Raising children. No other job provides infinite new challenges that often need immediate attention. Some are easy– like finding a last minute ride to practice. Others have life-long implications. The decisions we make can leave us feeling frightened, vulnerable and skeptical. Am I saying the right things? Are my choices demonstrating the behavior I want my kids to follow? What can I do to teach them how to be strong? How do I keep them safe and healthy?
Stay Strong: It’s Not My Job....Or Is it?
I often tell my kids, “It’s not my job to be your friend. My job is to keep you safe and healthy.” Failing at that means I’m a failure as a parent. Well, maybe not a complete failure. Safety certainly becomes a lot more tenuous as they become teens. Health is something I can still influence. However, as a mom of two teenage girls, this job function is constantly being tested!
Teaching kids (especially teen girls) about the right food choices is tricky. Am I saying too much about the junk food they are eating? Will my comments make them feel bad about their body image? Am I doing too little to enforce healthy eating? What message am I sending when I buy and make organic meals, but serve Doritos and Sprite at our outdoor backyard movie night?
With these questions circling around in my head, I am sure of only one thing: as the family’s primary food shopper I need to make good choices. It’s up to me to educate my family. Then underlying goal? Will they make good choices when I’m not around?
Teens and Making Good Choices
Teen decision making is highly driven by emotional connections. Understanding consequences and mastering self-control are skills they haven’t perfected. It’s not their fault. Mastering these skills usually occurs around the age of twenty. Even after twenty it’s hard. Who of us hasn’t run to the freezer for a pint of Ben & Jerry’s after a torturous breakup? Food and emotions go hand in hand, at nearly every age.
When my 16-year-old started making money, the first thing she did was spend it on junk food. I did the same thing. Taco Bell and Burger King were my favorite high school hangouts when I had little money and a LOT of time to kill. Today’s affordable, “fun” options like the McPick 2 meal sat McDonalds, 4 for $4 meals at Wendy’s, dollar cravings menu at Taco Bell, Frappu-you-name-it at Starbucks, are enticing options for teens.
How can we counteract the feel-good messages that having this month’s Frappuccino deliver? It’s hard. I’ve looked at the five million flavor options available and I’m wondering why I don’t run out right now and get one! According to the internet, they are perfect for a date, studying, after a workout, any holiday, on the go, kicking back with friends…the options are endless! I’m emotionally connected and my brain is plenty old enough to master self-control (well, most the time – when margaritas aren’t involved!) If emotions are driving our kids’ choices and we want them to make good ones, we need to figure out how to make real food matter.
Remember that job function I talked about earlier -- keeping our kids healthy? Fast food has consequences. Teens might not fully understand them. We do. The only way I’ve figured out how to exert my influence is to try to make healthy choices and replace junk food choices with healthier, organic options. It’s a slow process, but I’m happy to report it’s starting to have an impact.
The Sincerest Form of Flattery
When my 16-year-old returned from the store with shredded cheese for her Dad this weekend, this happened...
Dad pulls out ingredients for his salad and asks where the cheese is. She pulls out the organic cheddar cheese I’ve been buying for a couple months now. (Yay! My actions are making a difference. Go Mom! Right? Well, not so fast.) My husband says, “Oh you got more organic cheddar cheese. We already have two packages. I wanted the shredded Mexican blend.” My daughter replies, “Oh, you want the cheese filled with chemicals? It said shredded cheddar on the list. Next time tell me you want chemicals.”
Three Tips for Taking the Healthy Food Journey with your Teens:
Start small. Don’t eliminate every chemically-filled food product in your home at once. The consequences will be dire and you will have no impact on your teens. Find a couple options at a time to introduce/replace. Ease them into it.
Give your teens control. Go through the organic section of the grocery store, or visit the organic market together, or have them help you grow organic produce at home. Give them the power to choose a healthier option. If they are empowered and feel they have a say, they feel more invested and it will be easier to convert them.
Reward healthy choices. Every time your teen makes an organic choice over junk food, reward the choice – but try not to make the reward food related. It could be putting a quarter in a jar in the kitchen to save up for a favorite sweater or piece of jewelry. Give them an extra 15 minutes -- phone time, later curfew, sleeping in time. Movie tickets is another great choice. Find an activity or purchase that your teen highly values and come up with a clever reward system to entice them.
These questions (and many more) led me to create Raising STRONG Girls (RSG), an educational and inspirational destination blog for mothers of teenage girls. RSG’s community offers anecdotes and expert resources to help embolden teenage girls – focusing on building strength in mind, body and spirit as we, and they, navigate life’s toughest developmental years.
Explore more posts on Raising Our Daughters: