from you, because when they were six and didn't want to eat spinach, Mom gave them chocolate milk and gummy cartoon characters.

If our parents and teachers can't be adults and enforce certain restrictions and requirements, how can we expect the children in their care to learn to be adults and to set their own guidelines? Having someone else set boundaries for them teaches children self-control, something they will badly need in college and beyond.

Guess what: not everything tastes like candy. Not everything is as much fun to read as the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (which, by the way, i was surprised to discover was pretty great). But you still have to eat your peas, and you still have to read Shakespeare. Get over it.

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