Q: My eight-year-old son was born prematurely and weighed only three pounds. He is still too thin, in my opinion, although his doctor hasn't been worried about it. I have been trying to get him to gain weight his whole life. In pre-school, kindergarten, and first grade I did not pack a special lunch for him (lunch was provided by the school). It seemed to me that he rarely ate lunch for these three years. My mother convinced me to start packing his lunch this year. He seems to be eating a bit more, but is overall just as picky. What should I do?
A: Because parent concerns about children who don’t eat much and are underweight are fairly common these days, I’ve asked the expert opinions of two pediatricians. Both tell me the same thing: First, if the child in question is healthy and active, then he or she is eating enough; second, being overweight is more of a problem than being slightly underweight (the childhood obesity problem in is perhaps America’s major childhood health issue); third, if the child’s physician has been consulted and is not concerned, then there is almost certainly no problem. It is the extremely rare child in America who suffers from malnutrition, the symptoms of which—lethargy, distended belly, dizziness, significant weight loss—are obvious indicators that something drastic is wrong.
In all likelihood, his prematurity sensitized you to health issues and your anxiety causes you to see mountains where there are only molehills. I can only advise you to relax and trust your son’s physician where his physical well-being is concerned.
Q: My daughter is in 8th grade and a straight "A" student. She turns 13 in a week and the new iPhone is on top of her wish list. She has told me that all of her friends have one. In truth, even some younger kids have them. My response was that I typically don't do what other parents do, and I am not able to justify spending that amount of money on something she absolutely doesn't need. What do you think I should do? I'm thinking of giving it as gift when she graduates from middle school. But that means depriving her for another eight months.
A: A 13-year-old whose only material complaint is that she lacks an iPhone is not deprived. Four things I’ve said before in this column bear repeating: First, it is healthy and ultimately strengthening for children to not have everything their friends have. Children need to learn, and the earlier the better, that keeping up with the Jacks and Jills at school is not the key to happiness. Second, children do not need cell phones until they begin to drive (maybe). There is no evidence that they are life saving and plenty of evidence that their use is, instead, life threatening. Third, teens use cell phones primarily to text one another. They do not promote proper communication or a healthy social experience. Fourth, my recommendation is and will be that a child should get a cell phone when he or she can afford to buy one and pay the monthly bill. It is an extravagance that, however “normal,” isn’t necessary to a normal life. In this situation, your financial priorities should rule. Period.