I recently received a copy of a letter sent home to parents by the principal of an elementary school. In the letter, the principal stated that the teachers at his school try to maintain a positive environment by rewarding good behavior, sometimes with candy. He stated, “These treats cost the teachers very little, and they get a great return on their investment.” While this approach may seem beneficial in the short term, it can have longer-term consequences that many of us don’t always link together.
While the principal and the teachers see this as a small, positive reward for the children, it’s a simple reminder of how small decisions can lead to bigger issues. Over the past 40 years, overweight and diabetes have become even more prevalent at young ages. In the early 1970s, 5% of children were overweight, which has now increased to 15%. In the early 1970s, type 2 diabetes was referred to as “adult-onset diabetes.” Now pediatricians are reporting that children as young as 6 are being diagnosed with this condition.
When we look at the numbers for obesity and diabetes, it’s possible that we are raising the first generation of children born after WW II whose lifespan may decrease due to a lifestyle that puts them at very high risk of chronic disease. Here are a few key areas that impact this:
What will happen to them as they watch other children receive candy while they are given something else? Candy can become the “forbidden fruit” and may become even more desirable to these children because they can’t have it. Studies also have shown when restricted food does become freely available, the child will eat more of it than she would have if it hadn’t been restricted.
Ultimately, there are some situations that are out of our hands. However, if we do our best to educate our children about healthy choices while also teaching them that there is a certain time and place for treats, we will help them to make good choices no matter where they are. As adults, we can also help teach others that giving something unhealthy as a reward for being good can send mixed messages.
Parents, teachers, principals, and any other person who has a strong influence on your child’s life should be aware of this information. Let’s all join together to discuss more positive, alternative non-food rewards that can be offered!
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