Being Smart about Health and Wellness: Teach Kids the Terrible Truth

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.

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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.

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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.

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I thank my friends at Gifted Homeschoolers Forum for their inspiration and support, both online and in person. Although my children are all grown, I’ve written this article as part of the March 2014 Gifted Homeschoolers Forum Blog Hop. Clicking on the graphic below will lead you to the titles, blog names, and links of other Blog Hop participants. Thank you for supporting my fellow blog hoppers by visiting their blogs.
To learn all the benefits of  joining Gifted Homeschoolers Forum, visit http://giftedhomeschoolers.org/membership-options/
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13 Comments on “Being Smart about Health and Wellness: Teach Kids the Terrible Truth”

  1. […] then realize that their child can see right through the answer. This is an interesting read: “Being Smart about Health and Wellness: Teach Kids the Terrible Truth” by Wenda Sheard, J.D. […]

  2. Well, yes, we have to do the best we can. At least we don’t have to worry about one point in your article: quinoa. The idea that eating quinoa harms Peruvians is something of a myth that bounced around the media after an article in the Guardian started it. Here’s an article on it: http://www.slate.com/articles/life/food/2013/01/quinoa_bad_for_bolivian_and_peruvian_farmers_ignore_the_media_hand_wringing.html. These smart, well-read (and mostly privileged) justice-seeking kids that you are writing about will undoubtedly also be worrying about their poorer compatriots in the US, who suffer worse health overall than others due to factors like more allergens in their households, neighborhoods that take the brunt of environmental pollution, household stress and lack of opportunities for safe exercise.

  3. susannewith4 says:

    I think too that we can realize that we don’t have to cover all of the contingencies, just make ‘better’ choices, they will each lead to better and better ones…

  4. jofreitag says:

    Thank you, Wenda! The vastness of the problems surrounding health and wellness and environmental issues can seem overwhelming; but you have shown how teaching our children about it openly and making small changes in habits can lead to improved health.

  5. Yellow says:

    Thankyou for writing this Wenda. It’s a topic that we talk about a lot in our house. And it’s a learning curve for us as parents too! In our home, our lifestyle choices are very different from many of the people we meet everyday, and so these ideas are ones my son has brought up quite often for discussion.

  6. theyoungermrswarde says:

    I love living so close to farms and having interested kids who know food doesn’t just come from the store. The All About series on Netflix, as well as How It’s Made and Mighty Machines and other documentaries have fascinated my 7 year old for years now. I love how he applies his food pyramid knowledge, categorizing each food on his dinner plate . I wish all kids were so inclined.

  7. Excellent, and so important, thank you, Wenda.

    I also would emphasize ways to nurture the critical connection of between brain and body, and the effectiveness of simple movement – with awareness- as a path to feeling more whole, and more effective in our lives.

    Anat Baniel (student, practitioner and protege of Moshe Feldenkrais) who has been helping people change their physical, mental, emotional capabilities and experience for 30+ years. She has been part of the long expanding research conversation/understanding of neuroplasticity and lifelong development potential, working with Michael Merzenich, PhD Neuroscientist, Professor Emeritus UCSF.

    Her work (Anat Baniel Method) is an inspiration in it’s simplicity, and focuses on comprehensively providing the brain with new information; the brain uses this information to change and improve what we do physically and beyond.
    http://www.anatbanielmethod.com/about-abm#sthash.B3PZ2TtW.dpuf

    Her original book, Move Into Life, introduces the Nine Essentials to creating new neural networks.

    Her discussion about what it means to be “fit” and have an effective health and exercise journey also informs my teaching (primarily with the Nia Technique – movement based iffiness, integration, and joy). http://www.anatbanielmethod.com/new-fitness

    The expanding direction of her work is with special needs children, and her newer book is Kids Without Limits. Really remarkable.

    Hope you will enjoy these additional layers and possibilities.

  8. […] Being Smart About Health and Wellness Wenda Sheard, J.D. Ph.D. Thoughts on Life & Learning “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.” https://wendasheard.wordpress.com/2014/04/21/being-smart-about-health-and-wellness-2/ […]

  9. […] Being Smart About Health and Wellness ~ Wenda Sheard, J.D. Ph.D. Thoughts on Life & Learning "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." […]


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