One of the things I like best about the way I was raised is that my mom talked to us like adults. No down-talking. No dumbing down her rather formidable vocabulary. She figured if we didn’t know a word, we could ask what it meant, or look it up. Or just learn through exposure and context.
I am the oldest of 8. We all read a lot, from the example of our mom, and constant summer trips to the library. We were consequently locked in the basement and forbidden to come upstairs for 2 hours, every summer afternoon. It was officially called “Quiet Time” but affectionately or not-so-affectionately called Jail Time by the inmates.
You might go nuts if you had 8 kids 24 hours a day, too. Perhaps it was just insanity prevention rather than pulling us off of baseball fields and out of trees we climbed and into a few hours of mind expansion each day. But the interesting effect is that it made readers out of all of us.
Baby Boy is nearing 14, this summer, and I’ve learned a thing or two, raising 4 teenagers. One is, don’t preach. If you’ve got something important to say, save your breath rather than deliver a sermon. (I’m not saying I haven’t done it. I’m saying it’s totally ineffective.) Choose your battles carefully, look for your opportunities, and make every word count.
Stealth is key.
So, my ways of teaching my kids stuff are, first, the Drip Method. Say a little bit, more often, rather than sermonizing ad nauseum every now in then. As if parenting is an Event to check off a list, rather than a Process. Make sure you make your point with stories, and relevance, and keep it short and simple.
Because they stop listening way too dang fast.
On a baseball tournament trip a week ago, to the Four Corners (Utah meets Nevada, Colorado, and Arizona), I had a chance to talk to Baby Boy about good nutrition choices relative to something he’s Completely Obsessed With.
That is, being taller than me. Literally once a week, he stands next to me and says, “Mom, I’m taller than you!” (He’s not. He’s firmly 5’6” and I’m just over 5’8”. This has been pointed out, and proven by a third party, many times.)
So in the car, where he’s trapped and can’t get annoyed with what I’m saying and then abort further conversation, we talked about it. Tennyson has several friends who are very small, even though they have tall parents. They are not growing. This is stressing their parents out and causing setbacks in their athletic performance as other peers are getting taller and more developed. I know this because the parents sometimes chat with me about it.
I told Tennyson that eating dairy products full of hormones has a lot to do with this–lots of kids his age have stunted growth. I explained why. I told him that if he wants to get taller, eating dairy products and meat are some of the worst things he can do.
But eating candy is just as bad. It is fuel that has no redeeming value and cannot build healthy muscle tissue, let alone strong eyes, bones and teeth, brain, and organ function. I told him that bad food wasn’t everywhere, when we were kids, like it is now. And his grandparents had very little of it, when they were little.
Eating white flour is bombarding the gut with hybridized grains that our digestive tract doesn’t understand. It causes inflammation in the gut, and then we can’t digest food effectively, and then we can’t absorb nutrition…..and grow. Plus, white flour (breads, etc.) is just gluey and slows down the colon’s ability to move things through.
I made certain to connect, for Tennyson, that getting taller totally depends on what type of fuel he chooses. After I drove home the idea that eating non-organic meat, and dairy products, will stunt growth, and I pointed out the evidence that he is “lactose intolerant,” which really perked him up (who doesn’t love a good DIAGNOSIS?), I said,
“Want to know how to get taller?”
My slam dunk moment.
He was totally into it. Waiting for what I would say. “Yeah,” he admitted.
“Eat everything green you can get your hands on. Don’t gripe about green smoothies and drink EXTRA of any green drink or veggie juice any time you can, ‘cause you know it’s GROWING JUICE. Lots of greens, and vegetables, and fruits, and beans, and whole grains. Not processed food. That’s half the difference between you and those other kids. You’re so much taller not just because your parents are tall. Theirs are, too. It’s also because of how I feed you.”
Don’t eat white bread. Candy and sugar treats. Meat, especially processed meat, and dairy products. (Except the kefir I make from organic milk.)
Oh, and soda? My kids don’t drink it. But Baby Boy needed to know that kids who drink soda have bones that don’t grow. And bone growth is the most important thing in GETTING TALLER.
That was where I threw in—I’m not above these tactics!—“Do you wanna be taller than Dad? And Cade?” (They’re both 6’4”, his dad and big brother are.) I said, “I think it’s entirely possible. Be the tallest person in this family. Just start eating more healthy food!” I told him that THESE are the most critical years for growth, right now, his teen years. Because his body is putting its energy into massive growth in these years, and at 16, maybe 18, it’s OVER. He’s the size he’s going to be. He can stunt and squander that need of his body, with terrible fuel–or make the most of what his body is TRYING to do. Give it amazing raw materials to work with.
If you could see me now, you’d be seeing the look of Smug on my mug. It was a pretty good parenting moment. Because a LOT of what you get, with teenagers, is resistance. In this Car Moment (that seems to be where most of my breakthrough “talks” are), I was getting somewhere. He was All In.
I have written many times about why it’s worth it, if you just stay the course. I stand by that statement. As Dr. Michelle Jorgenson said, which I quoted in the intro of my new book, How to Raise Healthy Eaters,
“Do right by your family and be willing to make nutrition changes. It’s worth it!”