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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Tips on Tuesday: Does Candy cause Criminal Behavior?

A recent article in Time magazine shows a new study linking candy consumption to criminal activity. While the study has raised questions, there aren't many answers out there.

I want to state up front that I think parts of the study have merit and I can't refute their findings. However, I think there's questions that were not asked when the original data was collected that would have given us a better insight. Parenting and discipline styles are not in here.

In the article, two questions/possibilities are discussed: "One of those questions is whether sweets themselves contain compounds that promote antisocial and aggressive behavior, or whether the excessive eating of sweets represents a lack of discipline in childhood that translates to poor impulse control in adulthood. Moore is leaning toward the latter. It's possible that children who are given sweets too frequently never learn how to delay gratification - that is, they never develop enough patience to wait for things they want, leading to impulsivity in adulthood. It's also possible that children who are poorly behaved from the start tend to get more candy."

And so we reach the crux of my post for today. I've threatened to blog on this for a while and it seemed like now is the time. I wonder if some of these kids (or those in the other 41% who had committed a violent crime) were of another side of parenting--total denial of candy.

I was raised in a home where treats including candy, cookies, desserts and sugar cereals were all available in abundance. We were not allowed total freedom, but we were generally not denied sweets in our home. Interestingly enough, I developed a love of plain Cheerios (which I have to this day). I do not enjoy the bulk of the cereals available as they are just too sweet.

My sister and I would often beg for the newest sugary cereal to hit the market and if it went on sale, we'd get one box to try. About 90% of the time, we didn't like the cereal so it would sit on the pantry shelf for months and months. Until I reached Jr. High and High School and started having sleepovers. It was painfully obvious which girls came from homes where candy, sweets and sugary cereals were strictly monitored and mostly forbidden.

The poor girls who weren't allowed these delights at home would binge on our treats. They ate through those ancient (and stale) boxes of cereal. One girl in particular would beg to spend the night every couple weeks. She'd eat dinner at home and come over to my house. She'd have a couple bowls of cereal before bed and two or three in the morning before she left. We could count on her to empty any cereal we hated. She would also eat the 'yucky' holiday candies that we disliked. Nothing was ever wasted by her. And every time she'd spend the night, she'd tell my mom what a great mom she was. Then came the revealing statement, "My mom won't EVER allow us to have fun cereals like this."

Her statement stuck with me. Her mother's zeal to make sure only 'healthy' (substitute 'organic' or 'nothing artificial' or 'sugar-free' in today's society) foods were consumed by her children, she made them Sugar Monsters to rival Cookie Monster. I've taken that lesson and while I am aware of a lot of head-shaking coming my direction, I stand by my personal decision.

I don't really restrict candy and sweets. I'm not crazy--I won't allow a lot of sweets before dinner or at bedtime, but as a rule, the candy jar in our house is a Tupperware container that is open at all times and available to all of my kids. Even Rebekah can get it down when she wants a treat. I have them ask me before they down pop tarts, candy or cookies, but as a general rule I say yes. (And, as a general rule, they don't ask more than once a day--if even that often.)

After an initial binge when holidays or new products come home, I find the candy just sits there. They might eat a few pieces a week, but overall, they don't touch it. Why?? Because it's always there. My kids have no worries about candy or treats--it's always available and they know it. No need to binge since that only gives you a tummy ache. In fact, this photo is of a bag of candy that I started digging out of the cupboard this week. It's going to be donated to the carnival/fun night coming up. And this gallon zip-lock doesn't even make a large dent in the candy-mania in the cupboard.

I will say I do make my kids have delayed gratification in a lot of other areas. We don't jump onto every toy, electronic or other bandwagons until we've researched and saved. We tell our kids no to a lot of things--including sugary foods at certain times. Our kids are learning to delay gratification and have self-control in other areas.

That's my two cents on the whole candy causing crime report. My biggest hope is that others will consider loosening up on some of the things we deny our children to help teach them that moderation is the key. Let children enjoy some of the 'spoils of youth' while they are young by teaching moderation in all things.

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