Can you remember who you listened to when you were a teenager? Was it your mother? Let me guess…
I’m thinking probably not…
Am I right?
Two of the most clearly defined characteristics of the adolescent phase of a child’s development is that they spend more and more time with their peers and those peers become more influential as a child seeks to develop a separate identity from his or her parents.
I am fond of saying that by the time there is a problem, it is too late; the issue lies in the set-up and that’s often where we need to look to work out and apply a solution.
But I also think that, even if you’ve set it up right, whether early eating habits pass into adulthood is a toss-up. Whether heads you win or tails you lose is dependent on variables such as personality, the parent-child relationship, the negative consequences of eating non-paleo food and whether your child gives a damn. When those hormones start pumping, all bets are off.
Most paleo bloggers have young children and do a fine job of feeding them a paleo diet, but I have older ones and I think the approach to take with paleo is quite different.
Parents of older children have far less control over what their kids eat and how they spend their time. They make decisions that make us wince and we’re often not there to give them feedback (even if they would but listen!)
And that’s how it should be. They are growing older and it’s time to become more independent and test things out away from mom and dad. The tables have turned and now it’s our turn to be anxious when they’re away from us.
Disordered eating concerns
Just recently, I spent the day with a couple of pre-teen girls. I learned it is common that girls of this age compete with one another as to who can go the longest without food! Yikes.
I don’t have that issue (at all!) but I do get concerned about the possibility of bingeing on non-paleo food outside the home, of keeping secrets over eating unhealthy food and the extent and impact of paleo and non-paleo food on bonding experiences both between family members and friends.
It’s a balancing act
If you want your kids to eat paleo (or simply relatively healthy) you have a great head start if your child gets good (bad!) feedback when they eat particular types of food. For some, like with adults, that feedback is strong enough and clear enough to motivate them to stay paleo. They might get eczema, allergies or other health issues that are clearly addressed when they stick to a paleo diet.
But what if they don’t?
These days, neither of my kids are badly affected if they eat off-plan. I might see issues such as a cranky mood or difficulty falling asleep but they aren’t things that would persuade them that eating pizza with their friends was a bad idea, or even that there was any connection at all.
I think we’re all different in our commitment, ability and willingness to keep paleo and to what extent we keep, or are able to keep, our kids paleo so I thought I’d share what we do in our family. Your mileage might vary, every set of circumstances is unique and our value priorities may be different.
Our values stack
In our case, health and physical exercise are highly important but as long as we’re experiencing these at a decent, albeit perhaps imperfect level, good relationships take priority.
That doesn’t mean conflict is absent and it doesn’t mean that we are people-pleasers constantly capitulating to preserve harmony with others. It simply means that we value good relationships highly and will, on occasion, put them ahead of perfect health and exercise. But if you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you probably know that. 😉
I think this is an area of concern for many families who feel they aren’t doing paleo “good enough” so please share this post because it can feel quite lonesome.
This is how we do paleo:
- Day-to-Day: We keep a paleo home and are 95% paleo. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are entirely paleo, my kids enjoy liver in their burgers (they have no idea but love the taste!), our only regular transgression is milk.
- Playdates: Paleo all the way – I’ve never had any kid balk over fruit, raw veggies, hard-boiled eggs, nuts, and jerky as snacks. And I’ll often whip up some paleo baked goods that go down well while still warm.
- Other kids, dinners/breakfasts: Kids who stay for dinner or sleepovers get what we eat. Paleo dinners and rarely dessert, maybe some chocolate as a concession. Eggs and bacon for breakfast.
- Birthday parties: Non-paleo all the way – pizza, cake, soda. I just held one for my twins 13th, and my token paleo resistance was to add water, fruit and veggies to the mix but really it hardly counted in the face of such a non-paleo affront.
- Outside the home: Anything goes, paleo or non-paleo. We only limit on quantity and how much we’re willing to pay. The kids will eat buns with their burgers and drink soda, but I have noticed that they are now self-regulating – they are making better choices such as water over soda, sweet potato fries instead of regular, refusing refills, not even questioning dessert. That warms my heart and long may it continue. 🙂
- Playdates at other kids homes: No restrictions. I’ve found over the years that setting restrictions causes a) other parents to get nervous about offending or offering the wrong foods and that impacts the relationship and the number of playdate invites, b) encourages secrecy on the part of the child and c) encourages the child to manipulate (or just straight-out ask) the hosting parent into giving them more of the banned food while they can get it.
We do not self-identify as athletes. Others wouldn’t identify us that way, either. 🙂 We exercise because we know it’s good for us. As a family we hike, but generally our kids need some other impetus beyond that. We are almost at an age where a family hike is the uncoolest thing going.
Some of the best parenting advice I ever got was the suggestion to expose our kids to many different activities and when they showed a spark of interest into something, to fan and feed the flames.
We’ve tried different things over the years – baseball, Boy Scouts, gymnastics – but what ignited them was acting. I was a little leery at first, I am not a theater fan, these are not my genes playing out, but I’ve come to learn that acting teaches so many excellent skills and provides so many varied and fabulous experiences that every child should have the opportunity to do it!
There’s a lot of physicality around acting – it’s the slow and steady type over hours and hours rather than intense bursts like competitive sport, but my concerns have been assuaged. Plus, it keeps them busy over hours for weeks on end that keeps them away from…
Over the years we’ve password-protected and time-restricted access to technology. We always timed access after chores, homework and outside play were completed, but before dinner. It hasn’t always been perfect but near enough so.
We were very slow to give our kids access to any kind of technology beyond a daily few minutes of Elmo’s World but the insidious creep of screens both small and large is universal in our western world and eventually the world caught up with us.
Now we face the invasion of social media, texting, tablets and YouTube into our family time, things I think are distinctly not paleo on any level. And the ubiquitous nature of it – the social sharing and the need for access to it for homework – means that a parent can’t do much short of imprisoning their child in a darkened room or otherwise making him a social pariah.
(And that’s before we consider the fact that we live in Silicon Valley, a place where the ratio of cars per licensed driver is greater than 1:1 and exceeded only by that of computers per person over the age of six months (I‘m joking – about the cars).)
The trick I’ve found is to find an activity that is so attractive, so social, so passion-inducing that the dopamine pleasure-enhancing effects of technology are outweighed. Get ‘em out of the house, preferably into the sunshine, hanging out with their friends, doing focused, structured stuff. This is the role acting plays in our family.
Alternatively, make the downside so devastating it isn’t worth it. Our kids have their own phone – they currently share it – but only get to use it as needed, no constant carrying around, all day, every day and absolutely no parent-funded texting allowed. If they want to text, they have to pay for it. And that has proved sufficient deterrent. So far.
The importance of values
Mostly things pan out pretty much paleo. There is decent food, some physical activity, plenty of bonding and socializing. There’s work and play, some stress, not too much. Occasionally there’s a conflict of interest and a decision has to be made. This is where values come in.
After acting in a play, the kids often go out for ice cream to wind down, like adults going for a drink after work. It happens a lot, and a choice had to be made. I reconciled the two issues on the basis that I consider paleo to be broader than simply a diet; it is a lifestyle, and bonding with a tribe is just as paleo as eating meat and veg, in my opinion.
This position results in me driving them to the ice cream parlor and waiting it out while the most recent cast burn off their adrenaline by singing the latest show tune in chorus in the cavernous, shiny space, their ice cream merely an accompaniment to the main set piece. In these situations, don’t ban the treat, find the best quality treat you can. It works for everyone, just about.
Life happens, and we do the best we can in any circumstance. My hope is that by establishing, and modeling, basic ground rules as to what constitutes a healthy diet and a positive lifestyle, at some point in the future my kids will take it on as their own. And maybe, hopefully, pass it on to their children.
But in the meantime, we walk the path of compromise, between total control and the freedom to choose, independence and interdependence. The key, I believe, is not to skew the process by allowing anxiety to dominate. Mostly, I try to chill and like water, funnel my kids in the direction I want them to flow with, hopefully, some grace and a little subtlety. I’m sure they’ll let me know if I’m failing. 🙂
What about you? What are your views on paleo and older kids? Tell us in the comments!I really appreciate it when people reply with thoughtful comments. Honestly, it makes my day.
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