Controlling Your Kids’ Candy Stash Is Bad Parenting

Children need to learn how to manage temptation on their own

  • Share
  • Read Later
Getty Images

According to a 2013 consumer survey, nearly three-fourths of American parents will be controlling the consumption of their children’s Halloween booty. There are various techniques, from the fixed ration — e.g., two pieces a day — to the slow trickle “as appropriate,” to outright confiscation, although some parents will offer a toy or some cold, hard cash in return for the forced forfeiture. (Then there are the Halloween candy “buyback” programs sponsored by dentists.) No matter the strategy, there is a fundamental sameness to the relationship between adults and their children’s Halloween candy in the vast majority of families in our society: grown-ups rule.

And why not, you may ask. Adults know better what is good for kids. Aside from the rare few who spend Halloween night sorting their candy into color-coded piles and then totally forget about it, children seem to lack the self-control to be left on their own with all that candy. Of course the responsible thing to do as a parent is to take custody of the goods and portion them out in a sensible way.

But the way I see it, raising children is a long-haul proposition. It’s not just about Halloween candy today; it’s about how lessons learned at Halloween lay a foundation for an entire lifetime. When you take away your child’s candy, you are saying that the candy is too dangerous for him or her to handle. That she needs adult protection from her own desire to eat it. That she can’t be trusted to figure out on her own how to manage her candy. These messages aren’t just about candy. These messages are about who your child is as a person. (Not convinced? As a little thought experiment, change the child into a teenager and substitute the word candy with sex.)

The child who is deprived of the opportunity to see himself as responsible, capable and trustworthy in relation to a relatively harmless sack of candy is going to have a much tougher time when he’s on his own facing the choices and temptations of adult life. Instead of eating candy, it’s going to be smoking cigarettes, experimenting with drugs, taking sexual risks, getting drunk. We want to protect our kids from those things too. Here’s the problem: protection, control and prohibition rely on the superior power of the adult. Power plays from time-out to “because I said so” might work on your average kindergartener, but they are totally useless with a 6-ft. teenager. You can put your foot down, sure — except that at a certain age, they just walk out the door.

Here is my radical proposition: the job of parents isn’t to restrict the candy. The job of parents is to help their children become responsible people. This process is long and slow and not always pretty. Kids will make mistakes. And we have to let them make those mistakes for themselves.

Halloween candy is a great opportunity to engage your kids in a real, meaningful conversation about food and the way we take care of our bodies. If you are concerned about the effect of eating vast quantities of candy at once or even spread over weeks, share that with your kids. Then stop talking and listen. What do your kids think about eating candy? How do they feel when you take it away? And if you are truly brave, do this: ask your kids to come up with a candy solution that all of you can live with. Let your kids be in control, and show them you trust them to follow through.

They may screw it up. After all, they’re just kids. But the earlier you start teaching your kids to see themselves as responsible, capable persons, the easier it will be in the long run. Give your children the tools and confidence they need to make it on their own. It may be harder to hand over that enormous orange bucket, but it’s the right thing to do.

30 comments
tnsweetheart
tnsweetheart

I got caught getting into the M&M candy dish multiple times when told not to. When my parents found out, they put a 5lb bag of M&M's in front of me and told me to eat up! Of course, at first I was so excited then eventually didn't feel well. It taught me a good lesson.

TrishaLynnDragon
TrishaLynnDragon

Inane article written by someone convinced of their own importance. 


Yes, we must teach kids to deal with temptation and rationing and limits. It's absolute garbage parenting to hand a young one a bag of candy and expect success. Their is a HUGE probability of failure. The author obviously knows this since she says:

 "They may screw it up. After all, they’re just kids"


She is right, they are just kids. Good, thoughtful and intelligent parents can mitigate risks and damage while teaching good habits and limits. Maybe the author of this article should get in touch with some of those good, thoughtful and intelligent parents...



pantrypest
pantrypest

"Here’s the problem: protection, control and prohibition rely on the superior power of the adult."

This is the central issue in schooling, where the goal is not to help people become independent decision makers, but to keep them dependent on adults and "experts" well into their "adult" lives.

DanaStevens
DanaStevens

The article, read as satire, makes perfect sense. Otherwise, it is nonsense. Does this same theory work for a child deciding to driving a car, drinking, voting etc.? This author makes no distinction between the degrees of each issue. For example, equating the choice of having sex and eating candy. Really?

I stick with satire as the goal of this article. 

shc1192
shc1192

I'm a college student and I still binge on candy near holidays. However, for the rest of the year I am a responsible, pretty healthy eater. As a kid, my parents made sure we had nutritious meals, but we were still allowed to eat sugary cereal and fluffernutter sandwiches, and we were allowed to eat as much candy as we wanted on Halloween. I learned that if I ate too much, my stomach would hurt and my candy would be gone fast, so at a young age I knew to pace myself. As far as alcohol, my parents didn't want me getting drunk, and they let me know the dangers and health concerns of drinking, but they knew I was a teenager (and now a young adult) and they accepted that I was going to drink sometimes, and I was allowed to drink a glass of wine or a can of beer at home on special occasions. Because it wasn't a big deal to them, it wasn't a big deal to me either, and now I drink less than any of the other college kids I know, because I never was under the impression that drinking was "rebellious" or "cool" or "forbidden". It's just a thing I enjoy sometimes, but I don't feel the need to get smashed every weekend. The kids I know who had really strict parents, on the other hand... well let's just say now that they're at college, they're making up for lost time. My parents raised me to be courteous, intelligent, thoughtful, respectful, careful, and responsible, and eating a ton of candy on Halloween didn't change any of that. 

catiana22
catiana22

Are you kidding me?? You people are idiots!! Give a child a bag of candy and smile and say hey .. Make good decisions (thumbs up) .. Better have the rug dr ready and then explain to the pediatrician why your an idiot for a parent!

XiraArien1
XiraArien1

Something posted on Time that I can agree with? Shocking...

sallyedelstein
sallyedelstein

For some parents the scariest part of Halloween is the prospect of all the candy their children will consume once they've brought home their haul. Chill. It may be hard to swallow but once upon a time candy was not the unhealthy villain it is viewed as today but part of "essential nutrients."Candy was good  wholesome food- nutritionists called it a miracle food as important to the body as coal or oil is to the furnace.and conscientious moms made sure Americas youngsters had adequate supplies of this energy producing treat.See  when candy was dandy http://wp.me/p2qifI-1Lh

waidaliu@hotmail.com
waidaliu@hotmail.com

Your body knows best, even for a 3 years old.  Last week we had our granddaughter over.  I fed her 5 caramels in a row.  #6?  NO!  The next morning I asked her again, just testing.  A big NO!!  I reared two children this way.  Now they grow up to eat about everything & have normal weight.  Your body knows when to stop.

Lindance
Lindance

Agreed. Great point and well-stated.

npage.ild
npage.ild

Really.. So I'm going to hand over a bag/bucket of processed sugar and chocolate in my home leaving it to effect furnishings, potential pest issues and everything else sugar and chocolate can destroy let alone enamel on their teeth and intake of excess sugar that may lead to long term effects. This is the most absurd article and Time Magazine should be cautious to allow someone with your narrow scope of thinking to continue writing. Another bit of proof that we're "lawyer'ing" up the kids, protecting them from their parents as we aren't allowed to discipline them any longer. 

joannebouchard21@hotmail.com
joannebouchard21@hotmail.com

How about putting 'FUN' in the equation?? Remember what that is all about? There is way too much over thinking everything we and our children do these days. Let the kids have some real fun- let them dress up, collect the candies and experience that magical joy that the whole trick or treat route awakens. Then let them have their hard earned candy- yes you heard me- they can have their candy and eat it too. I have 5 children who have grown into healthy, smart, well rounded adults with beautiful teeth and a healthy attitude to life and I let them devour their treats as they wanted to do it. No restrictions- personally I wanted them to eat it as fast as they could to get rid of it. Then back to normal. It's their time to have fun. Most times I'm their mum- on special occasions I'm their mum who remembers what it's like to be a kid. It's what makes the world go round. So parents do yourselves, your kids, and the world a big favour- relax. Start teaching your kids how to laugh and enjoy life.You do know what that is don't you??:-)) Joanne

markanapier
markanapier

Talk about using "marketing" drivel designed to sell copies of a book (much like the book paints candy marketers as part of the "candy problem").

Here are two relevant passages from the book:  (1) "Call it addiction or craving or compulsion, it does seem certain that having a little candy causes many people to want to eat more." and (2) "It seems paradoxical that the candy that gives us some of our happiest experiences is the same candy that rots our teeth, ruins our appetite, and sucks tender innocents into a desperate life of sugar addiction. Candy joins the ideas of pleasure and poison, innocence and vice, in a way that’s unique and a bit puzzling. The older name for a candy maker is confectioner ... meaning for confectioner: a “compounder of medicines, poisons.” It is a troubling thought: sweetmeats and poison originating from the same source." 

The author did get one things right, that "these messages aren’t just about candy."  This all seems to be more about marketing rather than common sense and parental responsibility.  

EconOneoOne
EconOneoOne

That's just silly.  A 5 year old will make responsible choices?  How about 6?  Maybe 7?  Knowing that frontal lobe development is in it's infancy in children, expecting responsible behavior from kids is both empirically foolish and physiologically a bad decision as well.

Much better is to make the decision each year depending on the development of the child and his/her demonstrated ability to make good choices.

pantrypest
pantrypest

This is a fine contribution to the discussion. We have yet another straw man argument. The contributor also cherry picks one line rather than including the context: "But the earlier you start teaching your kids to see themselves as responsible, capable persons, the easier it will be in the long run. Give your children the tools and confidence they need to make it on their own." The article's author does not advocate simply handing over a bag of candy and walking away: "If you are concerned about the effect of eating vast quantities of candy at once or even spread over weeks, share that with your kids. Then stop talking and listen. What do your kids think about eating candy? How do they feel when you take it away? And if you are truly brave, do this: ask your kids to come up with a candy solution that all of you can live with. Let your kids be in control, and show them you trust them to follow through."

But selectively picking lines, misrepresenting the argument, and ridiculing that misrepresentation makes personal attacks and rants on the internet more fun. And again, before questioning others' intelligence, it's best to get a handle "their" hominems.

pantrypest
pantrypest

@DanaStevens You've built a straw man and appealed to ridicule. Oh, well. If you can't refute 'em, mock 'em!

pantrypest
pantrypest

@catiana22 Nice. By engaging in name calling, you've really disproven the central premise. Before calling others idiots, check "your" spelling and grammar.

JenniferBonin
JenniferBonin

@Catfrank Tell me: do you remember actually BEING a kid and having that big pile of candy?  I sure do!  And the best was, even though on every other day our candy intake was limited to one piece in our lunch bag, on Halloween (and Easter), we could eat as much as we wanted, so long as it came out of our own stash and not our sisters'.  

Obviously, we ate more than our standard one piece of candy bar on Halloween.  But believe it or not, even as little kids, we didn't go through the whole pile at once.  Because, even as little kids, we're capable of listening to our bodies when they scream at us to stop.  And those kids who aren't rarely need more than one Halloween of major stomach discomfort before they get the lesson.  

And then, alas, Halloween was over and we went back to the "one piece at lunch" rule.  Which wasn't a big deal to us, since we'd had our little day of freedom.  But that freedom sure tasted sweet while it lasted -- and not one of us girls being diabetic or obese or addicted or had major behavioral problems as you seem to be hypothesizing.  Instead, we grew into responsible women with PhDs in science and engineering.  Just like the majority of other kids.

You can "talk to kids about responsible choices" til you're blue in the face.  Until they have to MAKE those choices FOR THEMSELVES, they won't really understand what you're trying to tell them.  Which, of course, is what this article is really about.

nlncmmnt
nlncmmnt

@npage.ild this article isn't about banning child discipline. It's about how some discipline will have negative EFFECTS on the child in the LONG HAUL. 

I think you are extremely closed minded and a much bigger problem to society than this author if you truly believe the author has a "narrow scope" view on things when she is the one sparking discussions questioning the validity of certain parenting techniques. 

JenniferBonin
JenniferBonin

@EconOneoOne Actually, in this situation, most 5-7 year olds WILL make a choice which is at least reasonably responsible.  Try it.  Most kids aren't going to eat only a single piece of candy on Halloween, of course -- admit it, you didn't either as a kid.  That's okay.  Halloween is only one day.  The trick is to make it clear that Halloween isn't like normal days.  So sure, the kid eats a bunch of candy on Halloween.  So what?  At worst, she gets sick to her stomach -- which is almost a guarantee that next year, she'll be more restrained.  More likely, she won't get sick, but will merely have a sugar high added to her emotional excitement about being able to go out in a costume with her friends treat-or-treating.  That could be a little annoying for the parent, but keep in mind: it's only ONE DAY.

So be a parent.  Make sure she brushes her teeth at night, so she doesn't get tooth problems, and put the candy away.  The next day ISN'T Halloween.  You can choose to either let her eat her candy whenever she wants, or go back to the normal routine (in my house, one piece of candy with lunch, and that's it).  She's unlikely to raise a real fuss, either way, so long as you make it clear that that's the way it is.  And -- this is key -- let her have the day of Halloween itself to make her own choices and be a day free of obvious parenting.  

Most kids above kindergarden can handle a single day of candy choice.  And one day a year won't kill their teeth or diet.  But it will give them a little freedom and a minor chance for personal responsibility, which kids also need.  No one ever grows up well, if all of their minor decisions are vetted by adults, after all.  

TxCelt
TxCelt

@EconOneoOne  Strongly agreed... Parenting isn't a "reason with the wee darlings and then let 'em sink or swim" proposition.  They physically don;t have the full capability to do that- and the younger they are, the less they have it.  it is purely a matter of development.  The brain and the psyche are a loooong way from fully developed during the point when they'll have any interest in trick or treating. 

You don't have to be a total grinch (to mix holiday metaphors) but a parents job shuld be to define boundaries.  This is how your child learns to recognize them and finally to create them on their own. 

TrishaLynnDragon
TrishaLynnDragon

@pantrypest Says the commenter who has said nothing of value, worth or relevance re: the article. 


Stop meandering around finding invisible crap to criticize. Maybe head to a gym, go to night school, perhaps a yoga class? Get yourself some self worth and maybe you'll have something of value to add to conversations. 

nlncmmnt
nlncmmnt

@JenniferBonin @EconOneoOne thank you so much, it's people like you that gives me peace of mind. 

yes a kid shouldn't be given free reign in an open landscape, but they should atleast be able to run free in a LARGE fenced off open space where they can feel comfortable asking questions, getting answers and keeping that with them forever.

RunHappy21
RunHappy21

@TxCelt @EconOneoOne I disagree with both of you. Do you also trail behind your toddler to catch him every time he is about to fall? Kids learn to walk through practice and falling down, and they also learn self control through practice and learning the consequences of impulsivity. By controlling children and preventing them from making mistakes, we are teaching them to rely entirely on adults. Also, how do you expect the frontal lobe to develop if not through experience?

pantrypest
pantrypest

Scroll up for my contribution. Your contribution is a personal attack. Personally attacking others on the internet must help your self-esteem.

JenniferBonin
JenniferBonin

@Catfrank @JenniferBonin Cat, I'm only 33.  There were kids with diabetes in my class.  Maybe not as many as now, but we all knew what it was.  However, I've never known a single kid to get diabetes, or even just get overweight, because of what they ate on Halloween.  It's what they ate every OTHER day of the year, in sum, which causes health problems.  It's the same reason a piece of cake on your birthday won't ruin your diet: because it's only one meal, one day.  

The same is true about parenting, by the way:  a rule disregarded for a single holiday is not the same as being a bad parent, or having no rules for your kid.

JenniferBonin
JenniferBonin

@MaxJanowsky @Catfrank @JenniferBonin So tell me: does stuffing your face for ONE DAY make any significant change in your life?  If you really eat less than "600" calories on every other day (which I doubt, since you'd likely be dead or medically starving), then obviously one day's binge doesn't have any effect beyond that day.

In short, you're making my point:  one day's freedom doesn't harm you in the long run, even if you're stupid during that day.

nlncmmnt
nlncmmnt

 @Catfrank @JenniferBonin catfrank, you are wrong. You sound like every parent who thinks they know the best. You do know that you are responsible for a kid up until that kid leaves this world. tiny tiny events will reverberate into much bigger problems in adulthood. Just because you FEEL like your doing the right thing in the moment but never forget that it isn't about YOU and how YOU feel anymore. it's also about how YOUR KID FEELS and what if what you're doing is making your kid feel worthless, if it's making your kid feel like they are powerless in this world like they can't do anything right. then i promise you they will carry that with them their whole lives and that is a BAD PARENT 

MaxJanowsky
MaxJanowsky

@Catfrank @JenniferBonin The stupid is strong in this one. As a 15 year old I can say that I stuff my face all day on halloween with candy, which is usually more candy then i see any other time of the year. And guess what, I eat less then 600 calories on anyother day. Your wrong and your parents were wrong.