Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Teaching Pre-Teens About Healthy Product Choices

Lola is ten and has started wearing- needing! ( sorry honey ) deodorant this last year. After buying her Tom's deodorant, I mentally listed the looming changes in her life: puberty, periods, shaving (shaving cream), makeup, nail polish, the desire to dye her hair or god please spare us, a tattoo. ( answer: no. way. 18, baby. and even then, without approval or agreement. wait until 20, 21. even though your older brothers won't. sigh. ) As I looked at her natural, chemical free deodorant, I wondered: does Lola know why I make all the choices I do, enough for her to make the same choices on her own?

And so I began to teach her.  Disease typically begins in the body long before we can feel or see it, an internal discord that begins with an alarm ringing quietly, far far in the background, underneath a pillow and behind a window. Soon all hell breaks loose and the pillow is flung off, the window is shattered and your body is in a state of crisis. The reasons for disease beginning- and winning- in the body are numerous and not all known, but we do have some solid and proven knowledge about what does cause and support disease, and one of the major factors is environmental pollutants. I can't control everything Lola breathes or touches, but I can control what goes on her skin and in her mouth, and teach her why she should care, too.

Environmental pollutants are in the air we breathe, the food we eat, the water we drink and can be in anything that goes on or in our body, including shampoo, makeup, nail polish, lotion, cleaner, soap, and deodorant, for example. In the average person, one of these toxins is relatively harmless. Our bodies are made to take in, handle and excrete invaders. To a point. Today's environment is so gobsmack full of toxins that our lungs, kidneys, liver and immune system are overwhelmed. We weren't made to process the length and breadth of assault on our bodies that is occurring, and we pay for it in weakened immune systems, disease and death.

Children are particularly vulnerable to the damage of toxins. Articles have been popping up everywhere discussing the effects of these toxins on the development of boys and girls, often working through scientific theory and new studies on how the build up of 'xeno-estrogens', or fake estrogens in products, are affecting the hormonal development of girls. This article in the New York Times discusses in detail the new normal for the age of girls going through puberty, why they are doing so earlier, and then veers to suggest that possibly they are not going through actual puberty, but a mimicking of puberty caused by the buildup of toxins in their fat cells. Horrifying.

Many of you are familiar with Rachel Carson, the scientist who wrote the breakthrough book Silent Spring in the 70's, an eerie and sad foreshadowing of the disease we are ensuring for our people and planet as we continue to fill it with toxins. One of her main points of concerns was the damage to reproductive systems of animal and human, the reproductive system being particularly vulnerable to this kind of distortion, resulting in infertility and diseases sprung from the great flux of normal hormone balance, diseases like my own, hypothyroidism and endometriosis, and also disease like cancer. Ovarian, and breast and testicle. 

Although no link has been proven directly between toxins in our environment, early onset puberty, toxic buildup and disease, it is clearly there. We don't need studies and a decade of waiting around to see what our instinct and common sense can tell us: we need to change, and we need to protect our children, as best we can, from the environmental poisons. 

Teaching them about what to put on and in their bodies, and why, is Step Two. Step One began the day we knew we wanted a pregnancy, or the day we knew we were pregnant, when we can make great strides in reducing all chemicals coming in, and ensure that the foods we are eating are as pesticide free and organically grown as possible, and carried into their childhood as we made good choices about their home environment, the place we have the most control over. Step Two begins as our children reach the pre-teen years, when as with my Lola, the product level ratchets up, with more looming in the future. As children begin to make more choices for themselves, at school and friends and in private, we must increase the information.

I begin to explain to Lola more in depth about choices she has seen me make all her life. ' You know how I always buy certain things organic, and tell you that it is because they soak up pesticides, or because they are hormone free, and how that matters in order to keep our bodies strong and healthy? Well the same goes for the things you put on your skin, like deodorant. ' I went on to explain how our bodies stay healthy in part with lymph nodes, and how those lymph nodes are responsible for filtering toxins. I showed her how directly behind your armpit, those nodes live, in addition to other areas of the body. ' I love you, and I love your body, and so do you, right? Well in order to take care of yourself, you have to help your body by keeping it away from toxins that are in certain products, like deodorant. Your lymph nodes are so happy! You made their job easier. ' ( ensue daughter giggling)

As I use products around the house, I point out the labels: paraben free * no toxins * chemical free * all natural * organic * and explain what each means. As I put my lotion on at night, I tell her that if I can't open my mouth and eat the lotion, I shouldn't be slathering it over every inch of my body, either. I point out to her now and then the health and beauty of a strong, healthy body, and how good it feels to move your limbs, run, walk, jump, reach, hug hard, feel your heart pumping and your breath rushing in and out, to swim, to throw down with her brothers, to feel your feet thumping the ground. ' Your body gives you pleasure your whole life, ' I tell her, ' and you are the guardian of your own self. You are your protector! ' Lola swells up with pride. I can see that she knows the innate truth of what I am saying: that a healthy body is a joy, and that we are responsible for our own. Children love being given duties and adventures, and to see herself as the champion of her own body and happiness, her own protector, makes Lola happy. 

As children grow, we must explain to them the meaning of what is around them, and this includes the mind boggling array of choices they have in food and product. As much as I can, I lead my children (by example, more than words) to a 'less is more' attitude with product and food. The less fussy a food is, ( in other words, the more whole ) the better for you. Anything you can pluck out of the ground or off a tree ( especially organic ) was 'made for you and me'. So goes for products: I don't use tampons unless the rare occasion I need to swim, we use vinegar and water for most cleaning and chemical free products for the rest, my lotions are all paraben etc. free, and only because we can't afford to eat all organic, I buy the most important products organic: meat, milk and certain thin skinned fruits and veggies, like apples. Even snacks are usually  better for you the more simple they are: Cheerios trumps Chex Mix, Pretzels trump Yogurt covered raisins, corn chips trump Doritos.
Soy is best in small amounts and it's original form- not 'made with soy' burgers and soymilk. 

Our pre-teens are in a particularly great place for this kind of learning: just beginning to explore a small bit of independence, they are old enough to understand and want to, are excited to! make choices, but young enough to listen to what we say without resentment or feeling bossed around. They are still so absorbent and despite their growing social involvement, want most of all to make Mom and Dad (or whoever is the loved caregiver/s) happy and proud. The lessons they learn at this age absolutely make a deep impression, one that even if it disappears for a few teenage years will most likely resurface in the late teens or twenties. ( Which makes me seriously reconsider my semi-functional Starbucks obsession )  ( but not that seriously )

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