February 3 2012
National Review Online: The Home Front
While I agree with Greg that good parents will do their best to raise good kids, I also agree with Suzanne Venker’s observations about the state of parenthood in America. I haven’t read the book Venker recommends (though I’ll be ordering it right after I finish this post), but I think it’s pretty clear that parenting isn’t what it used to be. In fact, we have a whole generation of parents today that are doing a pretty darn good job of avoiding it.
I write on this site and others a lot about food, and I read daily about the new “it” thing to blame for childhood obesity. Blame Soda! Blame school lunches, trans-fat, sugary cereals, video games, toys in happy meals, whole milk, snack foods, Halloween, Santa, Chris Christie. . . . Hell, I’ve even read a study that blames the free market.
But what are rarely discussed among those seeking to help kids stay at a healthy weight are the absolute dearth of attentive parents these days and the fact that, increasingly, institutions (such as daycares and schools) are taking the place of parents when it comes to feeding kids.
When you consider that today a vast number of children get three meals a day at school and that some schools even provide summer feeding programs (yeah, when school’s out for the summer), it’s no wonder kids aren’t getting the messages about proper nutrition, portion control, exercise, and self-control. This role is being performed by daycare providers and lunch ladies, and they simply aren’t as effective as parents, as multiple studies have shown. Ergo, fat kids.
Those defending the continuation and expansion of school meal programs often object to criticism by reminding us that there are parents out there who just aren’t able to feed their kids. As such, this safety net simply must exist or children will starve. This line of reasoning always strikes me as absurd and vaguely racist.
Two demographics are at a higher risk for childhood obesity: poor and minority children. To many who defend these government feeding programs, poor people just don’t have the time or money to pack their kid a lunch or make simple meals at home. I’ve even been told when debating this subject that the nutrition labels on food packaging are just too hard for poor people to understand (as if a poor person standing with a bag of carrots and a tub of ice cream, doesn’t know which is more healthy). To the food nannies and regulators, poverty is simply synonymous with irresponsibility and stupidity.
By encouraging the continuation of these programs, we discourage parents from taking on this role while simultaneously encourage reliance on the government for very basic parenting responsibilities: feeding your own kids. It’s understandable: Why would parents pack a lunch when the school is more than happy to feed your kid? (The sad fact is that schools have an incentive to increase the roles of children receiving these free and reduced-price meals because of government reimbursements for these meals.)
Another important sign that parents are checking out from parenting is that it isn’t just poor children receiving school meals. There are 16 million children currently living under the poverty line yet a whopping 32 million children receive school meals every day. What makes up for those extra millions of kids getting school meals?
Clearly this isn’t a matter of need; it’s simply a fact that many parents choose not to feed their kids. Along with daycare, feeding is just one more sign that parenting is becoming a lost art.