I am quite confident that if I were to confiscate all of the candy my kids have received at birthday parties in goodie bags I would have enough to feed trick-or-treaters for years to come. Okay, that may be a bit of an exaggeration, but it seems my kids are coming home with bigger and fuller goodie bags with every party they attend. And for now, it's not the size of the goodie bag that troubles me, it's all the candy inside the goodie bag. A birthday party without a goodie bag is well... well, it just doesn't happen, at least not often. Whenever I try to round up my kids to leave a party before it is officially over their response is, "Dad, we have to wait until they give out the goodie bags." For whatever reason, this is the new trend, new in that I never received a goodie bag when I went to parties when I was growing up.
Critics of my criticism might say that unless your child is attending birthday parties frequently, the treats in the goodie bags are not enough to do any real harm. I disagree, if for no other reason than this: what are we teaching our kids? How is this practice shaping their expectations and attitudes? And what if your child knows enough people through school, involvement in softball or soccer, Sunday school or scouts that they are invited to frequent parties? Add to that the candy kids are given at school, day care, etc., in celebrating Halloween, Easter, Christmas, Fourth of July and various other holidays throughout the year. It adds up. Kids begin to expect it; it becomes the norm, not the occasional treat. Has your child ever been rewarded for a good week in school by going to the treasure box? Wouldn't a more honest name for this be the candy chest?
I fully support using reinforcements to motivate certain behaviors, however it is counterproductive to reinforce a behavior you desire, such as doing well in school for the week, with a reinforcer such as candy which aside from tasting good has nothing but negative health consequences. Perhaps a better choice would be to fill the treasure boxes of the world with small action figures, rubber balls, silly bands, face paint, crayons, pencils, pens or markers; almost anything but candy.
When going through the drive-through at the bank, has the carrier ever returned to your car with lollipops for the kids? What is the rationale behind that, just to make them happy? The kids were probably fine to begin with. There is absolutely no justifiable reason for this unsolicited gift of candy, particularly in light of its long-term consequences and the fact that eating just one piece of candy can set in motion a chain of metabolic events likely to make the child crave even more candy.
This whole idea of brightening a child's day or rewarding them for good behavior by giving them candy needs to be looked at, carefully.
Why my concern? With record numbers of children being overweight, and type 2 diabetes, a disease once called adult onset, now being diagnosed in teenagers and young adults, it is not in our children's best interest to make candy and other high fat, high sugar snacks so accessible. One in three children born in 2000 are expected to develop diabetes in their lifetime. It is irresponsible and shows a lack of forethought as to what may lie ahead for these children.
By far, the most successful and inexpensive means of maintaining normal weight children, teenagers and young adults is not by dieting or following any weight loss routine, but by never allowing them to become overweight to begin with.
When a child is overweight or obese, putting them at great risk for a lifetime of health problems and self esteem issues, the child is not to blame. Young children and even most teenagers are not going to stop and think of the long-term consequences of poor eating habits such as an over consumption of foods high in sugar and fat. It is primarily the parent's responsibility to see that their children are eating nutritious meals and avoiding more than small amounts of candy and snacks high in fat. Coaches as well as Girl and Boy Scout leaders can also be a big help in making healthier snacks available at their functions.
I wholeheartedly encourage hosts of celebrations and parties; such as Day Cares, Schools, Boy and Girl Scouts, Athletic teams, etc. to consider far more carefully the candies and goodies, etc that they give out at functions such as fall festivals, Halloween and Christmas parties, 4th of July parades, and Birthday parties. Alternative goodies, besides something to eat that's full of sugar or fat, something that is ideally not eaten would be best. After all, wouldn't we all be better off if we sought out pleasure in ways besides eating?
The next time you find yourself in the middle of planning the school Christmas party or hosting your eight-year-old's birthday party, take a major step at curbing a national crisis, childhood obesity. Challenge your creativity and come up with a super fun, healthy alternative to the goodie bag and kids deriving pleasure from eating excessive sweets.
Just imagine if you are successful, other moms, dads and organizers might follow your lead. Yes, you could actually make a big difference.