We have all probably had those little moments as a parent when we realize how important our role is in teaching our children through example. The first time your toddler shouts out a swear word is one moment that immediately comes to my mind.
Children watch every move we make and store these behaviors and habits. Even as babies, they look to their surroundings to learn. Children learn from their parents, siblings, daycare providers, friends or other people that they spend a quantity of time with. We see our young children walking around with a backpack because their older sibling goes off to school like that, attempting to apply make-up like mom, trying to play on computers and cell phones — which of course they probably get in trouble for — but why wouldn’t they want to play with our electronics when they see us on them all the time?
Actually when you think about it, it is scary to realize how much influence we have on the development of our children. What an incredible responsibility. I remember listening to a lecture by Dr. Brian Fidlin PsyD of Children’s Hospital when he explained that we need to stop talking about “quality” time because it’s all about “quantity” time and time and more time. How true this statement is!
I started thinking about this the other night while people watching at Bastille Days. Earlier in the day I was reading an article about the dangers of visceral fat (belly fat). In the article “Age WELL with Dr. Maroon,” Dr. Joseph C. Maroon, board-certified neurologist at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, indicates that belly fat increases your risk for many diseases and disorders such as diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol, heart disease and even some forms of cancers (researchers refer to it as metabolic syndrome) primarily because of it’s location as the abdomen holds your organs, especially your liver.
Having just read this, as I sat at my sidewalk table enjoying the wonderful summer weather and watching people as they walked by, I couldn’t help but notice how many people would fall into the category of excessive belly fat (waist size larger than 40 inches in men and 35 inches in women). Some people carry weight all over but I found many people who look trim everywhere except carried extra weight in the middle. As explained in several online articles I searched, visceral fat is related to genetic makeup and lifestyle behavior.
We may not be able to do anything about the DNA we were born with but we can change our lifestyle. Not only is it the food choices we make and/or lack of exercise but also the amount of stress we are under. Stress raises Cortisol levels and Cortisol affects fat distribution by causing fat to be stored centrally—around the organs (visceral fat).
Now my wheels were turning. As the founder of the organization Elmbrook Community Health Coalition, an advocacy group for youth health, I am always looking for ways to help improve the physical and mental health of our community youth. So I couldn’t help but ask myself, if our children learn their behaviors through example, how good are we as adults doing at setting a positive healthy example? What do our kids see us eating and drinking? Do they see us exercising? Do they see us eating at late hours? Do we verbalize the excuse that our weight issue is genetics? Are we choosing processed convenience foods or fast food? Are we over scheduling our lives? Are we over scheduling our kids’ lives? Are we modeling stress management? Do our kids look around and see that being over weight is the norm?
The greatest gift we can give our children is the gift of health. Set a good example and remember our kids are watching and collecting information at all times. I know that at times we don’t think our adolescent children are listening at all but they are. Teenagers, however, are very sensitive to hypocrisy so if we want our teens to make good healthy choices we really need to practice what we preach. Teaching our children to live a healthy lifestyle through example gives them another great gift… healthy parents.