What Are Our Differences? Well, It Depends On How Much You Like Tomato Sauce

I love social experiments. Especially when they involve children. Kids are so smart. They’re insightful, philosophical and profound. They see things the way things should be seen. Unadorned. They have no agenda. And they give it to you straight as an arrow.

Some years ago I was doing a corporate video for a client. Part of the brief involved interviewing a bunch of primary school children aged between 5 and 7. One of the questions they were asked was to describe your ideal house. The answers were amazing of course. There were five star tree houses and houses under the sea. They were imaginative and creative and fun. Children also have no sense of value. They have no concept of any number bigger than a thousand. So when they were asked how much their family home was worth, it varied between 500 and a thousand dollars. The answers were hilarious and the video was a great success.

The BBC also conducted its own social experiment with young children. Their intent was way more serious than mine. They wanted to film children aged between 5 and 7 answering the question: What is it that makes you different? The BBC approach was very specific and scientific. They selected a group of children, with different skin color, different ethnic background, able- bodied children and children with a disability. They were divided into groups of two but to ensure that the answers were not random, the featured groups of two were long standing friends. So the children knew each other well enough to answer the question honestly and easily. And consequently they were also less likely to be intimidated by a camera filming their answers.

The first group to feature was two boys dressed in school uniform. Both went to the same school, and were in the same class. One was black the other white. They were both asked the question: What is it that makes you different? They took a long time thinking about the question. But every time they tried to answer, and they tried many times, both of them would stop mid sentence. Try as they might they could not come up with a single difference. In other words, the friendship they enjoyed and the commonality they shared vastly out weighed any difference they might have, perceived or real.

But my favorite pair was Emma and Lucy. Emma, wearing pigtails, and seated on a chair. Lucy seated in a wheelchair. Lucy never said a word. Emma answered for both of them. And like the two boys,  she pondered the question for some time before finally giving her answer. And it was this: “ Lucy loves tomato sauce. I love tomato sauce but not as much as Lucy.”

 

And that was it. Emma and Lucy. Their only difference?  How much each of them loved tomato sauce, See, I told you, we could learn a great deal from children.

 

But instead of learning from them, we laugh at their innocence and we laugh at their naïve view of the world. Of course as adults we could not possibly see the world this way because we have age and experience and we know about concepts like hatred and bigotry and discrimination. A child will naturally never contemplate any of those thoughts. And that got me thinking. Why can’t we, as adults, see the world the same way as a child does? What is to stop us? A world where our only difference might be that some of us like white wine and some of us like red. Where what binds us together is much stronger than what pulls us apart. Can we see the world that way? The answer is of course we can. We can see the world this way if we want to.

 

You see, the only thing that changes as we get older is choice. Experience and knowledge only increase the options of choice. The only obstacle stopping us thinking one way and not the other is, you guessed it, us. A woman, irrespective of age, never stops being a young girl, acting like a young girl, thinking like a young girl, unless she chooses to. And the same applies to a man. We can see the world as a child sees it, if we choose to. And if we do, it will almost certainly make us better people and our world a better place to live. Worth contemplating don’t you think?

 

 

 

An Obituary – Ode To Common Sense

I publish this obituary with acknowledgement and admiration for the anonymous person (not me) who penned it in its original form.

Today, we mourn the loss of a much loved and close friend. You will know her because the name is very familiar. She’s called Common Sense. And yes, she is a woman. Now, not many will realise just how old she was.

Try as old as Methuselah? Nah, even older.

She was as old as civilisation itself.

But just like all things old, her birth records got lost in time or in bureaucratic red tape. Or both.

Common Sense will be fondly remembered as someone who cultivated and taught many valuable life lessons such as: Knowing when to come in out of the rain, Why an early bird always gets the worm, and that life isn’t always fair. Sometimes it’s very unfair and unjust.

And, lets not forget one very important lesson: It’s called maybe, yes maybe it was my fault. Who can forget that one?

Common Sense lived by very important philosophies and sound financial strategies such as don’t spend more than you earn and adults, not children, are in charge.

But Common Sense caught a disease. Her health began to deteriorate rapidly. The illness was exacerbated by very well intentioned but deeply flawed absurdities set in stone. Absurdities like, a report that a six-year-old boy was charged with sexual harassment after he kissed a classmate. And, a group of teens suspended from school for using mouthwash after eating their lunch.

But I saved the best until last: a teacher fired for reprimanding an unruly student.

Sadly, despite emergency treatment from people of good will, Common Sense continued to decline. Especially when parents began attacking teachers for doing the job they themselves had a responsibility to do. Namely, disciplining their appalling behaved children.

What chance did she have in the face of schools requiring parental consent to administer sunscreen or aspirin to a student but were forbidden from informing parents if a student became pregnant or wanted to have an abortion?

You might understand that Common Sense began to lose the will to live when churches became big businesses and criminals began receiving better treatment than their victims. There was no hope with the realisation that you can’t really defend yourself from a burglar in your own home. And if they became injured, you could be sued for assault or worse, charged with murder if they died.

Common Sense finally gave up the ghost when a woman failed to realise that the cup of coffee she was holding was in fact hot, spilled some on her lap and was promptly awarded a huge financial settlement.

Common Sense now joins other family members who have passed on such as Truth and Trust, Discretion, Responsibility and Reason.

But she is survived by sworn enemies: Ignorance, Intolerance, Stupidity, I know my rights, I want it now, Someone else is to blame, I am a victim and Please pay me for doing nothing.

Not many people attended the funeral for Common Sense because so few were even aware she was gone.

If, by some chance, you still remember her, please pass this on. If not, be just like most other people and do nothing.

 

 

 

It’s Called Serendipity. The Baby He Rescued Becomes His Rescuer

Life can be completely serendipitous. Most of what happens to us, coincidence-wise, is usually the opposite. It’s someone cursing or lamenting terrible misfortune. But occasionally, just occasionally, the magic wand of serendipity waves in our general direction and comes as incredibly welcome, good news. Yes good news. There is such a thing Dorothy, and it’s not a lot of make believe like the Wizard of Oz and those supposed magic red shoes of yours. It’s good news and it’s real.The kind of good news that causes spirits to soar and hope to renew.

The story begins 30 years ago in the pediatric ward of a hospital in Orange County, California. Pediatrician Michael Shannon has a battle on his hands. A baby boy has been born several weeks premature. The child weighs less than a kilo and only has a 50/50 chance of survival. But Shannon is not giving up. He is determined to save this young life. And that is what he sets out to do. Providing, round the clock treatment until the baby boy’s health improves and he is out of danger. Shannon doesn’t know the child’s name. Even if he does, he won’t remember. It’s all in a day’s work for Michael Shannon. He is modest but, by all accounts, as Doctors go, Michael Shannon is pretty special. Now you might think this is the end of the good news story but if you did you would be wrong. It is only the beginning.

Fast forward to 2015. Michael Shannon is driving along the Pacific Coast Highway, in California when he is T-boned by a truck and semi-trailer. It is a serious crash, which Shannon is lucky to survive. But Michael Shannon is still in serious trouble. His SUV is crushed under the truck and Shannon is trapped inside the cabin, unable to move. Worse still his SUV is beginning to catch fire. Fire fighters from Paramedic Engine 29 are returning to base from another call when they hear of Michael Shannon’s emergency. They respond within minutes and arrive at the scene to discover the SUV is now fully ablaze and the flames are burning Michael Shannon’s legs. The fire crew, quickly begin extinguishing the flames but one of the crewman is focused on rescuing Michael Shannon and won’t give up until he has completed the job. He begins by using the Jaws Of Life cutting equipment to slice through the metal, creating a hole large enough for Michael Shannon to be pulled through. It is a slow process but in the end he is successful. However, the fire fighter who had doggedly cut through steel to rescue Michael Shannon isn’t done. He then helps to carry his patient to a waiting ambulance and to hospital for emergency surgery.

Shannon is seriously injured and will take 45 days to recover. Two of his toes have to be amputated but he is alive thanks to the quick work of his rescuers, and by one of them in particular. The name of that rescuer, who cut Michael Shannon free, is Chris Trokey. He decides to visit his patient in hospital and it is then that both men discover serendipity. It turns out Chris Trokey is the premature baby that Michael Shannon worked so diligently to save 30 years ago. The baby he rescued became his rescuer. And for Michael Shannon it was nothing short of incredible. “It’s amazing to watch them all grow up, but to have one come back in your life, on a day you really need it, that’s really incredible,” Shannon said. Chris Trokey was equally dumbfounded when the penny finally dropped about his connection with Michael Shannon. “I didn’t know about it until I went to the hospital and started talking about it, Dr. Shannon. And I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, Dr. Shannon?’” Trokey said. “That’s when I found out.”

And serendipity even has a way of coming full circle. Chris Trokey is now a father himself. And guess who his child’s pediatrician now is? You guessed it. Michael Shannon. Ah serendipity. You’ve got to love it.

Schools That Have Turned Into The Lunchbox Police Are Hindering Not Helping To Improve Children’s Health

Some time ago I wrote about what I considered to be Nanny State nonsense.  A father was strongly criticised by his daughter’s substitute teacher, because she considered the school lunch, he packed for the little girl, was too unhealthy.

The teacher sent a note home with the child demanding that the father promise to do a better job in the future. In the note, the daughter’s substitute teacher, at Kirksville Primary School in Missouri, listed the unhealthy foods in the little girl’s school lunch, which included four chocolate bars, a bag of marshmallows, crackers and a pickle. It ended: “Please see that she packs a proper lunch tomorrow.” The letter was followed by a request for a parental signature, which the father refused to give, because he was so offended by the letter’s contents.

It turns out that the Dad in question, a man called Justin Puckett, also happened to be a family Doctor from Missouri. He posted the contents of the school letter on Facebook. Many might think and some might even say, as a Doctor, Justin Puckett, should know better than to send his daughter to school with a lunch containing so much junk food.  But in his defence, the Doctor and father said “I have the ultimate responsibility to raise my children and I take that role very, very seriously and so maybe I took it bit more personally that there was some offence that maybe I wasn’t doing a good job in that duty, something that is my number one job.”

To be fair, Justin Puckett, also made the point that the teacher did not give an accurate description of what was in his daughter’s lunch: “Unfortunately, the letter didn’t have what she had, correctly. She had four pieces of ham, a whole protein meat, she also had some pickles, which we admittedly cheat on pickles every once and a while as a vegetable, because some fights just aren’t worth having. She also had four marshmallows in a Ziplock bag and then she had three very small pieces of chocolate, of which she ate one for lunch and then she also gave her brother and another friend one at an after school program,” Puckett said.

The reason I want to raise this issue again was prompted by a piece written by columnist Kasey Edwards, claiming that schools have assumed the role of lunchbox police. Suddenly, the morning snack and lunchtime has become a test to see if parents are faithfully following the laws of healthy eating.

Edwards makes the point that what seems like a really good idea, is questionable on whether it has anything, at all, to do with health. In fact, in the quest to promote nutrition, schools may be unintentionally damaging a child’s relationship with food. One school in Brisbane is so strict that children must show their lunch boxes to the class each morning. Quite frankly that is ridiculous and may well be in breach of the child’s rights. Edwards says it is harmful to the well being of children. She claims to  know of one child, so anxious about having ‘bad’ food in his lunchbox, that he doesn’t want to go to school. Another school in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs conducts food inspections at the school gate, prohibiting ‘junk food’ from entering the school grounds. Of course banning anything only succeeds in sending it underground. Some enterprising pre-teens totally got the concept of supply and demand and realised that prohibition, as it was with alcohol in the United States in the 1930s, is a rolled gold marketing opportunity. These young entrepreneurs started a black market in the trafficking of doughnuts behind the school shed. “What more evidence do you need that food policing by schools is dangerous?” says Clinical Psychologist Louise Adams. “It’s teaching kids to hide their eating and to binge eat.” Adams says the risks far outweigh the benefits when it comes to schools having a food policy. “From the US research, we can see that this sort of food policing has not resulted in a reduction of body weight in children,” she says. “As a psychologist specialising in this area, all I can see happening is that children are developing a fear of food. Fear is not going to make children healthy; it’s just going to make their relationship with food disturbed.”

Edwards points out that at two primary schools in Melbourne, children are only allowed to eat fruit, vegetables and yoghurt for morning tea. She says this means by lunchtime, the kids are frequently starving which, is hardly conducive to learning. But even worse, it’s teaching children not to trust their bodies, and to develop an almost hysterical fear of certain foods.

Edwards retells the story of a friend who packed a single biscuit made by grandma for her daughter’s morning tea. The daughter came home feeling embarrassed that she had ‘bad’ food in her lunch box. “I put one biscuit in, not six,” said the friend. “What’s missing from this situation is the love and care that grandma put into making special biscuits for her granddaughter.” Can’t argue with that.

Edwards says as a mother she puts a lot of effort into teaching  her daughter to listen to her body and to decide when she is hungry and when she is full. If she’s hungry and wants two sandwiches for morning tea, then she is encouraged to eat the two sandwiches. Her daughter is never told to ignore her appetite and only eat carrot sticks. Food is never discussed in terms of good, bad or unhealthy. So there is never shame or guilt about what gets eaten. And that is the way it should be.

Edwards goes on to say that the food policies of some schools undermine the efforts of parents to help children develop healthy relationships with food.

It also goes way beyond a school’s authority. Edwards says as a parent, what goes into her child’s lunch box is her decision, based on family values, her intimate knowledge of her child’s current appetite, preferences, wellbeing, the family budget, and what’s in the cupboard.

And as long as it doesn’t threaten the wellbeing and health of other children, then it is none of the school’s business. Clinical Psychologist, Louise Adams’ says her daughter came home from her school on Sydney’s northern beaches last week, upset because she had a muffin for lunch and was told it was unhealthy.”My daughter was told that she should only eat fruit and vegetables and there was such shame on her face, like she’d really done something terrible,” Adams says. “Kids go from just eating food and being in tune with their bodies, to being scared and feeling worried that they are doing something wrong. This is the breeding ground for an eating disorder.”

Adams says that schools should not be delivering health messages about food to children. It is not their place.

“Kids are very black and white,” Adams says.  “Their capacity for nuance is not developed. If we tell them that something is good and something is bad, they believe that absolutely. Then they relate it to themselves, that they are then a good or bad person. Maybe we as parents need some support and help with how to provide a variety of foods to our kids, but it’s psychologically damaging and unnecessary to discuss it with children.”

But in saying this it doesn’t in any way undermine the need to take action to combat the consumption of junk food. The World Health Organisation, warns that diseases linked to lifestyle choices, including diabetes and some cancers, kill 16 million people prematurely each year and urgent action is needed to stop what it describes as a “slow moving, public health disaster”. Unhealthy habits like consuming too much fat, salt and sugar along with smoking and alcohol abuse, are causing an epidemic of diseases, which together constitute the leading cause of death globally. The WHO says this “lifestyle disease” epidemic “ is a much greater public health threat than any other epidemic in human history.

” Non-communicable diseases (NCDs), like cardiovascular conditions, diabetes, and a range of cancers, killed 38 million people around the globe in 2012 — 16 million of them under the age of 70,”  the WHO says. ” Not thousands are dying, but millions are dying … every year in their 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s, not in their 80s and 90s.”

Forty two million children under the age of five are considered to be obese, and an estimated 84 per cent of adolescents do not get enough exercise.

In Australia, for example, some leading health groups have called on the Government to consider introducing a tax on junk food and sugary drinks.

“Despite at least six reports from task forces, obesity summits and research papers in the past 20 years advocating firm measures to stop marketing junk food to children, the advertising of fat, sugar and salt drenched products continues largely unrestricted,” the groups say in a joint statement. “Unless immediate action is taken to address dietary related illness there will be a significant increase in cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.”

And while we clearly need to tackle this epidemic, over-reacting may end up making the problem worse.There is no doubt that the schools are well meaning and want to implement food policies with the best of intentions. But, as Edwards points out, there is scant evidence to show that these policies have resulted in a reduction of childhood obesity and conversely, eating disorders are skyrocketing, so maybe the time has come for schools to consider whether their cure is worse than the disease.

What Do Women Want When It Comes To Sperm Donors? The Answer Is Not What You Think

What do women want? Now there’s a question worth answering. Not by me. But if, by some miracle, I was, ever able to accurately answer that question, as opposed to providing what I think might be the right answer, then I would be exceptional indeed.

Now before anyone jumps to conclusions, I don’t even come close to having an answer. I’m not even going to try. But some researchers in Australia have. Especially in relation to what women are looking for in the prospective father of their chid. And what researchers discovered might surprise you. It surprised me.

A study of online sperm markets shows women value more than just money when it comes to choosing a father for their children. Queensland University of Technology behavioural economists, Stephen Whyte and Benno Torgler conducted a survey of 70 women who were shopping for sperm donors via the web, instead of traditional fertility and IVF clinics.

Ok. But let’s just pause the narrative for a moment. Why would women be shopping for sperm donors on the Internet instead of the traditional methods and means? In Australia the answer is because of dwindling anonymity for sperm donors. In fact, around 95 per cent of the sperm donations are sourced from overseas, the vast majority coming from the sperm export powerhouse, the United States. One of the dwindling few Australian men willing to donate said his decision to donate sperm was influenced by the inability to conceive with his wife and the lengthy process of adoption. “I knew the trouble some couples go through to conceive and just how emotionally draining it can be – that feeling of helplessness at times,” he said. “I was happy to help other families overcome these challenges in any way I could.” But he is very much the exception. Unfortunately, most Australian men remain extremely hesitant to donate sperm because they fear they might be identified by their potential offspring at some future time. The shortage of sperm donors is an issue across the entire country. IVF Australia spokesman Professor Michael Chapman said the shortage continues to force many to turn to the United States for a steady supply of sperm. He said imported sperm was being used to alleviate waiting lists and shortages. “In New South Wales the waiting time for donor sperm for married couples is two to three months, while single women often have to wait six months,” he said. The discrepancy is due to some donors specifying that their sperm is only to be used by couples wanting to conceive a child. City Fertility’s chief executive Adnan Catakovic said his national organisation imports between 50 and 200 sperm donations from the US each year. Melbourne Law School Professor Loane Skene said the right of children to identify their genetic parents. once they become adults, has undoubtedly reduced the number of sperm donors in Australia. “Although the child can find out who their parent is once they turn 18, there are no legal rights associated between them – a genetic father can’t be made to financially support the child,” she said. So are donor children interested in meeting their genetic father? The answer probably lies somewhere in between. Donor children are often not interested in meeting their fathers but want to know that their genetic father is a person and not just a number . The law in Australia is very clear about separating parenting rights from donor rights.

Anyway, lets get back on to the topic we began discussing at the very start. And that is the research that suggests women value more than just money when it comes to choosing a prospective father for their children. One of the behavioural economists, Stephen Whyte, responsible for conducting the survey of 70 women shopping for sperm donors online said the results were totally unexpected. “We’re interested in cognitive, psychological or emotional factors that are involved when people make decisions,” Whyte said. “Probably the biggest economic decision you’ll make in your life is your choice of partner, and having any subsequent offspring.” But the women surveyed were motivated not by money or career when considering a prospective father. He said women using online sperm markets provided a unique opportunity for a study of this type, because it took the issue of “parental investment” – the amount of time a potential partner would invest in the child’s growth and welfare – out of the equation. “This is an opportunity for women to go out and choose a donor that fits their aesthetic, the purely physical characteristics that they’re after,” he said. “But the study actually shows the most important things to women when they choose a donor in this online market are behavioural traits, like kindness, openness and reliability.” Whyte said those were traits taught by parents, arguably making them unimportant when it came to choosing a donor, but women still rated them as most important. He said the study also showed women didn’t value men with a high-profile or high-earning careers as much as popular wisdom might suggest. “They’re putting behavioural traits at the top, physical aspects like eye colour and hair colour next, then, at the bottom, the least important things are income and occupation,” Whyte said. “It’s a step away from the evolutionary psychology argument that women favour resources or indication of resources in a partner, to help them bear the heavy burden in having kids.” The world-first research will be published in the Journal of Bioeconomics, but Whyte said it wasn’t the end of the story. “These sorts of sperm sharing websites have only been around for about five years, and what’s going to be interesting is will that change, and will more women seek to use these services?,” he said. “It will be interesting to do a larger study into the why – are they going to those services to get better contact than at current fertility or IVF clinics?”

He also said work would be done in examining the male side of the equation. “When we did the survey we collected both women participating, and men donating, but we’re still in the process of finishing the paper on the men,” he said. In fact the findings in relation to men could be just as crucial as women. Men forgo any right to anonymity when the donate sperm online. And that is what interests scientists like Stephen Whyte.  “But it’s the same thing… why are men happy to participate in this online sperm marketplace, when a regular donation at a clinic is completely anonymous? “ It’s a change in the way the human race is mating.”

You could say that again.

The Doctor Taken To Task For Including Junk Food In His Daughter’s School Lunch

Now here is something really thought provoking. A father was strongly criticised by his daughter’s substitute teacher, because she considered the school lunch, he packed for the little girl, was too unhealthy.

I can’t say I’ve ever heard of that happening, but maybe it needs to happen more often than it has.

The teacher sent a note home with the child demanding that the father promise to do a better job in the future. In the note, the daughter’s substitute teacher, at Kirksville Primary School in Missouri, listed the unhealthy foods in the little girl’s school lunch, which included four chocolate bars, a bag of marshmallows, crackers and a pickle. It ended: “Please see that she packs a proper lunch tomorrow.” The letter was followed by a request for a parental signature, which the father refused to give, because he was so offended by the letter’s contents.

Wait. There’s more. Here’s where the story gets really interesting.

The Dad in question, a man called Justin Puckett, also happens to be a family Doctor from Missouri. He posted the contents of the letter on Facebook.

Now I am sure many will think, some might even say, as a Doctor, Justin Puckett, should know better than to send his daughter to school with a lunch containing so much junk food.  In his defense, the Doctor and father said “I have the ultimate responsibility to raise my children and I take that role very, very seriously and so maybe I took it bit more personally that there was some offence that maybe I wasn’t doing a good job in that duty, something that is my number one job.”

Of course a cynic might say if it’s your number one job Justin, you need to be doing it better.

To be fair, Justin Puckett, also made the point that the teacher did not give an accurate description of what was in his daughter’s lunch: “Unfortunately, the letter didn’t have what she had, correctly. She had four pieces of ham, a whole protein meat, she also had some pickles, which we admittedly cheat on pickles every once and a while as a vegetable, because some fights just aren’t worth having. She also had four marshmallows in a Ziploc bag and then she had three very small pieces of chocolate, of which she ate one for lunch and then she also gave her brother and another friend one at an after school program,” Puckett said.

The school later called the family to apologise saying the substitute teacher was out of order. The school released a statement saying: “we had an individual take it upon themselves to send a note home to parents ……this will not happen again.”

Puckett went on to say “The issue isn’t what happened at the Primary School and with my daughter because she is very independent and going to be completely unaffected by this. But what does bother me is that it just seems that we are constantly being inundated with the inability to be parents of our children,”

Has Puckett got a point? Or was the substitute teacher in the wrong here? In the court of public opinion I am not so sure. The substitute teacher obviously takes her job very seriously. She sees herself as an educator whose role is to promote healthy minds and bodies. She thought she was doing the right thing. No way could that school lunch be said to be healthy. The child might have got away with one piece of chocolate but if you were to ask any nutritionist, four pieces of chocolate and a bag of marshmallows is definitely a bridge too far. Now, you might think it silly to be having an argument over some junk food. But what isn’t silly is the latest missive from the World Health Organisation, warning that diseases linked to lifestyle choices, including diabetes and some cancers, kill 16 million people prematurely each year and urgent action is needed to stop what it describes as a “slow moving, public health disaster”. Unhealthy habits like consuming too much fat, salt and sugar along with smoking and alcohol abuse, are causing an epidemic of diseases, which together constitute the leading cause of death globally. The WHO says this “lifestyle disease” epidemic “ is a much greater public health threat than any other epidemic in human history.

” Non-communicable diseases (NCDs), like cardiovascular conditions, diabetes, and a range of cancers, killed 38 million people around the globe in 2012 — 16 million of them under the age of 70, the WHO says. ”  Not thousands are dying, but millions are dying … every year in their 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s, not in their 80s and 90s.”

Forty two million children under the age of five are considered to be obese, and an estimated 84 per cent of adolescents do not get enough exercise.

In Australia, for example, some leading health groups have called on the Government to consider introducing a tax on junk food and sugary drinks. The Consumers Health Forum, the Heart Foundation, the Obesity Policy Coalition and the Public Health Association of Australia are calling on the government to take decisive action to end the widespread marketing of junk food and drink. The groups surveyed 1016 people, and 50 per cent supported a government imposed tax on junk food and sugary drinks, similar to the tax on alcohol and tobacco. The research also showed 79 per cent of people believe if a child’s intake of junk food is not lowered they will live shorter lives than their parents. Seventy-seven per cent of people polled, support making it compulsory for all packaged foods to have a health star rating. Eighty five per cent of people surveyed, say unhealthy eating habits is now a major problem for Australian children. It is the first time four major health groups have joined forces to demand action from the Government, which they say is now urgent.

“Despite at least six reports from task forces, obesity summits and research papers in the past 20 years advocating firm measures to stop marketing junk food to children, the advertising of fat, sugar and salt drenched products continues largely unrestricted,” the groups say in a joint statement. “Unless immediate action is taken to address dietary related illness there will be a significant increase in cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.” Heart Foundation National CEO, Mary Barry believes introducing a tax will help protect Australian children and stem the cost of obesity in this country which is estimated at $56 billion a year. “The obesity crisis is threatening a whole generation of children,” Ms Barry said.

Those are compelling reasons for why a dispute over four chocolates and a bag of marshmallows isn’t so inconsequential after all and why a father and a doctor should know better, and a substitute teacher might not have been so out of order in reminding him.

The Five Year Old Who Was Invoiced For Failing To Attend His Classmate’s Birthday Party

Enough of this, pussy footing around, I’m declaring an undeclared war on political correctness. Yeah, I know it sounds like a contradiction. But, if I’m not prepared to put up my dooks, and fight against this crass piece of insidiousness, no one else will. Not many anyway. What do I mean by political correctness? Really dumb decisions, like attempting to rewrite the well known, children’s fantasy, nursery rhyme, Baa-Baa black sheep, on the grounds that it promotes racial stereotyping. Get over it. It’s a nursery rhyme and nothing more. I ended up having a huge online dispute with a woman who, point blank refused to accept it could be nothing more than a form of entertainment for children. Baa baa humbug.

Here’s another example of PC, that’s enough to get people like me, positively raging against the dying of the light of common sense.

A five-year-old British boy was handed an invoice for a “Child’s Party No Show Fee” and threatened with court action after missing his schoolmate’s birthday party so that he could spend the day with his grandparents.

Torpoint Nursery and Infant School in southern England said that one of their teachers had been asked to pass on an envelope from the birthday boy’s mother, to youngster Alex Nash, as he returned from the Christmas break.

Inside the envelope, father Derek Nash found a demand for £15.95 ($29.40), in the form of an invoice that appeared as if it came from Plymouth Ski Slope, the venue of the “slide and ride” children’s party that included three toboggan rides, a hot meal, ice cream, jelly and balloons. In case you are interested.

“It was a proper invoice with full official details and even her bank details on it,” Nash said. But the bill has not been paid and the family is now threatened with action in the small claims court, which deals with minor civil disputes.

“The money isn’t the issue. It’s the way she went about trying to get the money from me,” Nash said.

The author of the invoice is Julie Lawrence, who is also the organiser of the birthday party on behalf of her son. Her attitude was less than sympathetic to five year old Alex Nash’s non attendance. “All details were on the party invite. They had every detail needed to contact me,” Lawrence said.

But in their defence the Nash family claimed to have lost Lawrence’s contact details.

Of course, the meat in the sandwich, in this storm in a teacup, ( how about that for a couple of mixed metaphors ) is Plymouth Ski Slope, the venue that hosted the birthday bash. The ski slope manager was at pains to point they were not in the business of issuing invoices for people who fail to show up. More importantly, they were not in the habit of issuing invoices to five-year-old children.

At this point, allow me to make some general observations. The trouble with this kind of lunacy is that it becomes a breeding ground for even more lunacy. For some reason everything seems to turn to custard when children reach school age and they start making school friends. Parents have been known to enter a competition for who can throw the most expensive and elaborate children’s birthday party. What matters most is who will come, how many attendees, and whether the birthday host child can expect invitations in return. Picture this piece of A grade lunacy in Sweden where an eight-year-old handed out birthday party invites to all but two of his classmates, which prompted the insanely PC class teacher to confiscate all of the invitations on the grounds of discrimination.

Ok. Let’s just pretend for a moment that the invoice sent to five-year-old Alex Nash, is a serious legal demand. Under the law, what chance does Julie Lawrence have of recovering the amount she claims she is owed for five-year-old Alex’s no show? I would say about a snowball’s chance in hell. Make that around the same time hell freezes over. According to my credible legal sources, any claim would be on the basis that a contract had been created, which included a clause that a “no show” fee would apply. However, in order to have a contract, there needs to be an intention to create what is called legal relations. And a children’s party invitation would not create legal relations, under the law of contract with either the child “guest” or its parents. Even if it could be argued that the contract is with the child, it is utterly inconceivable that a five-year-old, would be ruled by a court as capable of creating legal relations and entering into a contract with a “no show” penalty.

It’s hilarious to imagine what a children’s party invitation seeking to create a contract might say: “I, the ‘first party’, hereinafter referred to as the ‘birthday boy’, cordially invite you the ‘second party’, hereinafter referred to as ‘my best friend’, to the party of ‘the first party’.

Give me a break.

“She(Julie Lawrence) didn’t treat me like a human being, she treated me like a child and that I should do what she says, ” Derek Nash said, which pretty much summarises the situation.

It is pleasing to note that not everyone has lost their sense of humour. All of this nonsense prompted one British wag to write what he called, the unwritten rules of children’s parties, which I reproduce here for general amusement. Birthday boy/girl must be given preference for starting all activities. Small guests pushing past should be restrained by attending adults. Party bags or gifts are mandatory for each attending child otherwise the children who didn’t get one will never forget they missed out. If you don’t RSVP, don’t think you can just turn up. And if you do, don’t expect a party bag. Avoid any post-party talk around the parents of the uninvited. The host child MUST win at least one round of pass the parcel, and children must be given 15 minutes at the buffet before adults are allowed to hoover up the remaining cocktail sausages.

That’s not PC that’s PR as in perfectly reasonable I would have thought.

To All You Overprotective Mothers – You Can’t Wrap Your Children In Cotton Wool So Don’t Even Try

On reflection I am pretty sure I grew up under the shadow of an over protective mother. But, having said that, my parents were conundrums. They allowed me to do things as a young child that would horrify parents nowadays. For example, I am a cursed with having extremely fair skin which, let me tell you, is bad news when trying to safely navigate the harsh Australian summer. But my parents blithely allowed me to run around the beach, semi naked in the middle of summer turning the color of a perfectly cooked lobster. No thought to covering me with sunscreen. How I never developed a melanoma is one of the great miracles of our time.

But then my mother would turn around and say I wasn’t allowed to own a bike until I’d reached the age of 16. Her reason? Scared to death that I would be knocked over and killed if I rode on the street. Go figure. But she was like Mother Teresa compared to some of these Mums.

When Manhattan sixth-grader Amedeo White, steps off the school bus, only two blocks from his home, he follows exactly the same drill every afternoon. The 11-year-old takes out his cellphone, dials his Mum and delivers the following running commentary while walking back to his apartment: “Passing the deli,” he says.” Waiting for the walk signal.” He continues giving a step-by-step account of his movements, which is standard operating procedure for helicopter mothers who hover over their children 24/7. These mothers would actually prefer that their child had never left the womb.

Amedeo’s after school routine is listed among a number of oh my god moments in a Discovery Channel reality TV series suitably called: World’s Worst Mom. A written review of the show was recently published online. It is the poster child for how modern day parents have become paranoid about their children’s safety. A group of atypical obsessively protective mothers are presented in all of their obsessive horror. Then they are subjected to the intervention of a woman called Lenore Skenazy, who ironically earned the title of World’s Worst Mother, when she allowed her 9-year-old son to ride unaccompanied on the New York City subway and then wrote about it in her newspaper column. This I find quite intriguing. When I was growing up, granted it was more than a century ago, I’m kidding, parents would not have batted an eyelid in allowing that to happen. I used to walk three kilometres to school unaccompanied. No one would have called my mother The World’s Worst because it was considered to be normal behaviour. Kids walked everywhere and travelled on public transport by themselves. Nowadays if children have to go to school, even if its 50 metres from where the live, their mother will drive them to the front gate and pick them up. If you don’t believe me, go to any school, pretty much anyway in the world, around 3.30pm and chances are you will encounter a traffic jam.

According to the online review of the show, Skenezy is the founder of the so-called ‘Free Range Kids’ movement. The publicity accompanying the series says Skenazy is “ parachuted into people’s home, much like Supernanny, in an effort to eradicate irrational phobias and force anxious mothers to loosen their grip.”

““Some kids are losing their childhood because their parents are so overprotective,” Skenazy says. “Fear is being shoved down their throats at every juncture. “Yes, you have to be vigilant, but not to the degree where you are micromanaging and stopping them from thriving and becoming independent.”

Getting back to the reality TV series, viewers are introduced to some bizarre examples such as one mother insisting that her 13- year-old son use the women’s public restroom in case child molesters are lurking in the men’s lavatory. Another is so terrified that her 10-year-old will choke when eating food, that she spoon feeds him like a baby. Give me a break.

Remember Amedeo, the kid who has to call his mother as soon as he gets off the school bus and provide her with a running description of his movements as he walks home. Well, it turns out his mother, Cayle White, an actress and entrepreneur, volunteered to appear on the show because she recognized she was paralyzing her family through her fears. “I really felt like we were stuck,” White says. “I was holding the whole family back, and something had to change.”

One of White’s biggest issues was her unnatural fear of her children becoming infected with germs, whether it was from contracting the flu as a result of touching an elevator button  or by food poisoning. “You always hear horrible stories about people getting E. coli from undercooked meat and children dying left and right,” says White, who microwaves already overcooked food to kill off potential bugs. I am pretty sure she is overstating the dangers. Sure am glad she’s not my Mum.

“My kids would be begging me for something juicy and tasty, because everything I made would be dry or burned,” admits White, who also uses hand sanitiser once every 20 minutes. Unfortunately for White’s kids including Amadeo, her philosophy has always been “Better to be safe than sorry.” Imagine growing up not ever knowing what properly cooked food actually tastes like?

You might be pleased to know (or not) that Cayle White was far from being a lost cause in terms of turning around her obsessive behaviour. After the  ‘Intervening Mom’ Lenore Skenazy insisted that the family go for a barbecue in a park — where the agitated Cayle White was banned from any involvement in the cooking process — White comes to the realization that steaks with a tinge of pink inside do not constitute a death sentence from food poisoning. In another enforced challenge, Amedeo is given nothing more than a map, no cellphone, and told to spend two hours exploring Central Park. During his odyssey, Amadeo actually has the courage to ask a stranger for the time— something utterly unthinkable in the past.

“When he came back, he seemed really proud of himself,” admits White, who spent the entire time wringing her hands and biting her fingernails. “Even his posture was better.”

As Skenazy points out there is no greater gift to your child than giving them the gift of self confidence. She says it was amazing to see the transformation in Amadeo.

The mostly newly reformed, Cayle White claims to now have a more relaxed attitude to parenting. Amedeo, is permitted to take the bus to school without having to give a running cellphone commentary to his mother. And his brothers, Felix, and Ziggy, have discovered the joys not to mention the taste of properly cooked food.

“One of them dropped something on the floor the other day and it was well beyond the five second rule,” says White. “It was probably there for a minute and I said: ‘Oh, go on, eat it!’”

Another New York family who also received the Skenazy treatment on the show is the Almonte family of suburban Rockland County, whose home resembles a five star prison thanks to the mother’s insecurities.

“Sometimes I feel like I’m in a box and nobody can come into it and I’m not allowed out of it,” 10-year-old Brianna says to Skenazy on the show.That’s because Phyllis Almonte won’t allow her daughter to have play dates with other kids such as sleepovers, because she’s worried about Brianna being inside a strangers’ house, having to change clothing and having no privacy. Phyllis Almonte will  even accompany Brianna into the stall of the ladies’ room at the mall in case her daughter comes into contact with germs or a stranger makes an approach.

In something that I can personally identify with, 12-year-old son Zach, is banned from riding his bicycle away from their driveway because Almonte is afraid he could be hit by a car on the road. “It feels like I am two years old still and my mum has to watch and correct what I am doing if I make a mistake,” Zach says. “It feels like I’m trapped.”

And If that’s not bad enough, when the Almonte children are playing in the backyard, they have to keep in touch with their mother through a walkie-talkie. Seriously.

“I constantly fear that they will get abducted or hurt,” Almonte says on the show. “I know what I’m doing is not good, but I can’t help it.”

In her case, the intervention on the show takes the form of an organised play date where Brianna is allowed to host a swimming pool party for a group of girls from her school. It’s a triumphant success, with Almonte even bonding with the other mothers and arranging a reciprocal play date for Brianna in the future.

Zach gets to cycle to the park less than four kilometres away, where he is able to play basketball with his friends. But it is two steps forward and one step back. Phyllis Almonte can’t stop herself from driving to the courts to check up on him, but she later concedes it’s time for her to stop being so overprotective. “I learned that you have to teach your kids right and wrong, talk to them and it all boils down to trust,” Almonte says “I can’t keep them inside this bubble forever, or they won’t know how to handle themselves in the real world.”

According to the online review, the high point in the show, is when a terribly brave Zach Almonte zooms down a giant slide at a water park, moments before his mother, who has a fear of heights and water, does the same. “Self esteem doesn’t come from being told: ‘Oh, you’re great!’ It comes from doing something hard,” Skenazy says. “Part of our job as parents is to encourage kids to take that extra step.”

At the end of the show when Skenazy says her goodbyes, a more relaxed Phyllis Almonte physically looks 10 years younger. Just goes to show what stress can do to your appearance. While Brianna and Zach, get to act like normal kids. “Instead of thinking of all the things that could go wrong,” Almonte says, “I’m thinking about all the things that could go right.”

Most people would think that’s pretty good advice. Tough as it is, you can’t live your child’s life for them. Wrapping them in cotton wool doesn’t help either. Equip them to handle life’s challenges as best they can says Skenazy and hope like hell they do.