Border Mail column, Wednesday 5 January 2011.
Once upon a time there was a concept called personal responsibility, or if you were not old enough to be responsible for yourself, parental responsibility.
And as a parent you have the right to use a short but powerful two letter word: NO.
But it seems that for a Californian mother of two girls, aged two and six ‘no’ is too hard a word to use when it comes to buying McDonalds and its Happy Meals; she’s filed a lawsuit in conjunction with the Centre for Science in the Public Interest against the fast food giant.
According to the mother, Monet Parnham, McDonald’s should be a very limited part of her children’s diet and their childhood experience, but she is getting tired of using that two letter word in response to her children’s ‘litany of requests’ and it’s all the company’s fault.
‘I object to the fact that McDonald’s is getting into my kids’ heads without my permission and actually changing what my kids want to eat,’ Parnham said.
Reportedly, Parnham allows her children a monthly visit, but asserts that it’s the lure of the free toy, and especially the Shrek series, which transformed her daughters’ requests from pestering to the equivalent of Chinese water torture; they nagged and nagged until she was forced on a weekly basis to put them in the car, drive to Maccas and buy the Happy Meal with the toy so they could collect the complete series.
How awful that Ms Parnham, who away from her mother role is employed by the California Department of Health in its Cancer Prevention and Nutrition section, was held to ransom by her two little girls.
I wonder if she ever thought through the consequences of not buying the Happy Meals and associated toys for her daughters.
They might have thrown a tantrum in tandem, but this could only last so long; eventually little ones do tire of the whole thing and either go to sleep or find something else to pester their parents about.
I don’t disagree with some points of the lawsuit and especially Point 6: ‘The United States Supreme Court noted this year that children “have lack of maturity and an underdeveloped sense of responsibility; they are more vulnerable or susceptible to negative influences and outside pressures, including peer pressure; and their characters are not as well formed”, but again as a parent isn’t it our job to make decisions on behalf of our children until they can make them for themselves?
What I find more disturbing is that the class-action is being taken ‘on behalf of all of the state’s children under 8 years of age who have seen marketing for the company’s packaged children’s meals since December 2006.’
Monet Parnham and the Centre for Science in the Public Interest have decided that they have the right to speak on behalf of somebody else’s children: to take on the responsibility which is that of the parents of the children they purport to represent. Welcome to the Nanny State.
I’m not on the side of McDonald’s by any means; I have my concerns about some of the company’s marketing tactics, but the extent to which they are blamed for ‘forcing’ parents to buy their products including Happy Meals and toys feels a tad overrated.
We are each responsible for the decisions we make for ourselves or our children including whether we go to McDonalds or any other fast food chain and purchase their products.
And there’s always that very handy small but powerful two letter word you can add or put back into your parental vocabulary.