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Parents Talk: Ban Candy on Valentine's Day?

Some schools are keeping sweets out of the classroom.

What's Valentine's Day without candy?

Some kids are finding out, as schools extend bans on classroom sweets to holiday celebrations out of concern for students' health.

A Massachusetts school's has drawn national and international attention and criticism, as well as praise.

Parents in Minneapolis, where a policy to promote better student health started last year, see messages like:

"Students can bring valentines, but as you are shopping for valentines, please DO NOT purchase valentines with candy or send candy to school for the party."

Our 11-year-old broke the news to me a few days ago: The general ban on sugary snacks at her school applies to Valentine's Day. "It's ridiculous," she said. "Fruit snacks are about as close as you can get."

That sent her brother, 17, into a reverie about what used to be—candy hearts, pixie sticks, Hershey's bars. Sweets, he remembered, were "the whole point. It's small candy but it adds up. We had pretty big class sizes."

Our daughter explained that from a kid's perspective, Valentine's Day is the one holiday celebrated more at school than it is at home. "It's really fun," she said, lapsing into the present tense. "It's just 45 minutes of walking around and eating candy."

She'll still get a list of kids in her class and spend the weekend cutting out hearts or shopping for paper cards. And my wife gets the kids small boxes of chocolates—a tradition firmly instituted one year when they wondered why only we parents were exchanging heart-shaped presents at home.

So Valentine's Day will survive. But it won't be the same.

In fact, said my daughter, "It's absolutely horrible."

Ann Landon February 09, 2012 at 03:22 PM
I've seen too many kids with diabetes by middle school or are too big to fit into a standard desk to give kids candy any more. It may seem like just one day, but we have this same discussion around Christmas, and class parties, and student birthdays, and Halloween, and Pi Day, and 100th day, and on and on... The fact that we cannot conceive of a celebration without unhealthy food is the reason we have an enormous weight problem in this country. I've seen teachers have big fun in their classrooms without candy. Extra recess, games, songs, art projects, free time, movies, joke time - those make parties fun too. Remember, kids aren't losing a tradition when we take away the treats - they don't have traditions in school yet. The adults have way more problems with taking away the candy than the kids do.
Caitlin Burgess (Editor) February 09, 2012 at 05:31 PM
While I think it's important that healthy eating habits are enforced in schools, I think with anything, it needs to be reinforced at home, too. Childhood obesity is becoming a growing problem, but why is that? Kids in general aren't eating as healthy as in the past. Maybe stopping the candy train at school will help, but I think parents are mostly responsible. Two cents.
Jon McCullough February 09, 2012 at 06:29 PM
Big brother is bloated enough, why let him stop the little guy from having a piece of candy? I'll tell ya why, because big brother doesn't feel like he has enough power! BTW - if you didn't get it, big brother are the idiots we've voted in that continue to grow government out of control and dictate what we eat. Dood, if someone is going to get their kid fat there is nothing you can do to stop them short of taking their parenting license away... ohh crap, now I gave big brother ideas...!
Clare Kennedy February 09, 2012 at 06:37 PM
Wow, Ann, that is illuminating. I can definitely see where this comes from though. It seems like at every possible occasion Americans celebrate by eating something.
Christine Petersen February 09, 2012 at 06:54 PM
Hopkins School District has an award-winning school lunch program. Unhealthy treats in the classroom work at odds to that goal. They also defeat efforts from home to promote fitness and sustainability. I think it's lovely for my son to get cards from his friends at school, and even to get a sweet treat from his family. But the emphasis on candy in classroom Valentine's Day parties distorts the meaning of the holiday. Junk food is not love, and it has nothing to do with learning.
Christine Petersen February 09, 2012 at 06:56 PM
Great reminders here, Ann.
Michael Rose February 09, 2012 at 07:09 PM
I don't have any kids myself, so I can't speak from a parent's perspective, but I do think "sweets" are OK for kids in school on V-Day—in moderation. Maybe teachers can tell the kids not to bring candy, but they'll bring some themselves and control the amount handed out. I think the answer to these sorts of questions is rarely a blanket ban. Kids are kids, and they'll eat candy. But adults can set good examples for how much is consumed. PS - Not sure about all this obesity talk being relevant. A lot of V-Day candy is fat free. High in sugar? Of course. But I don't think V-Day candy hearts and the like necessarily contribute to an obesity epidemic. There are other gatherings (i.e. Super Bowl parties) that have much fattier foods.
rob_h78 February 09, 2012 at 09:23 PM
If it was just Valentine's Day and other specific times that kids were ingesting large amounts of sugar that would be fine - but given that unfortunately far too many kids ingest large amounts of sugar each day - coupled with little real physical activity, I don't think that we need to have it in school also - even for Valentine's Day. How about instead schools can take the opportunity to have some healthy treats - fruit, etc... and maybe kids can see that they don't have to have Candy at every possible opportunity. When I pick my grade school child up, it is pretty shocking how many (sorry to say it) fat and really fat kids there are in grade school. I dug out my old grade school class photos and we all looked like "famine" victims compared to what I too often see when I pick my child up.
Michael Rose February 09, 2012 at 09:37 PM
That's not a bad idea, Rob. For kids, it's human nature to see something tasty as a reward, and on occasions like V-Day, such a reward seems appropriate. But if we can make the tasty treat more healthy, then that's a win-win. Maybe teachers can make fun, healthier treats with their students? I remember always enjoying "ants on a log" (celery, with peanut butter and raisins), and it could be a fun activity for the group.
rob_h78 February 09, 2012 at 09:41 PM
Unfortunately your conclusion is correct. And unfortunately for all us we get to pay the higher Health Care Costs on our insurance plans, medicare payments, et al...
margaret richardson February 09, 2012 at 09:49 PM
Michael, contrary to popular belief, fat is not what makes you fat. In the 1990's we say the rise of this nutritional theory. The processed food makers hit us with Snackwells and other low fat products. Most products were loaded with high fructose corn syrup and salt to make them palatable after having taken out the fat. If you look at the rise of the obesity epidemic, it correlates pretty well. Unfortunately, most mass produced candy is made with high fructose corn syrup, not cane sugar. (google, 'Sugar, the Bitter Truth' for a better understanding of how it is processed in the body. Patterning our children's brains to link sweet with happy is not a good idea for future health.
Michael Rose February 09, 2012 at 09:53 PM
Thanks for the information, Margaret. Guess I just assumed that fat=fat, but it's interesting to know that there's more to it than that.
Kaija Prohofsky February 10, 2012 at 07:11 AM
So ban Valentines.. and lets bring this up again in October for Halloween. Why not. Ugh. It gets old. There is way more to it than just a few days out of the year. Plus, I really think the parents that freak out about sugar in kids, usually are feeding THEIR kids well.. (You know, a fairly healthy..balanced diet with fruit and veggies and proteins) So why not let them have a sweet treat or five or ten at school? The parents that don't supervise their kids sugar intake or 'let them' have large amounts of candy or whatever all the time, probably don't even think about valentines day as a big deal. But at the same time, they probably don't feed themselves well so why would they feed their kids any better? I guess what I am trying to say is, you are the parent. If you educate your kid about food and feed them the right things, Valentines/Halloween isn't going to make your kid gain 20 lbs overnight. And if you REALLY don't want your kid to participate, pull them out of school. It's been a few years since I have been in the school district, but it was crazy to see how many parents would pull their kids out of school for vacations (before spring break). If candy is really such a big deal, just skip the day and tell them how much you love them instead. :p
Kaija Prohofsky February 10, 2012 at 07:17 AM
I am double posting too because my rant got a little long. :) As far as I remember, Teachers are not allowed to just make fun snacks for their kids. A kid with allergies and an unknowing teacher can be a bad problem.. I don't think this is new? I started at Highlands 15 years ago and there were strict rules in place regarding bringing in food.. for teachers and parents. No homemade food was allowed, basically everything had to be prepackaged and store bought. (If it was to be shared with the class of course) Personal food and snack obviously is different.
Chris Steller (Editor) February 10, 2012 at 11:50 AM
Kaija, thanks for the comments. It does seem that closer attention to food in the classroom goes back at least a decade or two. For my kids, though, the strict rule on no sweets for Halloween is new this year.
Bill Levine February 10, 2012 at 12:28 PM
Teaching kids healthy eating habits is the key. Like the forbidden fruit...if we do not teach our children what should be the basis of a healthy lifestyle..they will later on gravitate towards the bad stuff. In total moderation an occasional treat is ok. Let us fill up with fruits..veggies..and whole grains. Afterwards..a small dark chocolate. Good antioxidants. Good nutrtrition starts at home with modeling and smart choices. Oh...how about healthy school lunch programs? That would be something to rally around.
charles spolyar February 10, 2012 at 06:03 PM
Back in my days of grade school in the 70's I don't remember exchanging candy as part of Valentines day. Cards, yes, but not candy. Any one else have the smae recollection?
Chris Steller (Editor) February 10, 2012 at 06:08 PM
Charles, good point. I think the Golden Era of School Valentine's Day with Candy was maybe 1988-2012.
Michael Rose February 10, 2012 at 06:13 PM
Chris, you're probably right. I'm a youngster, and during my grade school days in the '90s, there was often candy attached to some of the Valentines. Not all of them, but some kids did. Things like suckers and candy hearts, mainly.
Cedar Phillips February 12, 2012 at 05:12 AM
It's one day a year. No one is going to get fat from eating a handful of candy hearts. If anything, sending the message that candy is for special treats (and therefore NOT a normal daily event) seems to the better message here. I have fond memories from my own MPS Valentine's Day parties (back in the '80s), and those memories most definitely include candy hearts. (I think heart-shaped lollipops were also common, but the hearts seemed to be more common) And what about literacy? Don't you remember reading the messages on the hearts before eating them? I still do, and enjoy seeing how they've changed over the years. And while yes, of course it's a stretch to suggest that exchanging conversation hearts promotes childhood literacy, I think it's also a stretch to suggest that popping a handful of sugar on February 14th is contributing to our childhood obesity epidemic. Focusing on holiday candy policies distracts from the larger issues here.
Christine Petersen February 12, 2012 at 03:07 PM
I don't worry about the fact that my child has a few treats at school at the time of his class's Valentine's Day party. The problem is that Valentine's Day has turned into another Halloween. The tradition has always been to give each classmate a card. Now, at least half of the cards my son brings home have lollipops and other candy attached. That's at least two week's worth of candy--a big impact, not an isolated incident. The point of a party is to reinforce class community, and candy really doesn't have to be a part of that.
margaret richardson February 12, 2012 at 03:22 PM
i believe the issue is just highlighted on Valentine's Day. Throughout the whole school year, in my niece's 2nd grade classroom, candy or sweets are used to celebrate everything. When they finished the geology study, the teacher had them create "dirt" chocolate pudding, ground oreo cookie topping and gummy worms. Kids are given jolly rancher candy when they do well on a math sheet. Gingerbread houses for winter break. When they kids had a scheduled release day, they made necklaces out of fruit loops. When the kids get a little distracted in the classroom, the teacher hands out a jolly rancher rather than have them do something active the refresh their brains. Not only is it the pattern of giving candy/snacks to reward something, but the message than you need to turn to a sugary, dye laden candy when you are feeling distracted, tired...I think is a really, really bad message. (Google the relationship of food dye to ADD/ADHD behavior) AND this is the year they are supposed to be learning about nutrition! Talk about a disconnect.
Beth K. February 13, 2012 at 10:57 PM
How many schools allow Valentine's Day to be acknowledged at all? At Emmet D. Williams Elementary, a Roseville, MN ISD623 school, Valentine's Day has been banned in its entirety. There will be no cards. No candy. And definitely NO party. They say it’s an equity issue. Instead of a party, they will talk to the kids about “what it means to be a friend.” For some of the children, it was their favorite party. Not all kids gave candy. Many just gave cards (the best were homemade). Some added a pencil or tattoo. Our Valentine's Day parties were led by parents, funded by parents and the PTA. It was a wonderful way for parents to meet other parents, working together to plan and run the parties. The kids LOVED these parties. As far as the obesity epidemic, it’s not caused by the kids having a treat at school. It’s the day-to-day lousy eating habits many people now have. Fast food too often, white bread, white rice, pre-packaged foods, etc. If anything at school contributes to it, it would be the horrendous school lunches and the cuts to Phy Ed.
Cedar Phillips February 14, 2012 at 05:40 AM
That has been the case for centuries, though; food has ALWAYS been at the center of celebrations (and not just in the United States). Americans didn't suddenly become fat because they incorporated food into their communal celebrations. There are many different theories as to the reasons for the growing obesity epidemic, but no one gets fat on special holiday treats. That said, I DO think that candy in the classroom should be limited to special events, not casually tossed around or given as rewards as is the case in some classrooms. I am in full support of encouraging healthy eating, but do think focusing on the supposed dangers of classroom holiday parties distracts from larger conversations.
Renee E Walker February 14, 2012 at 05:03 PM
I really like your idea Beth=0)I just want to add that the teachers and school`s really do teach our kid`s good nutrition,but they also teach them what it means to be responsible.Learning responsibility come`s primarily from mom and dad.I don`t as a parent believe it`s a good idea to blame things on other people it`s teaching kid`s to become hostile,I try and teach my kids to take responsibility for their actions and they learn not only through their mistakes but mine as well.If I do something wrong I own up to it,they look up to me in a better way as well as other adults,they are also learning a very good lesson in life.Diabetes is based on upon a persons choice,if not that then it`s genetics (though i`m not a doctor) I believe with all my heart it`s the decisions we make.All parent`s do their best,and are mostly great caring people who want the best for their child,but just think about what I wrote and keep taking care of those kiddo`s the best you can.=0)
rob_h78 February 14, 2012 at 05:09 PM
I don't recall candy either being in school other than what kids brought in their lunches and even then most kids who brought their lunches had real sandwiches (tuna, PBJ, ham, etc...) and, yes, actual "fruit" and stuff like real carrots and as I recall there wasn't a lot of processed junk as there is today.
Janine February 14, 2012 at 06:48 PM
I also have a child at Emmet D. Williams Elementary School in Roseville and I would have had no problem if the school district would have just banned the candy for Valentine's Day and kept the Valentine's and school party. Instead, the district not only banned Valentine's Day but ALL holiday celebrations throughout all schools in the district. Can't even mention the word, Halloween anymore. Absolutely ridiculous! U.S. traditional values and respect for our heritage have gone down the drain. Morale is down by all the kids at Emmet D. and so has our school ranking, plummeting from 2nd to last place. I miss our hold principal who valued parents' opinions. ! I think it's time for a new Superintendent.
Chris Steller (Editor) February 14, 2012 at 07:27 PM
Really interesting about what's going on in Roseville. Valentine's parties aren't banned at my daughter's school but in her classroom anyway, the candy ban has had the same effect. There is no Valentine's party, and as you say it was one of the kids' favorite days at school. Maybe the parents could have rescued the party. I wish I'd learned about the problem earlier.
Penna1965 February 27, 2012 at 05:44 PM
Kids are not exercising either. Sitting still, watching television, watching movies, sitting in a car, not playing sports because the sports are too organized, playing video games, etc. There are not pickup games at the park, hardly any kids playing outside. Exercise and diet go hand in hand. In Minnesota, PE classes are only once in high school, not every year daily or three times a week when my husband and I were in school.
Penna1965 February 27, 2012 at 05:50 PM
Margaret, high fructose corn syrup is just as bad as beet sugar or cane sugar. Sugar is sugar no matter the source. Limiting the sugar in everything is key. Moderation, exercise and diet.

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