They're calling it denial. Delusion. Wishful thinking.
Or, as Canadian Medical Association president Ruth Collins-Nakai put it, a parental tendency to view our kids "through rose-coloured glasses."
The CMA is one of two organizations in the last week to take aim at parents for having their heads in the sand when it comes to the health, attitudes and behaviour of their offspring. A survey conducted for the CMA by Statistics Canada found that more than one-quarter of Canadian kids are overweight or obese, but that only nine per cent of parents say their kids have weight issues.
And while only 6 per cent gave the overall health of children a ranking of "A," at least 40 per cent awarded that mark to their own kids.
"What we found is parents seem to be looking at the health of their own children through rose-coloured glasses," said Collins-Nakai. "As a specialist in cardiac care for both children and adults, I have a very real fear we are killing our children with kindness by setting them up for a lifetime of inactivity and poor health."
In the U.S. last week, a study by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University concluded that parents of teens are clueless when it comes to adolescent attitudes and what their kids are up to with drugs, alcohol and other risky behaviours.
The survey found that one-third of American teens questioned had attended parties where parents were at home while alcohol or illegal drugs were used. And it suggested that parents didn't sanction the behaviour - rather, they were oblivious to it. The study also found that while 27 per cent of teens identified drugs and alcohol as their biggest concern, only 12 per cent of parents saw it as a problem.
“Teen drinking and drugging is a parent problem," said CASA chairman Joseph Califano Jr. "Too many parents fail to fulfill their responsibility to chaperone their kids’ parties. They have no idea how drug- and alcohol-infested their teens’ world is. The denial, self-delusion and lack of awareness of these parental palookas put their children at enormous risk of drinking and using illegal and prescription drugs.”
Some pretty harsh words. And understandable why health care experts would be using tough talk to make sure the media picks up the message. But is it fair to draw these conclusions and point the finger at parents based on a couple of surveys?
The reasons for rising obesity and declining physical activity among children are complex, ranging from inadequate community recreation programs for latchkey kids to the mass marketing of junk food and videogames by corporations who make their billions by peddling this stuff to kids. Other numbers in the CMA survey suggest parents are well aware of mounting health threats to the next generation. Ninety-two per cent of those surveyed support mandatory phys. ed in schools, 87 per cent favour curriculum on the benefits of physical activity and healthy eating, 81 per cent want junk foods out of vending machines and two-thirds would like tax breaks on the purchase of healthy foods. It goes without saying that these are values that also have to be instilled at home.
When it comes to teen behaviour, I think this Washington Post article on "toxic parents" probably reflects more of the real truth about where many parents are at - trying to walk the line between rules and reality. The story (and it's a very long one) looks at the dynamics between "cool" parents who knowingly host drinking and drugging parties and in some cases, party right along with the kids, versus stricter parents who believe in rules and supervision and feel undermined by what goes on in other homes. Not surprisingly, many of the teens interviewed at the end say they don't want parents to be their friends and have much more respect for those who set boundaries than the ones who try to be cool and permissive.
Do you think parents are in denial about their children's health and behaviour?