Dear Straight Talk: I have the opportunity to observe teenagers without being a teacher, administrator or counselor. I notice three things:
1. Those getting into trouble have stressful home lives and parent issues.
2. These kids commonly eat candy or candy-like cereal for breakfast — if anything — and their day continues with sodas and processed food.
3. They are often unhealthy, depressed and have mental-health issues.
My heart breaks for these kids. Could you please address these observations? I can’t help but find them related. — Silent Observer
Annie, 16, Sebastopol: The troubled kids are definitely those with issues at home — or those who feel like victims. Regarding diet, anyone eating a healthy breakfast thinks clearer and leans toward healthier food choices the rest of the day. I’ve seen the effects of diet on behavior firsthand: A family member swore off sugar and grains. It’s like a new personality! This person remembers things, is timely, aware of surroundings, and much happier.
Colin, 19, Whittier: I’m glad this is getting publicity. These things are absolutely related. Another factor is inadequate sleep. And another consequence is inability to learn. It’s sad that society places health second. Our school cafeterias actually have lower standards than McDonald’s. “Pink slime” is still served to school children — and our armed forces. Chew on that fact.
Regarding family life, solutions are complex. Some adults don’t seem qualified to raise children. Some advocate for stronger communities and higher pay to attract our brightest into social work. Others say we must end poverty. My vote: All of the above.
Ashley, 25, Auburn: Diet change can definitely eliminate depression. Taking Vitamin B complex totally elevated my mood. Another elevator is exercise. After my divorce and dog dying, the thing that lifted my esteem was walking in nature or going for a run. Plus, the exercise forced me to eat healthier.
Brandon, 21, Mapleton, Maine: I grew up on processed cheeses, meats and other “goodies” pumped into low-income Americans. This diet turned me into an awful person. Being overweight, I perspired heavily and smelled, even with daily showering. Friends and romantic interests disappeared — thus I felt awful, psychologically, too. Then my parents went through a difficult divorce. Without friends, I stayed up all night playing video games, started failing classes, was labeled, and hated life.
Sophomore year, I reached inside. Four sodas a day became one Arizona Tea — and I started feeling better. A platonic female friend noticed and was supportive. Slowly, other positive shifts: Arizona gave way to fresh-brewed Teavana, I laid off the cheese fries and bought a Nutribullet blender, etc. As an avid gamer, exercise didn’t sound fun. But, in the end, I lost 95 pounds playing “Dance Dance Revolution” and Wii.
My parents’ divorce remained difficult, but once you’re healthier, you realize that stuff happens. Happily, I didn’t need psychological intervention or medication. (Moderation, not medication, folks.) Now I feel attractive, which drives more success. The key is slow transformation. A depressed McDonald’s-eating maniac doesn’t go to a P90X beach body overnight. Going too fast just makes people give up.
Nicole, 23, Santa Rosa: Sugar and processed food are the No. 1 ticket to depression and struggle. Growing up under an unhealthy parent’s rule directly affects a child’s school behavior and creates lifelong challenges.
Dear Observer: Bingo on your observations. Line up emotional poison (toxic family stress) with spoon-fed poison (junk food) with punishment at school for expectable bad behavior considering the circumstances (more emotional poison), and the buzzer you hear is the prison door opening. A sane and great society makes children’s health a top priority.
Readers: I urge you, at every level, to stop the many ways we unconsciously “poison” our children. — Lauren
StraightTalkTNT.Org is a non-profit that tackles youth’s toughest issues with youth’s wisest advice. Ask a question, go deeper in today’s conversation by visiting www.straighttalktnt.Org, or write P.O. Box 1974 Sebastopol, CA 95473. Please join our effort with a contribution!