Kids, Candy, Junk Food and Stomach Aches

cheeseburger and friesWe just got back from a ten day holiday in Southern California, a late spring break that tied into the Easter vacation and gave me an excuse to take the kids out to meet up with my sister (who flew down from Alaska) and visit Papa, always a good thing. We’re experienced SoCal travelers so I already had my contacts lined up to arrange adventures at Disneyland, Seaworld San Diego and the San Diego Zoo, along with a long weekend at the Kona Kai resort and a really great 2014 Ford Escape loaner.

In this piece I just want to explore the decision making process of the American teen as demonstrated by my own 14yo son G-.

For a few days before we left Colorado he’d been complaining of a stomach ache and even missed a day of school that last pre-holiday week because he felt so poorly. It would have been extraordinarily difficult to delay our departure (too many wheels in motion) but the morning we were heading to the airport I really did wonder if he was going to make it or not. I started to formulate a “plan b” where he’d spend that night with his grandma and fly out to join us a day or two later. But he rallied enough to do well on the plane flight. It’s the first time I’ve felt the need to point out the air sickness bag to one of my children before a flight. Ugh.

Once we arrived, however, it was clear he was still not feeling very well, so we laid low in our Dana Point condo, I found some meds and made some very mild foods suitable for a queasy stomach. Seemed like a mild case of food poisoning (a problem far, far more common than you probably realize) which I’ve dealt with before, and after a day or two he was feeling better.

My Anaheim contacts came through and we were heading to Disneyland. For that day he definitely rallied — I mean, what kid doesn’t love Disneyland?? — and we had a great time, almost 13-hours at the parks, though there were moments I could tell he wasn’t feeling 100%.

It was at Disneyland that his teen boy impulse control proved his downfall.

He made bad eating decision after bad eating decision. For lunch? A plate of garlic fries. No burger, no soup, just fries, even as I suggested a variety of milder and healthier options on the menu. When his little sister got some cotton candy, he had a significant portion of that too (to her consternation, but that’s another story!) And on and on, eating foods as if he had an iron stomach when he clearly was still a bit under the weather.

The next morning, no surprise, his stomach ache was back, and really didn’t leave until we finally returned home six days later. Now he’s feeling fine, fortunately, as I was starting to wonder if it was time to visit the doc, but his stomach ache and resultant behavior did much to adversely affect our entire holiday, including having to cancel both an arranged Pirates dinner in Anaheim and our visit to the San Diego Zoo.

What I marvel at is how his choices were based on the hedonistic pursuit of momentary pleasure — instant gratification — even knowing that the longer term effect would be unpleasant. He’s always had food allergies and for years when he was younger we minimized gluten and dairy to try and help. Now he’s old enough at 14 to make his own food choices and experience the consequences, but still…

Then again, how many adults do you see doing the same thing every Saturday night? Okay short-term decisions but terrible long-term ones. Sunday morning hangover, I’m looking at you.

Since I know someone’s going to tell me that I should have said “no” to his food choices or ordered for him while we were out, let me state here that I believe that as a teen the proverbial ship’s already left the dock and my role as parent is to guide, to remind and suggest, not to make and enforce a vast number of rules. In fact, I think for food, it’s easier to let logical consequences do the work: “if you eat this, you’ll feel like that, but you can make that decision if you want.”

Still, a real drag to watch him alternate between being so sick that a bowl of miso soup was all he could manage and seeing him pick the junkiest of foods, the least healthy, the sweet candies, etc. At least this trip we avoided In-n-Out, though, so there’s that.

But what is it with us humans, and especially teens, that causes us to make such a predictable sequence of poor decisions, time after time?

7 comments on “Kids, Candy, Junk Food and Stomach Aches

  1. Grown men and women do the same. I do as well … it’s human nature and I fear there’s not a pill to fix it. The best you can hope for is to lay out the options, connect the cause and effect in stark terms and hope he’ll make better decisions down the road. As for me, I’m off to Mickey Ds!

  2. IMO, you did the right thing by not ordering food for him or constantly berating him for his (poor) choices. What I’m more amazed by is how did YOU endure Disneyland for 13-hours? I can’t stand those places ANYMORE given the extreme crowds that are almost perpetual. When I was a kid, growing up in L.A., back in the E-Ticket days, we’d go to Disneyland on a known lesser-crowded day, arrive early, and have the run of the park for a while. We’d do laps on the Matterhorn, then the really only crazy fun scary ride. Parents would allow their kids to roam the park without any fear. It was sweet and fun.

    Now, for another anecdotal observation – I’m presenting in Boston and there are “kids” (aka college students) literally everywhere. The prevalence of clearly out-of-shape kids is startling! OUR food choices simply STINK these days.

    Okay, Charlies Sandwiches are calling me – I’m think a double bacon sandwich, side of fries with gravy and an ice-cream sundae for dessert – oh, and perhaps a beer or two as well…

  3. As hard as it is, it is SO important to let kids sit with their own consequences! I’m the healthy food police though, so I have an especially hard time keeping my mouth shut when my kids make bad choices. But just today, I felt so vindicated when I ran my oldest into Target for something for lunch (she’d had a filling performed that morning and we weren’t sure if she’d make it back to school for lunch) She really wanted a pizza lunchables and a soda, but said (without any prompting from me) “I bet if I eat that I will feel like crap later. I think I’ll get a grilled chicken salad and just fill up my water bottle.” Ah, music to my ears!

    Of course I just ate my weight in cheese and crackers, and am getting going on the second glass of wine. Do as I say, not as I do, right?

  4. Interesting. I like how you suggest at age 14 plus, parents can merely guide their children’s choices. I don’t disagree. I just haven’t thought about it in that way. I dislike the daily food battles with my kids. I choose my battles and have faith, one day, they will choose and enjoy more fruits and vegetables in the way I do. I have seen it work with my 22-year-old, it is more slowly taking hold with my 23-year-old and I am optimistic for my younger kids.

  5. I’m afraid I have to disagree. The reason so many people are sick these days (read: diabetes) is that their parents allowed them to make their own (food) choices. As parents, we have a job to do. Aside from setting a good example, we have to enforce rules and discipline our kids. If left to their own devices, name one kid who wouldn’t opt for a burger and fries if his parents let him. You can talk until you’re blue in the face, it just doesn’t help with teenagers, especially. They seriously believe they know everything, that we’re stupid and that they’re invincible, and…they’d be better off without us. If you don’t stop them now, who knows how far it’ll go. It’s NOT ENOUGH to teach, you have to take an active part or they’ll make all the wrong choices because they know we’re not going to lecture them, anyway. Also, kids don’t feel the same crappy way adults do after eating the wrong thing, or doing the wrong thing or… it takes quite some time for it to finally catch up with them, but rest assured it will and when it does, it won’t be pretty. As parents, we don’t have to fear our kids or fear they’ll hate us, or feel overwhelmed by them. We have to take the bull by the horns, at every turn or they’ll grow up really really sick. Setting a positive example doesn’t always work because they see so much chit out of the house and on TV, etc. they don’t really take anything away from all we teach and instill. The media overshadows all our hard work. Yes, it’s a damn battle, especially with teens, but it’s one we can’t avoid. You can’t expect the average teen to learn by example. That’s just not how children “work.” I believe until they’re old enough to move out on their own, it’s up to YOU to teach, discipline, be a positive role model, and when need-be, intervene. When you see your kids doing something they’ll no doubt regret later, stop them. And don’t let up until they do the right thing. It starts with something simple like food choices and clothes and makeup. It gets harder with time, like dating, driving, drugs/drinking and college. You don’t just hand a newborn a rule book and hope he follows it. You make certain he does what’s right all the time, or you’ll end up with a very messed up young adult on your hands, if he lives through puberty. Parenting wasn’t meant to be easy. It’s payback time for all the crap we put our own parents through. But, you don’t have to be mean about it, either. Or nag. You’ll have to find a way that best suits your own kid, it’s a little different with everyone. First and foremost, be a positive role model, then teach/discipline and guide, and then enforce. DO NOT let your children take over. As tech savvy as they are, they’re still very young and stupid. Stupid meaning they simply don’t have the life experiences we do; for the most part, people do what’s right only after they’ve been burned. But, sometimes there’s not enough ointment in the jar to fix a really bad burn. Don’t wait for your kids to burn themselves before they learn. An ounce a prevention beats a pound of cure! If you seriously think your 14-year-old is at that point in his life where he can be trusted to make all the right choices, why not put a bottle of booze in his hand or a joint — see how comfortable and how confident you are he’ll do the right thing THERE, especially when faced with peer pressure. Do you really TRUST your teenager to do the right thing when there won’t be any repercussions if he doesn’t? Until you can say for ding dang sure you trust him to do the right thing 100% of the time, in any situation, then I think you should continue to “correct” his choices when they’re WRONG! Do you realize given the food poisoning he already had, the added crap you allowed him to ingest could have sent him over the edge? He could have gotten seriously dehydrated, dehydration is just a hop skip and a jump away from death. If he wouldn’t have gotten any sicker to the point you’d have felt compelled to take him to see a doctor, you think the doctor would have blamed him for making poor choices, or blamed you, the parent, given his tender age of 14? By the way, when you suspect your kid has food poisoning, never never never… no matter WHAT the cost… ever… put him on an airplane, take him to a crowded place, or go on vacation (away from home) because he could have taken a turn for the worse. Food poisoning = dehydration = death. If we don’t have enough respect for our kids, to the point where money is more important than they are… how can we possibly expect our kids to respect THEMSELVES? (Let alone us.) I could go on and on, and I have, but I’ll stop. Please people, you took the time to make these kids, now take the time and effort to RAISE them. Battles and all. You owe it to them.

  6. One more thing, why are you so surprised your teenage son made all the wrong choices? You should know by now, with boys, especially, there’s going to be wrong choices. It’s a given. Kids come programmed that way. It’s up to us as parents to de-bug them. I thought everyone knew that.

  7. And… for someone who reads labels and is afraid of a little sugar in his no-stir peanut butter, you don’t mind giving your daughter cotton candy?! Boggles the mind.

    I still love ya Dave. I just don’t agree with the way you treated the situation.

    I also know that even parents don’t know everything, and most times make poor choices themselves, so let’s just call what you did a learning experience. Something you won’t let happen again. Next time, you might not be so lucky.

    And, where was your ex-wife when all this went down? Please don’t tell me she agreed to sending him on vacation knowing full well he had food poisoning, or at least suspecting he did.

    Aye aye aye aye aye!

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