If you have a child, you know what this is all about: candy, everywhere. Candy is seemingly distributed among children for any reason, any reason at all: a birthday party, good behavior in class, every single holiday, snack-time, church functions, a bank visit, the pharmacy, even pediatrician and dentist offices, for crying out loud!
It makes me cringe when I sit and think about how often my daughter has candy offered to her. What should be a very occasional treat is now so widespread in American culture, children are now addicted to sugar. We all need to realize our contribution to the sugar-rush that is affecting children.
The psychology behind candy pushing might be more complex, but to me it seems fairly simple. People like to make children happy – give a child a piece of candy, and hey! – you’re their new best friend. At the very least, you probably will get a smile from the giddy 5 year-old now holding an artificially-flavored sucker in her hand.
So when you truly think about it, giving candy to children seems to actually be adult self-fulfillment. It gives the adult a happy feeling because we made the child happy. “Hey,” we think to ourselves, “I’m the nice adult who lets little Sally have chocolate and she loves that about me.” Or maybe we gave the child candy to get him or her to “be quiet”. It seems to boil down to candy actually benefiting the adult, because we know it doesn’t benefit the child. So why do we keep doing it? I don’t have the answer for why our culture pushes candy.
My biggest issue is the onslaught of candy in schools. Every holiday results in candy being brought home. And one thing that really breaks my heart? Candy as an afternoon snack. I’ve seen it time and again. Nearly all young children in elementary school have an afternoon snack, but many times what they are offered to eat is shameful. Children are growing and hungry and therefore need to be satiated by wholesome food, but I can recall many occasions when my daughter was given sugar for her afternoon “snack” – marshmallows, sugar-loaded toaster pastries, gummy snacks, juice, cookies. Why is this happening again and again?
When my daughter was in kindergarten, I actually spoke to her teacher about including healthier snack options to the rotation. I offered to give her a list of affordable snacks – I even offered to help pay for healthy snacks. Her response? Defensiveness. She told me, “there is nothing wrong with treats. The kids like them. They won’t eat healthier foods.” I don’t even know where to start to pull that weak and ignorant defense apart, but I’ll just say that those statements are a perfect example of the lack of understanding about food psychology and childhood health.
The argument that children won’t eat healthier food options? Bull. Children only refuse to eat healthy food options when they know they will eventually be given something else. True, we all have foods we dislike (I’ve never enjoyed Brussels sprouts thus far in my life, and my daughter doesn’t like mushrooms) but there are lots of options for fruits and vegetables. If a child is truly hungry, he or she will eat.
I love the saying, “If you aren’t hungry enough to eat an apple, you aren’t really hungry” because it perfectly sums up the reality of childhood eating habits.
Now this is not to say that my daughter never has treats – quite the contrary. She has sweet treats several times a week from me, but I like to monitor the form of sweet as best I can (e.g. an all-natural cookie with real sugar as opposed to a processed sugar candy bar). Also, I know that if I constantly deny her sweets, she will only want them more. That’s the nature of the beast. So I offer her all-natural sweets and try to teach her that it’s not healthy to have too much sugar. I’m trying to meet my child halfway.
I know I am David fighting a sugar-coated Goliath, but I am passionate about healthy food and limits on sugar intake. I am passionate about educating myself about health and wellness. I can’t make other people agree with me or “see the light” – but I can voice my opinions and tell my story.
What is your opinion about the widespread access to candy for children?