Strict Parents Need To Simmer Down Because You’re Making Your Kid Fat

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A recent study linking authoritarian parents to child obesity kind of blows my mind. I was raised by a more authoritarian stepdad, so I’m definitely not a fan of the parenting style. Now I’m feeling all smug about it because being more relaxed with your kids has been proven to be beneficial to their physical health.

According to Today.com:

Among children aged 6 to 11, having an authoritarian parent — one who is demanding and quick to punish, but not nurturing or emotionally responsive —  increased the risk of obesity by 37 percent, according to a study presented at an American Heart Association meeting Wednesday. 

“When we’re born, we come equipped with our own self-regulation,” said Lisa Kakinami, lead author and a postdoctoral fellow at McGill University. “But authoritarian parents override that. They take away the child’s own ability to regulate themselves.” 

The study author’s explanation on self-regulation is so intriguing to me. We all want to help our kids and teach them how to grow into successful adults, I assume. It’s interesting to hear that kids do have the ability to self-regulate; being overbearing and unnecessarily strict takes away from that innate ability. I didn’t know that before reading this study.

Here is a little more on authoritarian parenting to paint a clearer picture for you:

The overly controlling approach — such as denying kids any sugar at all — can backfire when kids are beyond their parents’ reach, experts say. As a result, kids won’t learn how to listen to their own bodies and know when they are hungry or full.

“When parents talk in a harsh and punitive manner, kids sometimes fight with them through food,” which can lead to overeating, said Patrick H. Tolan, a professor at the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia and director of Youth-Nex, the UVA Center to Promote Effective Youth Development.

The more I read about authoritarian parenting, coupled with my own experience as a kid, the more I dislike it. Authoritarian parents described in this article lay down the law without explaining or even getting to know their individual child.

This study only highlights how it affects a child’s ability to moderate food, leading to child obesity. I think it’s safe to say that this can apply to food and personal health, as well as many other areas of a kid’s life. If you are parenting a kid with inflexible rules and a lack of love, you’re depriving them of self-confidence, esteem, and independent thinking.

How about this? Ditch the authoritarian mentality and don’t be a jerk to your kids—for the sake of their health.

(Image: bikeriderlondon/Shutterstock)

You can reach this post's author, Bethany Ramos, on twitter.
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    • Katherine Handcock

      I must admit that I agree that authoritarian parenting can lead to bad eating habits, and not just because the kids don’t learn to self-regulate and glut themselves. My husband spent YEARS stuffing himself at restaurants because it was so ingrained in him to finish what was on his plate — the first time I saw it happen, I said, “Why don’t you just take the leftovers home?”and he looked at me like I was an alien! :-)

      With both my kids, we very much take a “we choose what ends up in front of you, you choose what/how much you eat” attitude. I fret occasionally, since my youngest almost never eats fruits or vegetables — but then, she drinks smoothies with about three day’s worth of fruit/veggie servings every couple of days. If they ever show signs of not knowing when to stop, we’ll intervene, but until then, they’re the only ones who really know if they’re hungry or not.

      • Bethany Ramos

        I honestly have never thought about it related to eating before, so this study was really interesting to me. I do think it is absolutely ridiculous when a parent won’t allow moderation, especially when it comes to food. I am kind of a health nut, but I still indulge in “cheat” foods in moderation — or else I would binge. Just makes sense to me. :)

      • Paul White

        See, I’m the opposite. I’m miserable at self regulating when it comes to food (most other stuff I’m OK at).
        I don’t buy girl scout cookies because that box is EMPTY by the time I get it home. I can’t keep ice cream around because I’ll do a half gallon in 3 days.

      • Bethany Ramos

        On cheat day, I am a disgusting animal.

    • K.

      This is sort of fascinating to me too!

      For my part, we practice the whole, “You control when and where and what; the child controls how much,” as I think it goes. Basically, it means that as the parent, you decide what sort of food to offer the child, when the eating times are, and where the child goes to eat, but the child gets to decide how much (more or less–obviously, it’s reasonable to impose limits like, “No, you only get ONE piece of pie for dessert”). You set the parameters and then give them freedom to make choices within those parameters.

    • pixie

      Yay for Canadian Universities being talked about!

      Anywho, this makes sense to me. I kind of relate it to having sex, drugs, and alcohol being completely taboo in households with teenagers. It rarely works out well in the end because they don’t learn about risks and consequences. Sure, there will be teens who go wild anyways, just like there will be kids who go wild with food even with laid back parents, but there’s less of a chance.

      • Bethany Ramos

        Yes – I thought about that too!

      • pixie

        Great minds ;)

      • Véronique Houde

        woop woop to my alma mater!!

    • Kay_Sue

      My parenting philosophy, with regards to food, is that they won’t let themselves starve. We provide food, we don’t allow random snacking, and we keep dinner plates on the counter if they don’t eat it. We do have a “one bite” rule–they are required to take one bite of everything on the plate. I require this because tastes change, and I want them to experience different tastes, at different times. Maybe it’s pointless, but it makes me feel better. Other than that, I do feel like they should be able to regulate themselves to an extent. Regulation may be a characteristic we are born with, but…exercising it is something that I feel is a learned skill and to learn it you need chances to practice.

      • Valerie

        Our daughter told us that her teacher told their class that it can take up to 16 tries before you like a food. So now if we give her something she doesn’t like she takes 16 teeny tiny nibbles before giving up. She doesn’t seem to grasp that her teacher meant 16 totally seperate instances, not just 16 mouse bites in one sitting. Cracked us up how literally she took it. :-)

      • Kay_Sue

        That is too funny.

      • Paul White

        children are the ultimate literalist.

    • Valerie

      With food, we have always taken an approach of constantly explaining to the kids (like, from toddler-hood) that healthy foods make them big and strong and that junk food should only be a treat. Other than that, we are fairly lax- we don’t make them clear their plates and we don’t make a huge deal over the foods they don’t want to eat. It must have worked because our daughter has her lunch account at school that we can monitor. She mostly brings her lunch but the account is so she can buy a milk or on the occasion that we don’t have time to make her lunch she can buy it. We told her she can get snacks sometimes too and we are able to monitor online what she buys. We saw a pattern over several weeks that she was buying one ice cream bar per week. We asked her about it and she told us she does that because ice cream is a treat, not something for every day. She’s only in 1st grade- I am quite proud. :-) I guess she’s already regulating.

      • Bethany Ramos

        Awwwww, WIN.

      • Valerie

        Total win.

      • Guest

        So much self control! Love it. My brother and I would steal all the quarters from my parents change jar to buy Zebra Cakes every single day.

      • Alex Lee

        Zebra Cakes yes.

      • Valerie

        My younger brother once brought a $100 bill he got for his Communion to the school cafeteria. I have no idea why my parents let a 7-year old handle his own cash but it was pretty funny that he tried buying a 5 cent pretzel rod with it.

    • Angela

      This is no surprise to me whatsoever. Most authoritarian parents are pretty strict about clearing your plate and eating whatever’s served to you. They don’t listen when kids say they’re not hungry.

      I’m trying really hard to encourage my kids to learn to listen to their body cues to make they’re own eating choices. They are only 5 and 2 so obviously they don’t get free reign but I do keep bins on the lower shelves of my fridge and pantry that are always stocked with a variety of healthy pre-portioned snacks. I allow them to help themselves whenever they are hungry and encourage them to listen to their bodies to determine what and when to eat. The only requirement is that they make sure their selection has a fruit or vegetable to go with it. Since the bins are only stocked once per day they can choose whether to eat all their favorite foods first thing in the morning or to spread them out through the day. Yes, this means that sometimes they will fill up right before meals but as long as their still getting balanced diets I’m okay with that. In fact, I’ll sometimes even allow them to swap out dinner food for something in their bins (it just has to be from the same food group). I’m okay with this because I’d rather teach them to make healthy choices on their own rather than just eating whatever and whenever they’re told.

    • jane

      This is really interesting, and I agree with the basic premise, but I think it’s more complicated. My guess is that it’s also closely tied to socio-economic status – those with more wealth are both MORE likely to be able to afford and present a wide variety of healthy food and are LESS likely to be authoritarian. Additionally, the “clean your plate” mentality is certainly reinforced in households where food scarcity is a thing. Eat now, because you don’t want any food to go to “waste.”

    • Robotic Socks

      This study is true only of lazy authoritarian parents. My dad was a level 9 authoritarian who punished me through exercise and other physically demanding (defeating) things. Also, no food if when acted out.

      Lazy authoritarians only punish, don’t follow through with further punishment.

      And look at me now! I’m fit and completely well adjusted! O_o

      • Valerie

        :-( This makes me sad for you.

      • Robotic Socks

        I’m exaggerating ;)

        But yea, I was an out of control kid. In retrospect, it did me good. Despite what my internet persona shows, I really am pretty well adjusted and very happy.

      • Valerie

        I actually believe that. In your more lucid less troll-like moments I can see that you are very intelligent and reasonable.

        I won’t tell anyone, I swear.

      • Véronique Houde

        Socks is probably the only troll that i’ve encountered that I actually like reading lol

    • Momma425

      My daughter gets stomach aches when she eats too many sweets or fried food because of her GERD. Basically, she has learned that healthy food doesn’t make her feel bad, and too many sweets all at once does. She learned how to self regulate, with little nudges in the right direction from me.

    • Guest

      My parents were hit or miss with teaching us how to regulate food. They wouldn’t allow certain treats or they’d buy them in bulk. That coupled with my brothers who ate everything in the house made me eat all the junk food as soon as I could get my hands on it. I’d go to my cousin’s house where they had access to all the junk food in the world and she didn’t go in there to eat it and I was like whaa? To this day, I pack fruit by the foot for my husband’s lunch and I will eat like 3 on my own. :-/

    • Secret name

      Our food rules:
      1) must try 2 bites of any new food
      2) veggies are the best snack
      3) followed by fruit
      4) one sweet treat a day (suspended on holidays and birthday parties)
      5) if you’re hungry after dinner you can have a snack but it can’t be sugary
      6) fast food is a treat, not a right.

      We tend to eat really healthy in my house but that’s mostly because greasy, fatty (yummy) foods don’t agree with my tummy or my daughter’s.

    • Alex Lee

      I really value my family’s multi-ethnicity. It gives the kids so many more options to choose from – makes them more-open to different cuisines and tastes.

      They’re free to develop their own tastes, too. My oldest is now helping in the kitchen, putting his own twists on the usual meals and wanting our feedback – like some Food Network cooking show.

      No weight issues so far because they can still burn the calories they take in. And I forbid any food being used as a weapon. It just doesn’t jive with the Kitchen Gods.

    • Rachel Sea

      Well that was a big “oh, shit.” It’s like they were talking about me and my mom and the way I eat. I’ve never thought about her as authoritarian, but I guess her pattern of expressing love based on whether I pleased her kind of was.

    • Larkin

      This actually makes a lot of sense. I’ve seen kids rebel against super strict parents through food… although, interestingly, I’ve often seen the opposite problem: kids that barely eat anything. I always assumed it was because it’s the only control they have and their parents can’t force them to eat. Also, it tends to be extremely frustrating and upsetting for the parents, which I imagine makes it extra satisfying for a rebelling child.

    • SA

      Of course. Sometimes you have to allow your kid to make decisions so they learn cause and effect for themselves.

      My parents were very authoritarian on my social life. No going out (absolutely NEVER) on a school night, strict curfew (said I was to call if I was going to be late, but when that happened I STILL got in trouble), and when at a friends house for the night still having to abide by those rules. Even down to what movies I was allowed to see. It resulted in A LOT of lying by me in high school and when I got to college I had NO idea how to manage studying and a social life. I always wanted to go out because I never could before and I hadn’t learned how exhausting it could be managing school and late nights on my own, so it resulted in horrid grades, dropping classes, etc. It has taken me well into my adult life to learn some things that a little independence would have taught me when I was young.

      • SA

        Of course this wasn’t about food – they were not authoritarian about food at all.

    • lpag

      My rule is that I’m not a short-order cook. If they change their mind between when the told me they wanted X and when it got cooked, they can eat or have a yogurt. I will not go an prepare another meal.

      • JLH1986

        Until I was a teenager another meal wasn’t an option. I ate what they gave me. Even if it was only sides or only the meat or whatever. When I was older I could say hey I don’t like this and mom said let me show you how to cook a chicken breast. Then I had to cook any night we had something I didn’t like (which wasn’t often). I had chicken and the sides and they had whatever. But my parents never bartered.

    • YerMom

      This is why when I went to middle school all the kids ate garbage every day. Even I was surprised like all these kids are eating pizza, fries, and snack cakes (or just all snack cakes) every single day. There was never any “real” food. This was the first time there was variety in the lunchroom where you could pick a line for different foods or random stuff. I remember seeing one girl eating broccoli and thinking “wow, her parents must have taught her really well”.