It's been going on so long, it's practically tradition. Teachers pack papers in a kid's bookbag to send home to Mom and Dad. Kid gets out of the teacher's sight, and they take a peek at whatever said paper says. But what a 9-year-old girl in New York City found on a note to her parents recently was shocking -- for both child and Mom. The slim third grader was being labeled "overweight" in a school health assessment.
At 4 feet, 1 inch tall and 66 pounds, the idea that Gwendolyn Williams is in any way overweight is ludicrous. She looks like most third graders -- healthy. But just as ludicrous is the notion that a school would put the thought in a young child's head that their body size matters.
Whatever happened to teaching kids about health, first and foremost? To avoiding talk of size? To protecting them from body dysmorphia for as long as humanly possible?
This health assessment has raised eyebrows because it has put an unhealthy label on a clearly healthy child.
But what should also alarm parents is that this weight (pun very much intended) was put on a child's shoulders. The school didn't just tell her parents; they made sure this child heard the message too.
That's a problem!
Regardless of a child's actual size, they don't need to hear there is something wrong with their body. They don't need to be made to focus on appearance.
Children as young as 5 have been noted in medical literature as putting themselves on diets or -- scarier still -- needing treatment for anorexia. What's more, when a girl is called "fat," her risk of being obese later in life is higher than her peers. If the criticism comes from a family member, the risk is 60 percent higher. It's 40 percent higher if it comes from a friend ... or a teacher.
What's said at school matters to kids.
What's said about their weight matters to kids.
Typically, schools that have begun programs akin to that at Gwendolyn's claim they're meant to encourage parents to talk to their kids about nutrition and exercise.
That sounds harmless enough -- even well-intentioned -- but it can easily be accomplished without putting labels on kids, without telling young children that there is something wrong with their bodies.
How would you feel if your child got one of these letters? Should schools cut this practice out?
Image via davidd/Flickr