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Maybe we are too easy on our children

Updated: November 26, 2011 12:26AM

Are we turning our children into wimps?

I have to ask myself that every time I feel like I have to spare my grandchildren some unpleasantness I endured as a child.

And two stories recently in the news make me think a lot of well-meaning parents are raising wimpy kids.

For instance, in Arizona, a grandfather was charged with child abuse after witnesses and passers-by complained about his treatment of his three grandsons, ages 12, 9 and 8.

Allegedly, Christopher A. Carlson, of Indianapolis, “shoved” the 12-year-old and “whipped him with a rolled up T-shirt,” as he pushed the kids to tackle a brutal trail, according to the Associated Press.

Grandpa is accused of making the kids “walk on ulcerated blisters, and of denying them food and water at a popular 18-mile trail at the Grand Canyon.

“Carlson told the authorities that the boys had been overweight and he thought the hike would get them into shape,” the AP reported.

Grandpa must be in incredible shape because I wouldn’t last three miles trekking a wilderness trail with my 11-year-old grandson. Heck, he’d be the one wielding the rolled up T-shirt.

So you go grandpa. But instead of getting a high-five, this grandparent got a court date because observers thought he was being too hard on his grandsons.

Although the hike was challenging — especially in soaring temperatures — there’s no indication thus far that Carlson was “abusing” his grandsons.

In fact, the mother, Tara Danaher, told authorities that her sons have traveled to Central America and Jamaica this summer with their grandfather and the boys had no complaints. Carlson told a park official that he was “tough” on the boys because there are some “tough people in the world.”

Another situation that has a lot of parents upset doesn’t even involve a real kid.

Although Maggie Goes on a Diet has not yet hit bookshelves, the self-published children’s book has bloggers and reviewers demanding it be pulled.

Novice author Paul Kramer’s fictional account of a 14-year-old obese girl who longs to be thin has upset so many people, the controversy became a news story. “[M] aggie isn’t looking at an imagined reflection of herself dominating the soccer field. For this little girl, it’s all about the dress. The book is promoting skinny first, with a side of healthy slipped in later,” wrote a blogger for Huffpost.

Other critics, including parenting experts, condemn Kramer for depicting a chubby 14-year-old going on a diet. Instead of dieting, these experts recommend that teens be taught how to eat healthy and to exercise. Critics also point out that dieting could put teens on the path to eating disorders.

I’m all for teaching kids healthy eating habits, but have we forgotten the foods we craved as teenagers? It certainly was not veggies and string cheese.

Also, it is not like Kramer is bringing up something most of us don’t know. Too many teenage girls are obese. And more often than not, these obese teenage girls are not having a lot of fun.

Neither are their parents.

It is heartbreaking for a mother to watch an overweight daughter shop for a trendy outfit, or to tell that daughter that she can’t get away with wearing the same styles as her thin girlfriends.

No, a girl’s self-esteem should not be tied up in her body image, because our bodies change.

But our society darn near worships a perfectly proportioned body: Too fat isn’t good. Too skinny isn’t good either. So it is unfair to treat teens as if there is no social stigma attached to being overweight.

As for the debate over whether to diet or not to diet, many of us didn’t have to worry about weight gain until after age 50. Therefore, we may not be as strongly opposed to dieting as the people who have been on and off diets for most of their lives.

It is understandable that adults want to protect children from the harsh realities that show them our world can be an unkind place.

But young people need to know how to exist in such a world. As adults, we have to accept that we can’t save them from every bruise — nor should we.

We don’t want our children to grow up to be too hard. But we don’t want them to be too soft, either.

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