PART 5:Let Them Choose
Health & Happiness


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he credibility and faith you've builds up by applying the principles outlined up to here are essential when you're ready to present your kids the options that make for lasting health, productivity and fulfillment.

    Here's where your insights and intellectual equipment make the most difference to your success as a parent. The more options a child sees life offering, the greater her chances of forming positive attitudes that lead to a healthy, productive and fulfilled life. The more rules she's forced to live under, the more likely she is to reject that goal in favor of a different path whose only virtue will be that she chose it herself. The more you replace rules and restrictions with opportunities for meaningful choices, the more likely your child will be to embrace healthy choices. Most importantly, she will grow toward a positive sense of independence instead of doing everything in her power to reject your restrictions
    Which do you think gives kids the sounder lessons in dealing with vices -- telling them they can't eat candies and punishing them every time you catch them breaking that rule, or providing alternatives along with a steady stream of information about the relative merits of each?
    From the time our kids were toddlers we kept plenty of junk food around the house -- candies, chocolates, chips, sodas, ice creams -- you name it, we had it. Whenever we would go to Corean, Japanese or Chinese markets and be ambushed by those diabolically irresistable candies, we always let them buy what they wanted. We carefully avoided passing judgment on junk foods. Our goal was to instill a deep sense of freedom in making choices. My wife made a point of keeping around plenty of fruits, sweet baby carrots, popcorn and other treats. More importantly, we ate those healthful treats in front of the kids.


    In the beginning the candies, ice pops and sodas tended to win out. Two year-olds are more attracted to the colorful packaging of Ring-Pops than a baby carrot. Ours went through far more Ring-Pops than would be considered good for her. Yet we resisted the urge to lay down rules because we were focused on a goal that was far more important than controlling a little extra sugar consumption.
    By the time they were two and a half or three they were influenced by seeing what we ate and hearing remarks like, "Don't eat too many of those carrots -- we don't want you to grow up too strong and beautiful and have too many pesky boys calling up all the time." That particular ploy works spectacularly well with any kind of healthful food, especially as they enter kindergarten and become conscious of a desire to be strong and beautiful. Before long, the dishes of candies we kept all over the house were usually passed up in favor of mangoes, pears, kiwis and apples. Juices and teas came to be guzzled more than the sodas in the fridge. On the other hand, the junk foods always proved irresistable to their friends raised on strict rules.
    The same options-oriented approach worked equally well with everything from TV-watching to book-reading to schoolwork. It works so well, I'm convinced, because it's a completely sincere, honest approach that appeals to our children's better instincts instead of their worst ones. As a result, they have learned to take an active interest in their bodies and become very knowledgeable about how to stay healthy. I don't think a parent can boast of a more important achievement.
    It boils down to trust. If you're bent on imposing your own rules and try to back that up with didactic pronouncements, you become seen as a tyrant spewing propaganda calculated to perpetuate the oppression. When was the last time you believed anything you read in the propaganda organ of an organization with a fixed agenda? If you lose your credibility, you lose your opportunity to help you child establish a strong foundation. Any idiot can lay down rules. It takes a genuinely wise, strong and talented parent to provide real options.

    No question that some elements of the American population are stupid, nasty, prejudiced, even hateful. It's natural for a parent to want to protect his kids by filling impressionable ears with dire warnings based on his own bad experiences. It's especially tempting for Asian American parents because we've all experienced racial animosity, both subtle and gross, in many situations throughout our lives. We believe that it's important to tell your kids about some such incidents. It would be dishonest and irresponsible not to. More importantly, it's a mistake for Asian Americans parents to pretend to their kids that race doesn't matter. That kind of pretense, no matter how well intentioned, loses trust and creates a communication barrier that may never be overcome. It's when they're growing up that our kids first encounter racial prejudice and feel the need to discuss approaches for dealing with them as well as subtler issues about their place and prospects in American society. By opening up early on about our own experiences, we make it much easier for our kids to broach the subject and discuss their own troubling encounters rather than trying to deny or repress them -- neither of which are healthy alternatives.
    On the other hand, to paint a one-sided picture of the Asian American experience would do our kids a severe disservice. Despite the problems of living as a minority, we Asian Americans know that we enjoy far more acceptance and opportunities here than we would in our own ancestral homelands. The amazing achievements Asian Americans have enjoyed simply wouldn't have been possible anywhere else. And we're blessed to live in a land with people whose generosity of spirit and openness to new people and ideas are unequaled in other lands. That's the other half of the Asian American experience, and it's important that we share this positive side as well. I've made a point of balancing the negative stories about narrow-minded, hateful people with stories of the warm, delightful, even inspiring encounters I've had with Americans in all parts of the country at the most unexpected times.
    Impressing our kids with both the challenges and promises of America is one of the trickiest, most important tasks we face as Asian Americans parents. The nitty-gritty is beyond the scope of this article, but I believe that it's especially important that when we tackle this subject we draw deeply on our best natures so that our kids can look ahead fortified with the maximum amount of love and hope.

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When was the last time you believed anything you read in the propaganda organ of an organization with a fixed agenda?