So, you want to teach your children about health and wellness? For most of us, that task will be nearly impossible unless we are honest about the terrible truth surrounding our comfortable, first-world lifestyles.
Smart kids in particular will see though any lame “let’s eat broccoli, it’s good for you” attempts that well-meaning parents might throw in their direction. Analytical kids will do the environmental math about driving to the gym to exercise on machines and point out the irony. Justice-seeking kids will do the ethical math about the unfair effects of buying quinoa from poor Peruvians and refuse to eat the grain, or read this January 2014 Slate article and resume eating it. Well-read kids might point out that participation in organized sports will not address the root causes of the gargantuan health and wellness problems facing first world people today–problems like obesity, cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.
In order to be smart about health and wellness, parents need to teach kids the terrible truth about our current first-world way of life. Many children are already aware of adult ironies and inconsistencies surrounding health and wellness. Parents need to level with their kids, to admit adults’ health and wellness imperfections, and to exhibit care and concern not just for the health and wellness of their own children, but also for everyone else on the planet.
The Terrible Truth
You want the terrible truth? Here it is: In this age of electronic screens and robot vacuum cleaners, we can no longer rely on nature to give us health.
Most of us no longer grow our own food, or wash our clothes in buckets, or hang them outside to dry. Most of us rarely ride a bicycle or a horse. Commuting is strictly an internal combustion affair for many, complete with noxious fumes from fossil fuels. Most foods in our supermarkets are processed, and many have added sugars, salts, preservatives, flavors, and whatnots.
Rather than fully experience nature, we sit on our behinds and let our devices and conveniences fog up our relationship with nature. We create technology not primarily for extending life, but rather for making life less work. We crave the ease of technology, and the “no muscles needed” aspects of conveniences like elevators and washing machines and automobiles. We have disconnected ourselves from nature.
We are all guilty of being bad health and wellness role models for our children. We drive cars, we buy convenience foods, we use elevators, we use washing machines, we eat sugary desserts. We even sit on our behinds to write blog articles somewhere in cyberspace, which has its own growing carbon footprint.
The Way Forward
What are parents to do? I believe that parents should tell their children the truth about health and wellness, warts and all. Let children know that we can no longer pretend that the first world lifestyle is benign. Teach children about society’s health and wellness foibles as well as our own personal foibles. Teach children about moderation, and teach them the dangers of assuming that moderation will work seamlessly or sufficiently to bring us health and wellness.
Food: Teach children the ethical aspects of food growth, transportation, sale, and consumption. Teach children how to grow food. Teach children how to shop for what I call “mono-foods”–those foods that are only one food, unmixed with any other food, additive, flavoring, salt, sugar, or preservative. Teach children how to cook from scratch.
Exercise: Teach children that whenever possible, body movement must become a way of life. Stairs, not elevators. Bicycle, not cars. Carrying, not rolling. Buy apple trees, not applesauce. Perhaps even beat rugs (allergies allowing), instead of vacuuming them. Walk while talking? Stand while typing? Encourage children to dream up their own creative exercise solutions.
Air and Water: Teach children that health and wellness is not just a family issue; it is a global issue. The effects of pollution from Chinese factories producing first-world goods are not only increasing cancer rates in China, but are also reaching American shores. The oceans contain shockingly large traces of our lifestyles, including gyres filled with plastic trash, cargo dropped from container ships, and polyester micro-plastics shed from first world clothing.
An Omnipresent Focus on Health and Wellness
To counteract our first-world, anti-wellness culture, we need to instill in our children an omnipresent focus on health. Health when shopping for food, health when eating, health when moving from point A to point B, health when choosing entertainment, health when choosing leisure activities, health when choosing books to read, and health even when deciding how to drink our tea, tie our shoes, stretch in bed, stand in line, walk up stairs, buy our groceries, or pick up litter. Your health, your friends’ health, society’s health.
Being focused on health is not actual work. Make small changes and they quickly become habit. Healthy habits allow people to maintain healthy lifestyles unconsciously.
If we succeed, our children will have a new-found appreciation both of nature and of their place in nature. Our children will be well-grounded in body, mind, and spirit. Health and wellness will occur naturally.