I read a most strange article this morning in my copy of The Boston Globe Magazine by Virginia A. Smith. The author talks about the fact that she and her spouse have a padlocked drawer in their kitchen in which they keep all of their sweets:
The lockbox is a large drawer with a padlock worthy of Gitmo in which I store anything loaded with sugar and fat — cookies, chocolate chips, Tostitos, marshmallows, frosting — all stuff I don’t mind my kids having in small quantities. But to John, my middle child, there’s no such thing as moderation. He has never met a grain of sugar, a gram of fat, or a chip of chocolate that he hasn’t wanted to consume immediately.
His two sisters keep reasonable control over their food-related cravings. My spouse, Kathy, cannot control herself in the presence of Oreos, so we keep them out of the house. My weakness is chocolate.
After reading this article, I couldn’t help but think, “Wouldn’t it be a better lesson to teach your kids (and yourself) about doing all things in moderation? Especially in our culture, where we seem to have such food and body image issues?”
A locked drawer teaches kids nothing about eating in moderation — that while it may be fun to gorge on sweets once in awhile, our bodies were not built to eat them without limit. Instead, it provides them a clear example of the supernatural power we endow food with. We can’t control ourselves around these kinds of foods, so must lock them away!
Really? Unless eating is a serious concern for you — e.g., you grapple with an eating disorder like anorexia — then eating should be viewed for what it is: a way of sustaining your body through nutrients. Sweets are a treat we sometimes give ourselves and our children. And for centuries, children have been taught that they should consume sweets in moderation (and in many of my friends’ homes, only by permission of an adult). It’s all about engaging in a little self-control.
Self-control is a learned skill. We aren’t necessarily born with it, but it is something that nearly every one of us can and do learn. We learn some of it when we’re a child and taught we can’t spend all evening after school playing — our parents set limits and required homework to be done first. We learn more about it when we go off to college or have our first apartment on our own. We have access to anything money can buy — sweets, alcohol, etc. We keep learning about self-control all of our lives, especially when presented with endless opportunities to not use it.
If the author’s child John knows no moderation to eating sweets, that’s not a problem best remedied by a lock. It’s a problem best remedied through good parenting. It becomes a teaching moment early on in their life, and one they will appreciate for many years to come.
Read the full article: The padlock in the kitchen
So true. It’s not locking everything up that keeps us “good.” Children need to learn it’s not some forbidden fruit, but learn a skill that their parents should teach them!! Mad props to Dr. John Grohol.
this food is addictive.Much research goes into making sure it is almost irresistable. Why have it around at all? If one adult cannot control themselves in needing to have it in the house at all, then a lock is a supportive measure in not wanting others to suffer from their unhealthy food choices Obesityand self-control is contagious, so set the example, then you amy preach to others.
There are people out there who cannot control their eating, people who cannot control their drinking, their drugs or their gambling. Over-eating is (according to my doctor) part psychological and part physiological. I have struggled with food issues all my life and do not keep junk food in my house.
For some of us food is just as addictive as alcohol and drugs. I have read many of your articles and most of the time we are reading off the same page, but I find this post highly judgemental and not of your normal style.
Unless you have suffered an eating problem, been a compulsive over-eater, anorexic, bulimic, an alcoholic or a drug addict, you cannot possibly comprehend the stanglehold these substances have over otherwise extremely intelligent and highly functional people.
Regardless of whether or not the children in the Smith article have or do not have eating disorders, locking up the cabinet gives the wrong message and teaches the wrong lesson. The message given is a clear and loudly pronounced message of incompetence. Such children will grow up thinking of themselves as being incompetant and sadly their behavior is likely to reflect that incometance.
A far better way of handling the situation, like Dr. Grohol suggests is by better parenting. However, suppose there is an eating disorder? What then? Rather than pad locking the closet, it would make much more sense for the family to join Overeaters Anonymous (OA) and build self-control as well as competence through the tried and tested tools and steps of OA.
Both of you are oversimplifying a very complex issue and saying that good parenting and self-control is the answer to competent eating.
How sad that a wonderfully informative and educational website as this one has stooped to critical disapproval and judgementalism.
Sorry John, this post really is an epic fail.
The recent responses are going in the right direction…Don’t judge other who have food issues and dont have perfect control.Part of their exercising self control may be “NOT having those items in easy reach or in the house at all”.
Really, if food is more or less bad for you,not needed for nutrition, AND made to be irresistable by design, it makes sense to keep it away from those vulnerable.
Self control has a part to play in life for sure, but tormenting someone with an addictive substance(sugary food being one)in easy reach, then blaming them for not being able to restrain themselves- isn’t supportive or smart.Keep it out of the house,then everyone practices the same self control, parents model good eating behaviour that way as well. If those adults feel they must have their junk foods, they can eat it on their own away from the others.Maybe they’ll be positively influenced not to need it. It replaces more valuable food choices anyway.There are plently of healthy snacks,why have junk food in the house-especially with impressionable children around.I’d be more likely to tell the grown-ups-grow up, you had the children by choice, now show the example of healthy behaviour instead of expecting them to leave the candy lying around alone.
Respectfully Sonia (and I’d like to keep this respectful and not characterize another author’s posts as “an epic fail”), I’d suggest it’s a fairly simple issue that’s being made into a complex one.
If one cannot exercise self-control or teach it to their children, then simply keep certain foods out of the house. How complex is that?
This isn’t about judgment, it’s about what lesson we’re teaching our children through the examples we set. If we send the message that people have no control over certain things in their lives, then children will learn the same message. What is true for the parent, however, is not necessarily true for the child. What we learned as children (or even as adults) is not the same thing we have to teach our children. We can overcome the failings of our own parents and stop the cycle.
Anything in modern society can apparently become “addictive.” The answer is not to secrete and lock away these “addictions,” but rather to understand what draws people to them, and help folks to have a healthy relationship with them — one characterized by moderation.
Parents should act as role models when they can, and when they can’t, they certainly shouldn’t put their own “addiction” issues onto their children.
I like to have a couple cookies for a snack at night. so I do keep them in my house. my 2 daughters are able to eat in moderation. my 13 year son on the other hand ever since he was able to walk has loved sweets and cant resist them. he will sneak them when i am not looking, or hide them in his room. he has been punished over and over for it, but that does nothing. so in order to stop the sneakiness,, I will lock up the cookies. and I have no problem doing so.
I think there is nothing wrong with it. I think some of these statements are getting way too involved by getting into eating disorders. it called…some kids love sweets, and will eat it if its there. period.
Sadly, I do not believe you have given any consideration to the fact that some people have neurological issues that play into this as well. My daughter is one — she puts everything into her mouth, which many children do, but not many who are almost 12.
I have tried everything. Occupational therapy things that are safe to chew. Gum. Sugar Free candy. I remove sweets and carbs, and put fruit, veggies & light yogurts in their place, and guess what…she can’t control over-eating those either.
So, I must grapple with the difficult task of giving her opportunities to learn independence & how to self-regulate while also protecting her from these compulsions. In my search for help with that very difficult task, I come across this — yet another judgmental article proving that even those who should “get it” really don’t.
I’ll be locking up snacks, including the healthy ones. you and your readers feel free to judge away and lecture about messages and needing to teach self-control. Sorry for the candor, but with all due respect, you haven’t got a clue how much the deck is stacked against some people and how damaging articles like this can be.
Saying one should have total self-control over food and food issues is like telling a person with depression to “pull their socks up.”
The best message to teach your kids is MODERATION. I don’t see a locked cabinet fitting into that equation. When I was a kid, sweets were on the forbidden list – they were not allowed in the house and sugar was only allowed on very limited occasions. So what did my brother and I do? As soon as we got the chance to indulge I’d eat myself sick because I didn’t know how to handle myself around them! It didn’t make us any thinner or healthier not to be allowed them. As an adult able to buy my own sweets whenever I want them, they’ve lost their magnetic appeal. Having something be ‘forbidden fruit’ just encourages the binge mentality and gives it an unnaturally high value. Self-control is a learned skill like any other.
Sonia, I think you’re mis-reading what I wrote. I never said a person should have “total self-control over food and food issues.”
I said we should be a role model — as much as possible — for our children. And when it comes to things that we ourselves have issues about, we shouldn’t put those issues onto our children.
And if we have trouble not doing that, well, maybe that’s a sign that a little counseling is in order. I would choose counseling over a padlock any day of the week as it sends a far more beneficial message — “I’m not perfect, but I’m actively working on my issues.” This, to me anyway, is a far more empowering message compared to what a padlock says: “We’ve imbued the things in this drawer with intense power over our lives. We are helpless to stop them. So are you.”
Let’s leave alcohol and drugs out for our teenagers to learn self-control over, ay! Ditto porn magazines and guns.
Certain foods for some people and some families should not enter the house ever.
I have three children – now teenagers. I have also had an eating disorder and been overweight most of my life.
Since they were babies I have kept a mother’s vigilance over them when it comes to food. But certain items I rarely bought as they would search the house, fight each other ferociously and hoover them up. Now they all have jobs and access to everything.
Not one of them is overweight.
Not one of them has an eating disorder.
All are focused on eating healthy foods.
65% of Americans and Australians are overweight or obese. The sheer cheap and easy access to vast amounts of food is partly to blame. Other social and psychological issues are as well.
As I said, the same as for depression, this is a very complex issue. Telling someone to simply have more self-control is like telling a depressed person to “get over it”. Or a person suffering from schizophrenia to ignore the voices in their head.
Unless you have been there, done that. Unless you have walked ten miles in my shoes perhaps you don’t really understand the addictive qualities of certain foods that sets up horrendous cravings in the brain.
This lack of judgement and compassion for others is also called empathy.
I’m behind on my RSS feeds and am sorry to have come to this conversation so late.
In principle, I believe in teaching children self-control, rather than child-proofing the environment so they can never get into child. (In this area, in fact, my husband and I have different parenting approachesâ€”he is much more of the “child-proofing” school.)
But this approach only goes so far when the child in question isâ€”let’s say “developmentally different.” My oldest son has some special needs, notably ADHD with extreme impulsivity. And he is especially impulsive, perhaps even a little compulsive, about food. Because no amount of teaching can cure his frontal lobe “brownouts” (his pdoc’s term), we have two choices:
1. Live with him gorging on, and spoiling, the pantry’s contents on a regular basis. This includes not only junk food, but also crackers, unsweetened breakfast cereal, cheese, and fruit.
2. Use padlocks.
We have chosen padlocks. As he matures (he’s only five) and his nervous system becomes better able to inhibit impulses, we are gradually increasing the opportunities to teach this skill. For example, we now often leave the padlocks unlocked when we are around to supervise, and lock them mainly at night (so he doesn’t get up early and tear through the pantryâ€”something he has done many times!)
A relative of mine had similar issues at this age. He was later diagnosed with childhood bipolar disorder.
I’m annoyed that commenter Ben blithely suggested the problem can be cured by “better parenting.” Before he began medication, my son could not focus even for the few seconds needed for him to be able to learn. I am not talking about academic learning (which was completely impossible), but about everyday learning from his parents and others how he was expected to behave. Timeouts and positive reinforcement alike had very limited effectiveness. It’s disconcerting to see a social worker dismissing behavioral problems as merely bad parenting.
I’ve been reading Dr. Grohol’s blog for ages and I know him as an excellent writer on these topics, with a good understanding of the challenges faced by special-needs children and their families. So I know his intention was not to simply blame families, but to make a point about parental responsibility in general. I don’t think the vitriol in the comments is necessary nor appropriate, but it does indicate that this is an awfully sensitive issue.
Dr. Grohol, is there any research about “addictive” foods? We hear more and more in the popular media about “food addiction,” which as far as I know has never been in any edition of the DSM. Any hints that something like “food addiction” will end up in the DSM-V? Research studies on dependence on or abuse of junk food?
I know this was written over a year ago, but I felt the need to comment. I was doing some research about locking up the food in my kitchen, due to issues with my daughter. I was very dissatisfied with the readings until your post. My step-daughter is 13 and has been diagnosed with Moderate MR and Impulse Control D/O. Food is an issue. I have 3 other children in the house, who have no issues with weight and are very active. Notably 3 teenage boys, which meens keeping “quick food” on hand is important. My husband and I both work and attend Graduate school, so to say we are busy is an understatement. as you mentioned, or problem goes beyond sweets. Madison just loves to eat and is also very inactive, which has led to a weight issue and concerns about about Type 2 Diabetes, if this continues. To say we just need to be better parents and teach moderation angered me. We have exhausted every means of teaching moderation that I can think of. We have had to tell the school to not allow any extras, because she would spend a months worth of lunch money in a WEEK. Today after school, she found prepared mini muffins and ate 4 or 5 packs as an after school snack! They were hid way beyond her reach. We have tried parenting books, therapist suggestions and every means of award/ discipline we know. Nothing has worked. So today we are giving up and locking the cabinets. Thank you for your post.
this happened in my family. it’s not a healthy attitude towards food. my mother was scared that i would follow the family trend and get bad teeth, or become overweight, from constantly eating anything sweet in the house. thus, the sweeties were locked in a filing cabinet with buisness stuff. it led to me being desperate for sugar until about 12 or 13. i realised it wasn’t right when i was in my friends houses and saw that they had free access to sugary or fatty food, but had learned to restrain themselves to take everything in moderation.
I’m researching ideas for my 12 year old son who in the last 6 months or so has started gorging himself on anything he likes.
At first I thought eating himself sick would teach a lesson & that this too would pass however all it’s done is caused him to become heavy & allowed me to get very skinny as food is scarce when I come home from work. Repercussions mean nothing to him. So locking the food while I’m at work/not home will have to apparently/sadly be my next step. Hopefully overtime he’ll gain the maturity to stop this & I can slowly start to leave things unlocked until life goes back to normal.
The article doesn’t do the subject justice – it’s more then parenting. For my family, it seems to be a soother for social peer caused pain. Unless the child is not just parented but also observed at all aspects of what’s going on with them, food may always be a problem.
Those with ideas like: “just teach your children moderation” or “keep unhealthy foods out of the house” are MISSING a whole lot of factors in this problem.
In our house we are health food nuts, vegan, and our children are taught from toddler age, about making healthy food choices. We don’t keep much junk food in the house at all by most american standards. But I still caught my eldest daughter eating obscene amounts of organic fruit jelly and popping her children’s probiotics like candies, even though I had told her the correct amount. When I asked her why she does that, even though I HAVE TAUGHT MY CHILDREN MODERATION and HEALTHY EATING, she said the sugar is just too addictive.
So should I not have chewable probiotics with sugar in them? Should I never have fruit jelly in the house? Did I not teach moderation well enough? or should I believe my daughter when she says sugar is addictive and help her by keeping those things out of reach so that I can ration them in responsible amounts?
To say that using a lock or other preventative measures simply boils down to “bad parenting” is a self-absorbed and egotistical statement. Are child safety lids on pharmaceutical drugs, and harsh cleaning chemicals also “bad parenting” and the “real solution” is to just teach the children will power and sense enough not to touch these potentially dangerous things? We need to admit here that children don’t make the best choices all the time, that is WHY they are children and need PARENTS to set boundaries that are some times physical ones. If you tell children not to play with scissors, and why it’s dangerous, that doesn’t mean they still won’t. Keeping those things out of the reach of children is very often the most responsible thing parents can do, IN ADDITION TO teaching them why. One should not be in lieu of the other.
I will also point out that this article attacks a specific solution to the problem (the lock) and only provides a general and vague alternative (“better parenting” and “teaching moderation”) without any practical examples of how this “EXPERT” thinks that is best done. This guy reminds me of the character “Dr. Lipschitz” from “The Rugrats”, an “expert” that talks much schitz from lips http://rugrats.wikia.com/wiki/Dr._Lipschitz