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Should Parents Be Charged For Their Children's Obesity?

02/20/2015 03:22 pm ET | Updated Apr 22, 2015
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Last week, I did something for the first time (which is unusual for someone who has lived for seven decades). I called in to a talk radio show. I hadn't planned to do so, but I tuned in while in my car to an issue that made me react strongly. There was a judge on the show who was asking for opinions about charging parents if their children were deemed obese, and the parents did not correct their weight. This is what a Senator Rodriguez from Puerto Rico was suggesting should happen. Having been an educator for over 40 years, I know that punitive measures rarely work for children. As a mother and grandmother, I have found that punishing rarely accomplishes what we want. I believe that this is true for all people, young and old.

I agree that obesity is an important health issue for everyone. It is documented that heart disease, diabetes and other complications of obesity can affect lives greatly, but who is responsible for our children? I think parents and teachers are those with whom children spend most of their time, so let us begin there. Parenting, for the most part, does not come with a handbook. Becoming a parent involves some of the most complicated of life's challenges. We have to decide what is best for these helpless little people that we have created. What are the best choices for food? How do we deal with emotional outbursts (theirs and ours)? When do we begin to set limits for them, and what should those limits be? How do we learn to interact with the classroom teacher? (See my book, 10 Ways to Get The Most From Your Child's Teacher). On and on we go, striving to be the best parent we can be. In all of my years in the classroom, I never saw a parent who intentionally aimed to do the wrong thing for their offspring!

As an educator at elementary and college levels, as well as a facilitator of countless teacher and parent workshops, I know one thing that is true. We ALL need to be educated in many ways. As a young parent, I was constantly getting input from other parents and reading all the current how-to books. As a teacher, I constantly went to teacher education programs. Public school districts spend hundreds of thousand of dollars on printing new books every five or 10 years. Administrators spend countless hours debating salary increases. However, are we as a community or state or country spending enough money on educating everyone about how to maintain a healthy life style which includes what foods are the best to eat?

I contend that when people are rewarded in some way for what they do, their behavior can change profoundly. There is nothing to be gained in punitive acts on any level. Certainly, charging a modest family if their child doesn't fit into a weight chart is both punitive and foolish in every way. Let teachers learn how to integrate health and food values into their curriculum. Let parents have parent education evenings on how to model healthy life styles for their children. Then the rewards lie in the results of their efforts... healthy children!

I was happy to hear the commentator agree with me. It felt like a positive outcome, but I intend to follow Senator Rodriguez to see if he understands how important a subject he has approached! Hooray for those who are one step ahead and already take this subject seriously. Let's hear it for those young mothers who are endlessly trying to create a healthy atmosphere within their families. It can be done!