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Parents, you canít say N... but, for the sake of your children, you have to

By Rose Cooper - posted Thursday, 25 March 2004


There has been lots of finger-pointing in the wake of the current phenomenon known as The Childhood Obesity Epidemic, most obnoxious of which has been the assertion that it’s primarily the fault of advertising. Apparently our children have been hapless victims of a diabolical plot to crush this planet under the weight of billions of chubby children. This seemed like cobblers to me. Then I remembered that, over a decade ago, a new brand of corn chip had just hit the market with the jingle: “You can’t say no – just say CC.” Several sombrero-sporting faux-Mexicans nodded in hypnotic rhythm, and thus a crisp, subliminal message was thrust upon billions of unsuspecting junkfood junkies-in-the-making. There it was: the root cause of the obesity epidemic in a nutshell, courtesy of Latin American strong-arm tactics. How on Earth could we refuse?

Okay, it’s still bollocks. However, the jingle was a self-fulfilling prophesy. Today’s parents can’t say no. Just this week while in a supermarket I witnessed the following scenario:

Fat Kid thunders past me en route to the snack aisle: Mum I want a packet of chips.

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Mum: No, we have chips at home.

Undeterred Fat Kid: I want some chips! (grabs chips from shelf)

Mum: No, I told you we have some at home.

Fat Kid en route to checkout: But I want a packet that is just for me!

Mum: OK then.

I nearly grabbed this woman by the shoulders to yell “Are you nuts? How are parents supposed to gain any credibility if we fold like a pair of threes every time a kid won’t take no for an answer?”

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Somehow a backlash against the much stricter parenting practices of the 50s has resulted in an obscene tipping of the balance. Sure, exploitation is rife in advertising but only the commonsense-impaired are in peril. Ad gurus are only too aware that modern parents don’t command the same respect as their predecessors. As trade secrets go, this one is no KFC recipe. Today’s soft parents were nurtured by the “near enough is good enough” schooling principles that emerged in the late 70s and early 80s (when they stopped correcting spelling mistakes). In society’s valiant attempt to keep youth self-esteem at a premium, it has all but nobbled a vital cog in the wheel of humanity – character building.

When our parents pressed home their adult advantage, we resented it, sure, but a little healthy fear kept many a wavering young ratbag on the straight and narrow. Not so these days. Parents have lost all credibility. When I fell pregnant, friends warned me of how difficult times ahead were going to be. “They’re all into designer labels these days, it’s going to cost you a fortune.”

I scoffed then and I’m pleased to say 16 years later, I’m still scoffing. Too much of parenting is free-range and children rule the roost. It’s as if parents think love is delivered via Mattel and Ronald McDonald and if they don’t cough up the dough they aren’t good parents. It’s easy to blame the supermarkets for putting candy at children’s eye-level but all it takes is for a parent to cave in once and, from that point on, they have only themselves to blame. If you show your child that there is no backing down from the word “no”, come hell or high water, then they learn no means no, not “after ten minutes of crying and wearing me down, no will mean yes.” A recent episode of A Current Affair addressed this “problem” with a segment entitled: "How to say no to your toddler." Parents have lost the plot.

Coincidentally, the obesity problem parallels the rise of the Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) phenomenon. All children come into the world as mere innocent lumps of clay but they can learn mighty quick how to throw Mum and Dad on the potter’s wheel and make a natty ashtray. We are meant to set boundaries – but some consider this notion cruel. The cruelty is allowing children to do (and eat) whatever they want – they don’t call it comfort food for nothing. Children need guidance. I’m not advocating abusive stand-over tactics, just a lot less apathy.

Now the big fast-food companies face a similar a fate to the tobacco companies. No one wants to take responsibility for themselves, let alone their children. I don’t agree with anyone who was born after 1960 suing tobacco companies – the writing was on the wall well before then, and I certainly don’t agree with any right-minded fatty suing Maccas for making crap. It tastes like crap, so what were they expecting? Do these people live under rocks? Don’t tell me they haven’t heard of the food pyramid, or that too much fried food is bad for you. Advertising companies also make ads about health food. It’s all shown on the same networks. It’s pretty hard to shoot the messenger with a Big Mac in one hand and the remote control in the other. We all have to walk into the room of mirrors – and if they reflect like fun house mirrors, then it’s time for us to change our habits. Remember that saying “this hurts me a lot more than it hurts you”? Well love hurts – and sometimes that involves seeing your child pout.

How ironic, that in the fight against the upsurge of drug and alcohol abuse and sexual promiscuity among teenagers, the advertising slogan was “Just say no.” I suggest they repackage that campaign and aim it at parents.

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Article edited by Merrindahl Andrew.
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About the Author

Rose Cooper is a freelance writer and actor who has contributed to many national publications over the past 20 years. She was Australian Women's Forum Magazine's most prolific contributor as well as their Sex Advice Columnist. Her areas of expertise include comedy, women's health and sexuality issues, relationships, theatre and pop culture. For more of Rose's articles visit: www.insiderose.com

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