Activism

Voting: A Lifetime Habit

Election Day was already a week ago, but it’s always a good time to think about engaging with children and students about their civic duty. Research shows that voting is as much a habit as it is a privilege or a responsibility. Eligible voters who vote in their first three elections are more likely to remain lifelong voters, according to the New York Times.

 

The United States is an advanced democracy, and one in which parents have a major influence in forming their children’s voting habits. Partisan leanings aside, the act of going to polling stations with our parents on election day itself (or sending in ballots beforehand) is something that positively influences us as citizens. As an example, Dr. Perri Klass, the author of the New York Times article, said, “In fact, if you look at the American Academy of Pediatrics website for parental advice, you will be told, ‘Children do best when routines are regular, predictable and consistent.’” Voting routines are not necessarily the same thing as annual physical exams or making daily healthy decisions to eat right and getting exercise, but they are a building block for children to make empowering, healthy decisions that will last them a lifetime.

 

Although American citizens may not be old enough to vote until they are 18 years old, children can still observe how adults in their lives approach national and local elections from a young age. One  good way to teach children about voting at elementary schools where they are often doubled as polling stations every four years. In some of these elementary schools, young children can accompany their parents in these polling booths. Dr. Klass wrote that civic engagement as part of a family’s daily life - talking about politics at dinner or actively participating in student government - cements habits that stay with students as they grow up and become eligible for elections as young adults.

 

Our most recent election exposed many fault lines in the country, and has been one of the more divisive ones in recent memory. Yet the health of the voting public depends on voters who will return to the polls to vote about the issues that they care about the most, and to pass this behavior to their children. Parents may have mixed feelings about exposing their children to politics at a young age, but there is no denying that parents have a major influence in their children’s future by teaching them to voice their beliefs on the ballots at a young age.

What Junk Food Does to Your Brain and Why Kids are Fighting Back to Get Healthier

 

We know that potato chips and sodas are addictive, but have you ever wondered about the science behind junk food? It turns out that junk food is actually as addictive as it is harmful to the body. Neuroscientists interviewed in The Atlantic found that foods like Oreos can be as addictive as psychoactive drugs, if not more so.  They discovered that “high-fat, high-sugar foods are stimulating the brain’s [pleasure centers]” in the same way that drugs can. A 2010 study cited in the article confirmed the addiction phenomenon when they fed lab rats bacon, sausage, cheesecake, and frosting for 40 days. With brain imaging, the researchers found the rats’ resulting brain activity to resemble that of cocaine and heroin addicts.

What does this mean? For children whose dietary staple may include snack foods, they may become conditioned to expect and crave junk food at an early age. This exacerbates the picky eating problem we discussed last week, and also contributes to other very real problems in children’s health like obesity.

Even though young children may be the targets of advertising companies who spend a fortune on researching methods to make junk food even more irresistible, study shows that teens are fighting back. Researchers at the University of Chicago and the University of Texas studied methods to help teens beat advertisers at their own game. Instead of “focusing on a future, healthier you” that seems abstract, these researchers introduced teenagers to an “exposé” article highlighting the manipulative methods of food industry executives and consultants as they strategized to get young people to eat more unhealthy food. In this way, choosing to eat healthy food became an act of rebellion against a socially unjust system of “controlling, hypocritical adults” that was conspiring to keep teens unhealthy.

Explaining to students about the importance of healthy food was just not enough. Students who read the expose article were more likely to associate healthy eating with autonomy and social justice. The success of this study suggests that teenagers and young students want to exert more control over their own health because they strongly associate their health with their independence. If anything can beat chemical addiction, it could very well be a student’s willpower to take charge of their own health.

Read a more detailed summary of this study here.