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Child Behavior Modification: By Any Means Necessary?

Child Behavior Modification: By Any Means Necessary?

Anthony Bourdain, author of Kitchen Confidential, and all around aging bad-boy of the culinary set, has penned his new, not so humble tome, titled Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine To The World Of Food And The People Who Cook. It is more or less what you would expect from the guy who turns eating sheep’s testicles into a sort of gastronomic bravado, but there is one chapter where Bourdain waxes philosophical, particularly about parenthood, and more particularly about the evil grasp and influence fast food has over our childrens taste buds. “As I see it, nothing less than the heart, mind, soul and physical health of my adored only child.” States Bourdain, and he goes to humorous extremes to limit, if not subvert, the powerful influence that companies like McDonald’s may have over his young daughter. As a means of negative conditioning, or subtle psychological warfare, Bourdain writes ‘”Ronald smells bad,” I say every time he shows up on television or [on a sign] out of the car window. “Kind of like… poo!”‘ This is certainly one way to conjure up negative feelings about a consumer product with mass appeal.

Bourdain is certainly not the first one to come up with this counter-tactic. Documentary filmmaker, and fellow McDonald’s detractor, Morgan Spurlock mentions in his film Super Size Me that he will use negative conditioning (B.F. Skinner is rolling around in his grave) by punching his child in the head every time they drive past a McDonald’s to insure his future children develop a deep set distaste and association with the fast food franchise.

Now both of these approaches, while humorous and entertaining to read, are not really practical, nor advisable, approaches toward cultivating a child who is able to make informed decisions about what he or she chooses to eat, consume, drink (the same could really be said for discouraging any sort of negative behavior). The reason being is that by being blatantly dishonest with your children, even if the effort has their best interests in mind, might on the short term dissuade your child from eating junk food and loading up on soda, but on the long term will likely come back to haunt you once your child uncovers the trickery and deception. Still, concerned parents still resort to “white lies” and soft duplicity when dealing with bad behavior, or even the specter of disagreeable or objectionable actions. Some parents even swear by it.

Parents, with all of your experience and shrewd observations, is it ever better to employ these “white lies” in order to protect your children from things or companies that may harm them? If so, what are some of the “white lies” you chose to share with your children, and how did they stand up to the test of time? Is it best to always be truthful and let your children figure it out for themselves, or is it sometimes better to be economical with the truth?

Read more: Children, Diet & Nutrition, Eating for Health, Family, Food, Parenting at the Crossroads, , , , , ,

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Eric Steinman

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, NY. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture, and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.

64 comments

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6:05PM PDT on Mar 26, 2012

At home, my 6 year old daughter eats and drinks well.

The first time she was faced with a highly processed danish thing at school, she watched in horror as the other children ate it and looked at me, questioning whether she had to eat it too. I took that opportunity to let her and her teachers know that she didn't have to eat anything like that if she didn't want to. The teachers were impressed, and greatful.

When we're at the store and she sees something that looks FABULOUS that I know is junk, I buy it for her, telling her it's junk, but she can have it if she wants. She has only liked one thing that I've labeled as junk, and I let her have one a week, or one every other week.

I don't forbid her from eating anything, but I let her know WHAT she is eating. She knows Mc D's is bad for her, but it's delicious and I don't get mad at her when she eats it on visitation...I just won't buy it for her (though I will buy a Happy Meal toy if she sees one she wants).

Hopefully, this will lead to good food choices in the future.

Thanks for asking!

1:11AM PST on Dec 3, 2011

childrenthatwatchtoomanycommercialaboutfastfoodincreaaseschildobesity,notbeingactive.

5:16AM PDT on Nov 3, 2011

I don't have children, and wonder how I'd cope with the theatre of war that family mealtimes can be. However, I do know a little bit about child psychology from teaching youth theatre. When I want my group to learn something I know they'll enjoy - and that will be useful to them - but that will take a lot of concentration, i tell them that this is an exercise normally reserved for adults at drama school, and that I've told other theatre professionals that I was thinking of covering the subject with my youth theatre - and those people have said I was mad, because the students were too young to take it on board. (All lies, of course.) But I tell the group that I've got faith in them, and would like to give them this particular gift early. They always rise to the challenge!
It's the same with Shakespeare - lots of drama teachers start off by saying to kids, 'I know you might think he's boring...' I never put the 'b' word in their heads. I always say this is difficult, but that they're bright and will get it - and that it will reward them in spades.

Maybe this is too manipulative. But it does seem to work.

9:10AM PDT on Aug 31, 2010

As a very observant child, I noticed when my parents would use little white lies that didn't quite add up. They didn't do it often, so when they did, it confused me. As a very determined child, that made me want to do whatever it was more. In my mind, the best way to get a child to do what you want is to explain to them in a simple manner why something should/shouldn't be done. However, trying to do that with a determined child can be a disaster.

2:47AM PDT on Jul 1, 2010

Moderation is the key, my daughter enjoys fast food and we go to fast food restaurants as a treat. Its not affecting her in any negative way.
Completely denying a child something often leads to rebellion... for example a friends daughter who wasn't allowed chocolate once sneakily spent a large portion of her birthday money on chocolate and secretly gorged on it until she was sick. My daughter is allowed a small treat of chocolate or something similar for good behavior sometimes and we've never had any gorging or deceit!

10:29PM PDT on Jun 29, 2010

I do enjoy fast-food sometimes, but I credit my parents with giving me a taste for healthy food which is what I mostly eat! I especially like lots of veggies, which we always had lots of but also had lots of variety and weren't forced to eat anything we particularly didn't like.

1:44AM PDT on Jun 28, 2010

tell the truth as much as possible... if the food needs ketchup then i will cook with it! it is an insult to my cooking skills if you cover good food with red goo that makes everything taste the same. it is used only when needed (french fries) or to disguise a culinary disaster ;-)

7:33AM PDT on Jun 27, 2010

I ate veggies and fruits as a child, then meat and everything else as a teen, and now back to veggies and fruit as an adult. I love fast food but I only eat it twice a year as a treat. I had no choice of food when I was growing up. My gran or mom cooked and I was invited to sit at table with my family, chat about the day and enjoy the meal cooked for us. We ate whatever was prepared and never thought to question the choice. To this day I love my mom's cooking!

2:14AM PDT on Jun 27, 2010

You teach your children healthy eating habits from the time they're old enough to start eating food. I've always cooked at home, and liked to serve fresh or frozen veggies and fruit. But even some canned also...

Guess what? My 10 year old prefers a fruit salad to chocolate cake. He eats his broccoli, beets and Brussels sprouts. Why? Because he was raised to enjoy the variety.

Because of this healthy eating, I don't have to feel TOO guilty indulging in fast food, even if it is fat food occasionally. Thing is, he's just as happy with Subway.

Thing is, I cook "old school" or "old world" ways, and it's tasty and healthy. And my son is encouraged to go outside when weather permits. He doesn't watch so much tv that the commercials influence him so much.

6:35PM PDT on Jun 25, 2010

Yes be honest and NOT be fanatical?Let others choose and then maybe there can be a win win situation?

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