June 30, 2008

How Much Responsibility Is Too Much?

One of the things I like about Radical Unschooling is the idea that kids learn from early on to deal with responsibility. They're given the freedom to make their own choices and have plenty of time to figure out what works and what doesn't before they leave the nest. When we started to unschool it didn't occur to me that we'd go Radical. I was thinking of it as an educational philosophy rather than a lifestyle choice. But as I learned more about the lifestyle, I began to take steps toward RU. I started saying "Yes!" more, which has included saying "Yes!" to letting Jerry have as much screen time as he wants and "Yes!" when he asks for sweets. He doesn't ask for sweets a lot but he does eat some sugar every day--which is more than he had when he was in school.

The other day Jerry surprised the heck out of me by saying, "Mom, I'm not going to eat sugar for the next three months." 

I was shocked. "Okay," I said. "Why?"

"Because," he said, "I was looking at myself in your mirror this morning and I have visibly gained weight."

Now this is true. He has a belly where he didn't have one before. I had noticed it too. I hadn't said anything to Jerry, of course, but I'd been trying to come up with a plan to get him eating fewer sweets and getting more exercise for a few weeks--without much luck.

I said I felt like I'd been eating too much sugar lately too (which is true) and would like to join him--we could do it together. Then I said that we should think of it as staying fit and healthy rather than trying to lose weight. I said part of staying fit is getting some physical activity and suggested we start taking Patsy (our dog) for a walk every day. He agreed. 

Then I panicked. I had handled the conversation all wrong by not emphasizing enough that I love him exactly how he is and that it's normal for kids his age to gain weight, so I threw that in at the end. 

If I were being graded I'd probably get a D.

But here's the thing. Now that he's told me he wants to lose the belly am I supposed to help him? And if so, what's the best way to go about it? I don't want to question him when he eats sugar. There's nothing more annoying than having someone question the foods you're about to put in your mouth. But, when I ask if he's ready to take Patsy for a walk and he says no and days go by and he hasn't done much more than sit on the couch or at his desk (which I cleaned off for him last week!) or at the kitchen table, am I supposed to remind him of his goal? I don't like the way that feels. Then it feels like it's my goal. But it isn't. My goal is for him to feel good about himself. I want him to be fit and healthy, yes. But, more than that, I want him to feel good.

If he's feeling down about his body (and he's not a chubby kid at all) how can I help him to feel better? Am I giving him too much responsibility by letting him choose to be so sedentary and by saying yes to sweets? Is it my choice to give him choices that's causing him, indirectly, to feel bad about his body? Or is this feeling bad just part of growing up? Is he just becoming more aware of his physical being and taking stock, so to speak, now that he's reached puberty?

I'm paralyzed. I'm afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing--so I'm just not doing anything. Well, I'm not doing anything beyond trying--relatively unsuccessfully, I might add--to entice him to get his body moving and by not buying sweets unless he asks for them.

I feel like there's got to be an answer out there, but for the life of me I can't figure out what it is.

Anyone have any ideas?



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