A father in San Diego, California, is angry that his daughter, age 11, spent $120 on junk food at her school over the course of 4 weeks. The girl says she was buying chips, cinnamon rolls, and ice cream sandwiches for a dollar each. The father says that the school never informed him that this type of food was available during lunch.
Hold up. Wait a minute.
Call me old-fashioned (or don’t, because I already have issues with feeling old these days), but when I was in junior high, I never had that kind of money. My parents paid for my school lunches by check at the beginning of each month. I was never given any money to purchase my own food. My question for the father is: what is your 11-year-old doing with that much money?
And, as someone who makes a living working with adolescents, I feel it is my duty to warn the father that there’s this crazy new thing the kids are doing called growing up. While growing up, kids are known to do such things as: hang out with friends, go out to eat, and attend parties. They may, in fact, be exposed to such abominations as soda, candy, cookies and, eventually, alcohol. And don’t even get me started on the exposure to junk food found at those evil things we call stores.
But there are things you, as a parent, can do to combat the perils your child will face while growing up. Talk to them, have honest conversations about health and budgets and, I don’t know, maybe don’t give your 11-year-old that much money? Teach your daughter how to make wise choices, monitor those choices, and be ready to reinforce the right decisions and give consequences for those that are undesirable.
Now, don’t get me wrong. As an educator, I feel our schools absolutely have a responsibility to teach our youth to be responsible, well-rounded members of society, and certainly there is a need to teach and promote healthy eating. Which is why the USDA recently put new requirements in place that require students to choose a 1/2 cup of fruits and 1/2 of cup of vegetables for their meals. Dark greens must also be available.
This particular school is meeting (exceeding, they say) these requirements. They even have a system in place where the parents can go online and see what their children are eating as well as limit their spending.
So, while I agree that the school bears some responsibility in this matter, I would argue that they have supports and programs in place to help parents monitor and regulate what their children are choosing to eat. And the operative word here is choose.
As kids grow older, they have more freedom. With that freedom comes many opportunities, and it is a collective effort between the school and parents (but mostly parents, because the school’s job is to teach academics, not core values) to ensure our youth are making the right choices. In this case, I feel the father is not justified in shifting the blame to the school. At some point, we all need to accept personal responsibility for the choices in our lives, and as parents, we need to accept personal responsibility for teaching our children to be accountable for their choices.
Personally, I think the father is being ridiculous. His daughter will be exposed to junk food (and worse) as she grows older. Instead of placing blame elsewhere, my hope is that he begins to guide his daughter on healthy eating and spending, and realize that you cannot control every environment to which your child is exposed, but you can certainly guide them to make healthy choices.