Youth delinquency is a theme that seems to crop up in my writing quite a bit and, in particular, the huge role that adults and parenting have to play in it. In fact, just a little over a month ago I published an article that suggested society, as a whole, seems to have a fixation on seriously downplaying the role of the parent in the development of their children when that development turns sour. My exact words were as follows:
“It is my opinion that our children are a collective reflection of ourselves, both as individuals, and as a whole. Most people will agree that you can tell a lot about a person based on their children — for instance, a polite child implies a polite parent — but it seems to me to be something of an odd aspect of our society and culture to completely disregard undesirable traits in children as being either an absence of good traits or something inherently individual.”
Here’s the short of it: we thank and reward parenting for the good traits that appear in children, but for bad traits and delinquencies, we’re quick to turn a blind eye and pretend parents have nothing to do with their children’s behaviour.
And now, a month later, we have an absolutely brilliant example of this parenting double-standard.
You may have already come across some of the viral news articles on 17 year-old Stacey Irvine on your own — the British teenager who ultimately collapsed and had to be hospitalized at the end of January as a result of her horrifying fast food diet.
Every day for the 15 years, Irvine ate meals consisting of “practically nothing” but chicken nuggets, fries, and the occasional slice of toast or bag of potato chips. She suffers from anemia and swelling in the veins of her tongue, and has been told by physicians that if her diet does not include some legitimate variety soon she will almost certainly die young.
Appropriately, the girl’s mother is rather alarmed with the fact that her daughter is physiologically addicted to a single food item, generally accepted by nutritionists to be categorically terrible for you in large quantities. Inappropriately, it seems to me, few people are really taking notice of the fact that a 17 year-old girl who has eaten nothing but chicken nuggets every day for the past 15 years started her addiction when she was two.
OK, a 17 year-old with bad eating habits, I get that; I was one of those. But are we really going to laugh it off and pretend this girl was breaking out of the house at two years-old to get her daily hit of “Nugs?” No, someone was there for years, fronting the bill at the Nugget Dealer du Jour.
Evonne, Stacey’s mother, “once tried starving Stacey to get her to eat more nutritious foods — but to no avail,” reports the U.K.’s Sun newspaper. And then what? Just gave up and accepted her child’s will as law? For 15 years?
I can relate to a point: Two year-olds are notoriously stubborn. I still remember, back when I was just a pipsqueak myself, the fights my own parents had with my sister to get her to eat full meals. It was a battle of wills, involving long hours sitting at the kitchen table, denying desserts, and trying out new combinations. But while I’m sure it was a tedious and difficult experience for our parents — like most things involving two year-olds — the fact of the matter is they didn’t just give it a couple shots and say “Well, we tried, but I guess she just really, really, really want nothing but chicken nuggets for the next 15 years.”
I’m somewhat reminded of a different case that shook out headlines in 2003, when Joseph and Silva Swinton were both charged and convicted of assault for raising their 15 month-old infant on a strictly vegan diet that resulted in a laundry list of health problems. They ended up spending three years in prison.
Now, mind you, tolerating your child’s addiction to chicken nuggets for 15 years may be a far cry from forcing a strict lifestyle and diet on an infant, but it stands to reason nonetheless, if the Swinton conviction tells us anything, it’s that parents have a degree of responsibility when it comes to what their children eat. Stacey Irvine may not be a case of assault, but she is certainly a case neglected, and that needs to be recognized on a broader scale:
In Canada, about 26 per cent of children between the ages of two and 17 are either overweight or obese. We do them no favours pretending it’s their own fault.
Gerald believes parents need to recognize their role in their children’s diets and health.