The Prosperity Pandemic
When Downing Street recently published their Obesity Plan, it was momentarily refreshing to read about something other than Covid19. I read the plan with mixed emotions and from the view of a parent and as an adult with a sweet tooth and a problematic waist line. I don't eat chocolate because of its low or high price point. I don't buy it because of the adverts - even the gorilla playing the drums can't be to blame for my love of Dairy Milk. I'm not greedy - and if I am I wasn't just born that way. I may have a sweet tooth but I suspect at some point it was just a tooth like any other. I'm particularly passionate about understanding problems before designing solutions and so, today I've asked myself, why are so many people obese?
To me, the answer is fairly simple. As soon as sweets became both affordable and accessible, they became the golden carrots for our society and as a child I was taught that good behaviour, bad behaviour, sadness, joy, achievement and failure all feel better with a biscuit, or a chocolate bar. The promise of a bourbon biscuit could incentivise my 8 year old self to do almost anything and in a world where parents were working, building and baby booming, a bourbon biscuit was the easiest, most affordable and increasingly effective golden carrot they could find. As a result, we have an obese population that have become increasingly aware of health, wellness, diet and exercise but struggle to change to neurocognitive pathways that have been instilled in them since their early years. These parents are now far more conscious of how they reward, praise and incentivise their own children. They often favour organic and are likely to make vegan, raw or low sugar alternatives to the treats many of us crave after today. This is of course a step forward, at least in terms of the obesity plan but it raised the question of how we reward, recognise and incentivise our children today; and of course, that answer is obvious. As mobile devices have become accessible and affordable - and as we drive forward to ensure that everyone has affordable and reliable broadband as standard, screen time has replaced snack time and as we avoid creating an obese generation we risk creating a generation that is dependent on screens and potentially mentally scared by the effects this will have on them.
I am one of those parents, I suspect. I am all for buying crafting materials. We have an enviable book case, an idyllic toy box and of course, the now standard fairy light filled teepee for magical bedtime stories. Yet, often, when I'm trying to do a 'zoom', when my bigger kids are fighting, when there is mess everywhere and when my toddler decides at that moment that she wants to watch kitty kattys on mummy’s phone, I throw away all my excellent intentions and hand it over. I mean, I don't even hand it, I shove it in her hand and often say 'take it, take it!!!!' and for the 10 minutes peace it gives me, I think screens and all they deliver are absolutely marvellous and at least I didn't give her the box of sweets, right? I guess the real issue is that as a nation, we are now prosperous enough to reward, recognise and incentivise our children with 'things' and I wonder if what they want and need beyond sweets or screens, is time. When I think back to 'the good old days', there wasn't enough food to make the golden carrots edible and families were technically advanced if they didn't have to go to the outhouse to use the toilet. Of course, there was a lot more of 'stick' than 'carrot' at that time too which is something I am glad we have moved on from but reward, recognition and praise was given in time and attention. As much as it pains me, when I sit and think about my young daughter and when she is really at her happiest, it's when her and I are free from distraction, or pressure. It is when I am as present as she is and when my attention is totally on her. I know that even 10 minutes of 'that' time means more to her than sweets or screen time and really, it's shocking that there are days when finding those 10 minutes feels utterly impossible. As part of my continued parenting improvement, I am trying to build those 10 minutes into every day - for both myself and my partner and each of our children. For example, my toddler currently knows that if mummy gets all of her work done, I will take her on a bear hunt - and we laugh and lark around for 20 minutes - and actually it's blissful for both of us. My toddler also knows that if she eats all her dinner at the table with the rest of us, her and I have a post dinner disco - jumping around and shouting our heads off to the hits of disney. It sounds idyllic, I'm sure but it's a habit, a choice and an effort to maintain. Yet generally I find that we have very few tantrums and very, very little challenging behaviour. My 10 year old and 16 year old, who initially I assumed wouldn't be interested in being silly with their mum, equally relish our 'trade offs'.... a game of ping pong across the kitchen table, a phone free coffee and chat or a family film where we are all in the room rather than off in the internet. In understanding the obesity issue, I hope we also understand the tools we use to build relationships with our children and those around us. In a world where many of us lack confidence and esteem, it is difficult to imagine that 'just us' is more than enough but beyond that, just us is also responsible and is the only way to avoid the need for a internet addiction programme in the future. If you would like more ideas about rewarding, encouraging and recognising your children, please get in touch via email@example.com