By Kasey Edwards
It's been a bad week for picking on kids - especially overweight ones.
First came a repulsive fat-shaming video on 'Slate' called Dear Prudence: A girl with an endless appetite. In response to a letter from a "concerned" mother about the eating habits of her daughter's friend, agony aunt Prudie thought it would be helpful - funny even - to portray the little girl in question as a pig and her parents as tubs of lard.
Next came news out of the US of children being given homework assignments in which they were to circle the fat people in a picture. Another school weighs its students and has them taking letters home to parents with their BMI score.
The crowning glory of kiddy fat shaming, though, was Australia 'Biggest Loser's' paid advertorial on 'Mamamia', where Jo Abi advocates putting kids on diets, and where the show promises to focus on children more in this year's show.
And let's not have any guff about 'The Biggest Loser' being "inspirational" or about health. It exists for one thing, and one thing only: to increase network ratings, often at the expense of the contestants' health.
The show has been slammed by health professionals and contestants alike, with the 'Sydney Morning Herald' reporting horror stories of trainers suggesting contestants stop drinking for up to 36 hours before being weighed, and celebrating dangerous and unrealistic weight-loss goals of up to 17 kilograms in one week.
Former contestant John Jeffery quit the show in 2008 because he feared someone would die. He wasn't being over-dramatic either. As it is, several contestants have been hospitalised for dehydration and Dr Jenny O'Dea, Associate Professor of Health and Nutrition Education at the University of Sydney, has warned against some of its practices, such as making morbidly obese people run 10 kilometres in the summer heat.
"Dehydration combined with heat exhaustion will kill you," Dr O'Dea said.
Add to this the psychological damage of being humiliated and bullied in front of an entire nation (why else do contestants have to strip off for weigh-ins, other than for us to be collectively appalled and amused by their bodies?) - and the very real possibility of contestants regaining the weight, and the associated shame. One contestant even blames 'The Biggest Loser' for triggering an eating disorder.
It's bad enough that we fat-shame adults for our entertainment, whilst pretending to be "concerned", but setting our fat-phobic sights on children is indefensible.
'The Biggest Loser's' fat-shaming-kiddies ratings bonanza is being promoted as a way to stop bullying. And hey, I understand that nobody wants their children to suffer. I also get that we live in a society where the parents of fat children are considered to be negligent.
But passing on our own food and body anxieties, and getting in first with the bullying by forcing children into diets and extreme exercise regimes isn't the solution.
Anyone who has ever tried to stick to a diet knows that the deprivation is soul-destroying and the self-restraint is all but impossible to maintain. When adults can't stick to calorie-restriction diets, how on earth do we expect children to?
Actress and comedian Arabella Weir explains in 'Does My Bum Look Big In This?' that denying children food is the fastest way to turn them into compulsive closet eaters with a terrible self-esteem.
"My parents believed they were helping me by pointing out to me that I ought not to waltz through life thinking it was ok to be me. They thought they were warning me of the pitfalls," writes Weir. "As I was, I wasn't good enough. I must learn denial in order to reach a better me, and one more pleasing to my parents. The only trouble was that that's quite a tall, if not unreachable, order for a child."
The idea of a child going hungry is barbaric. It's also totally unnecessary. If we weren't all so caught up on the aesthetics of our children's bodies rather than their health, we would never even consider it, let alone put it on prime-time TV.
Despite what the advertising industry and a whole stream of self-appointed TV "experts" tell us, skinny and healthy are not the same thing. We should not be aspiring to raise "skinny" children; surely our job is to raise "healthy" children.
If we encourage our kids to be active, to play outside and to eat healthy food because it's good for their growing bodies, bones and brains, and not because they need to hit some arbitrary figure on a weight chart, then we have done our job.
More than ever, we need to be teaching our children that the goal should be the process of living a health life and not the outcome of meeting a commercially-driven standard of beauty.
Once children internalise that their BMI is a measure of their goodness and self-worth, then we have set them up for a lifetime of failure and self-contempt. We have taught them that they should trust some arbitrary external measure rather than their bodies and their own judgment. And we have taught them that our love is conditional; that we will we be happier, prouder and more loving if they become something other than what they are.
What children need to hear from their parents, more than anything, is that we pick their team, and not team 'Biggest Loser'.
- Kasey Edwards is the best-selling author of four books, '30-Something and Over It', '30-Something and The Clock is Ticking', 'OMG! That's Not My Husband', and 'OMG! That's Not My Child'. www.kaseyedwards.com
"Despite what the advertising industry and a whole stream of self-appointed TV "experts" tell us, skinny and healthy are not the same thing. We should not be aspiring to raise "skinny" children; surely our job is to raise "healthy" children"
Claire Perry, a Tory MP, has been campaigning for tougher internet controls on pornography and age verification of internet users. The Prime Minister has agreed to some stricter rules for households with children but stopped short of an automatic ban on pornography unless the user opts in.
It comes after new resesarch from Australia found the average age at which children first watch pornography is just 11
Australian researchers Maree Crabbe and David Corlett said children were turning to adult films because schools were not handling the positive aspects of sex.
The research found 88 per cent of scenes in pornographic films showed an element of physical aggression, with most directed at the female participant.
Pupils also appeared to believe that sexual practices shown in porn were normal features of sexual relationships.
The researchers said pupils should be taught how to evaluate porn in sex education lessons.
Last week, a separate survey found more young people were having sex under the age of consent. Among 16 to 24-year-old women, more than a quarter had lost their virginity under the age of 16.
3. The Connection Makes the Difference
The reason that I was able to get through to even the most difficult student (as well as my fiery toddler when she's upset) is because I take the time every day to forge that relationship with them. Spend at least ten minutes each day tuning everything else out but your child and then shower her with love and attention. Your connection will be strong and her responsiveness to your requests will be greater.
Remember that favorite teacher you never wanted to disappoint? Well, it's time to start sprinkling some of that flavor onto your parent/child relationship. The great thing is it works both ways.
4. Child Acting Out? Put Your Ears On!
Remember, children are new to this great big world and they don't always know how to deal with the situations and emotions contained within. When your child starts to inexplicably act out, remember that she needs you more than ever. Start listening, really listening to her and help her express what she's feeling. After the emotions have subsided a bit, you can then try to come up with and explain an acceptable way to channel that emotion or feeling for when it happens again.
5. Be the Rock
No I don't mean the wrestler, I mean create safety and calm for your child. You don't want your child to be afraid of you or label you as someone who flies off the handle. If your child can safely come to you and share their hopes, dreams, fears and everything in between, you will be able to help guide and steer her through rough times. If you appear unavailable or scary, your child will lean on someone else instead.
6. Don't Be a Broken Record
I had a mom who nagged, and frankly, I hated it. I quickly taught myself how to tune her out and during my teen years, we didn't seem to like each other very much. For recurring problems which make us feel like we are saying the same things over and over again, find a more creative solution. If you're repeating yourself time and time again, your children have stopped listening by now anyway.
If she has a messy room, try giving her some organizational tools to help clean it up easily.
If she has a messy closet and has cleaned it up recently, hang a world's cleanest closet sign on their closet door. How can you go back to being messy with that hanging there?
If your children are always forgetting to do their homework, make a standard family "table time" where common chores like homework, paying bills, and making grocery lists, are all done together.
7. Give Your Child the Power
Children need to learn from a very young age the concept of cause and effect. Instead of them thinking that you are making every decision for them and that you are punishing them, they need to realize that the decisions are actually their own. And with decisions come consequences. Consequences can be good or they can be bad, but they will always occur. Every cause has an effect and your child is in control of that. This is a lesson that will serve them well and will teach them to reflect on their own behavior and how they could have chosen to do things differently.
8. Above All Else, Be Consistent
This is by far the rule of all rules in my opinion, and it doesn't just apply to teaching or to parenting. You have to talk the talk and walk the walk. Do what you say you're going to do, or don't say it at all. Empty threats undermine your authority and make your child lose respect for you. Never say it if you won't do it and never forget to follow through if a line has been crossed. Children crave consistency. In an unpredictable world, your child wants to be able to depend on what you'll do and say at all times. If you begin to make idle threats, you will begin to lose that special relationship with your child. I've seen it time and time again...a child will push you and push you because she is merely seeking a boundary. Do everyone a favor and give it to her, each and every day.
This applies to both mom and dad. Consistency must occur between parents as well as within each parent. If dad's a pushover and mom always has to be the enforcer, both the spousal relationship and the parental relationship will suffer.
Well, there you have it...words of wisdom from a woman who became a teacher first and a mother second. What parenting tips did I leave out? Do you agree or disagree with any of the above? Don't hold back, I'd love to hear your thoughts!
_ KindyNews is a fun and interesting news publication for parents of kids aged seven and under. It is also the place to go for all your eco friendly baby product needs!