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Jen Pollock Michel

( author + writer + speaker )

Monday's Menu: How will kids make healthy choices?

jenmichel@me.com

Ryan and I had yet another conversation this past Saturday about the future’s looming possibilities. Of course there’s nothing to decide: we’re not sure if we’re staying in Toronto or going back to Chicago. Truthfully, it won’t necessarily be up to us. The sheer indecision of it is enough to drive me mad some days. One question that will necessarily have to be settled whatever we decide to do is: where will our children go to school? We’re literally tasted every educational variety: public school, Christian school, homeschooling, and now (secular) private school. I think we’re disabused of the notion that there is any perfect option out there. And at the same time, we believe that God asks us to exercise wisdom in puzzling out the implications of each choice and to make our decision prayerfully and thoughtfully.

When we talked this past Saturday, we considered what it would be like to go back to Chicago and send our children to public school (and there are many great public schools in Chicago). But Sunday morning, I woke up to a disturbing article in the New York Times (“Risky Rise of the Good-Grade Pill") and was persuaded that the only safe option for our children was to hunker down somewhere in the middle of Montana: just our family, sequestered on some isolated ranch. (And because we’re American, we’d be bedded down with our guns, of course.)

The article talks about the chilling rise in many competitive high schools of the abuse of stimulants like Adderall and Ritalin. It’s the good kids taking these drugs simply so that they can continue performing (and excelling) in their academics and athletics. Madeleine, one girl they’d interviewed who is now a college freshman at an Ivy League school said, “People would have never looked at me and thought I used drugs like that – I wasn’t that kid.” She explains how her drug abuse began. “It wasn’t that hard of a decision. Do I want only four hours of sleep and be a mess, and then underperform on the test and then in field hockey? Or make the teachers happy and the coach happy and get good grades, get into a good college and make my parents happy?”

I couldn’t help thinking how easily our own children could arrive at logic like that. Getting good grades, getting into a good university, making my parents, teachers and coaches happy – worthy goals, right? And if I can only achieve those goals with the help of a prescription drug, what’s the harm in that?

Which brings me to the larger question for parents: what prepares a fourteen-year old for a temptation like that? I find a glimmer of an answer in the story of one high-school sophomore interviewed for the article, who talked about his experience trying Adderall but his decision not to continue using it. He “disliked the sensation of his heart beating rapidly for hours.”

What we need to do is teach our children early on that they have a body: a completely obvious answer, I know, but one that bears repeating and one that we often forget as adults. How much we sleep, what we eat and drink, if we choose to exercise: these are important choices for our bodies and effect how we feel in terms of energy, focus, and mood. By helping our children make the connection between their choices and the consequences on their bodies, we can prepare them for the decisions ahead, which will have much graver implications.

We can hope that one day, they’ll have what it takes to decide that risking harm to their bodies simply isn’t worth it.