Analysis

Kids are becoming candyholics, and adults are to blame

Children eat a lot of candy these days. Columnist Mark Schatzker asks whether providing so much candy to kids is actually a form of abuse, and if so, what adults should do about it.

Adults need to stop enabling kids' candy addiction

We are more aware than ever of the dangers of empty foods and all the terrible problems they lead to – obesity and diabetes to name just two. And yet, instead of giving kids less candy, we give them more. What’s going on here? (Shutterstock)

Recently, my seven-year-old daughter uttered the unlikeliest sentence I ever expected to issue from her mouth: "Mummy, I think we need to take a break from candy."

The date was Dec. 29, and my daughter – wise beyond her years – was reflecting on the three-week candy and calorie fest that is the holiday season. And she was, at that moment, doing the very thing she proposed to stop: eating candy.

Children eat a lot of candy these days. I know because I used to eat a lot of candy. Or at least I thought I did, until my kids came along.

My candy eating, I came to realize, was like one of those old black-and-white hockey games you sometimes see on TV: slow, crude and painfully old fashioned.

I went entire days without eating candy. Not my kids. Candy is everywhere. Their friends have it. Their grandparents have it. They get candy when we go to the hardware store. They get candy from doctors and nurses. They get candy in loot bags. They even get candy from their teachers.

Don’t get me wrong, my kids are not the worst offenders. I went on a kindergarten field trip not long ago and discovered that some parents pack candy in their kids lunches – or pop, which, when you think about it, is just liquid candy.

Eventually, I was struck with the question: Is my children's candy use actually a form of abuse? Are my kids candyholics?

I filled out one of those online addiction quizzes.

Do my children eat candy to have fun?

  • Yes

Do they eat candy alone?

  • Yes

Do they sneak candy when no one is looking?

  • Yes

Do they eat candy to have a good time?

  • Yes

Do they get upset if they don’t get candy?

  • Yes

Has a family member expressed concern about their candy eating?

Can they handle more candy now than when they first started eating candy?

Do they lie about the amount of candy they eat?

Yes, yes, and yes.

The lying about candy started a few days after my daughter’s proposed candy cleanse. We decided to do it as a family. No candy for the month of January.

And not long after that, candy revisionism set in. After dinner one night, my son, pouting and clearly feeling sorry for himself, announced that in fact he had only had one piece of candy – a solitary marshmallow – over the entire holidays. “It’s not fair,” he said.

We are more aware than ever of the dangers of empty foods and all the terrible problems they lead to – obesity and diabetes to name just two. And yet, instead of giving kids less candy, we give them more. What’s going on here?

If he can learn to lie that convincingly as an adult, I thought to myself, he has a glorious future in politics.

His twin sister did him one better. She said she didn’t have any candy over the holidays, her lower lip quivering. My wife gently asked, “but what about the jelly beans?” My daughter cast her eyes toward the floor.

We’re now approaching the midway point of no-candy month, and it’s actually not going too badly – although there has been a measurable uptick in requests for Nutella and hot chocolate.

But the bigger question I have is why do kids eat so much candy?

There’s only one place they get it from: adults. So the real question is why do adults give kids so much candy?

We are more aware than ever of the dangers of empty foods and all the terrible problems they lead to – obesity and diabetes to name just two. And yet, instead of giving kids less candy, we give them more. What’s going on here?

There are, no doubt, many answers to this question, but here’s one of the big ones. It’s fun to give treats to adorable creatures. We give liver-and-bacon flavoured treats to dogs and sardines to cats. The behaviour seems almost instinctive. See cute face, give cute face calories.

So now that we know what the real problem is – adults – maybe adults should try to fix it. Because if we can’t control our urges, we surely can’t expect kids to.

About the Author

Mark Schatzker

Parenting

Mark Schatzker is a writer, CBC radio columnist and author of "Steak: One Man's Search for the World's Tastiest Piece of Beef," which he wrote while his extraordinary wife was breastfeeding twins.

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