How We’re Setting Our Kids Up to Be Fat, Sick, and Unhappy

I’ve been on a bit of a “children’s health and wellness” kick lately, with a couple posts discussing the importance — and, unfortunately, dearth — of free play and exploration in our children’s lives. Some of you have speculated via email that Carrie and I have something to announce, but that’s definitely not the case. This is simply an important topic for everyone with a stake in the future of this world. The mental, physical, and spiritual health of our children today will determine our trajectory through history in the decades to come. If a fat, sick, and unhappy generation takes the reins of this planet, nothing good will come of it.

Also, those are our kids. Once you’ve popped one out, it’s your responsibility to give them the tools and environment they need to realize their potential. No, not a free ride. Not a hand-holding session. But we need to provide the things they, as infants, toddlers, and prepubescents filled with simmering stews of hormones, cannot. The incredible thing about smaller, less “mature” humans is that make pretty good decisions regarding health, fitness, activity, sleep, and every other lifestyle factor we seek to optimize on this blog if they’re in the right environment. No micromanagement required (in fact, micromanagement of our children is one of the biggest impediments to their healthy growth and development).

Okay, so what exactly is wrong with kids today? Why am I yelling at this cloud?

Their parents are told to ignore their instincts early on.

What’s the first thing a new parent feels like doing when they behold that wrinkly red humanoid that just sprang from the mom’s loins? Holding it close. Bare skin against bare skin. You don’t want to whisk your newborn off to the nursery, or have to wait patiently until a medical professional runs diagnostics and decides when you can hold him. You want that thing in your arms, right now.

And when you get home (or maybe you did it at home), you just want to fall asleep with your new family member in the same room as you. Maybe even in the same bed. You probably don’t want to leave your defenseless, utterly confused womb emigrant alone in an empty crib halfway across the house. You don’t want to hear distant cries. You want that burbling no-necked little monster making indecipherable coos, grunts, and farts (a necessary evil) onto your chest. But you ignore those instincts, because you’re not “supposed” to sleep with your baby. Unfortunately, you and your family may be missing out on some important, long-lasting benefits granted by co-sleeping.

Now, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with not co-sleeping. You don’t have to do it, and babies turn out perfectly healthy and happy and well-adjusted sleeping in their own beds. But if you want to co-sleep, don’t fight the urge. Don’t let the reigning conventional wisdom regarding baby sleeping arrangements dissuade you, because it’s not based on sound science. That instinct is a powerful one, and I think it’s probably important to heed it, particularly if you practice safe co-sleeping.

The important thing is that parents have lost trust in themselves. Don’t. Get it back. Because once you start second guessing your motherly or fatherly instincts, you’re going down a stressful path. To live in conflict with oneself is untenable and unsustainable. You can’t parent effectively like that.

They spend most of their time sitting still in chairs at school.

Kids are active beings. They don’t like to sit still. They love to run, jump, crawl, leap, climb, squat down to look at some bugs or build a teepee with sticks, lift rocks to see what lurks underneath, throw things (often at each other), dance, and laugh. Put one down in a large grassy area and you’ll see it for yourself. They need to move. And we wring it out of them every time they go to school. We force them into chairs for eight hours a day, which is perfect training for future office workers but terrible training for healthy human animals. What’s the number one problem in first world nation adults, according to many researches? We sit too much, and it’s killing us. So why do we force kids to do it when they’re at their most vulnerable and malleable? What do we think is going to happen when they grow up?

This is changing, slowly. On Weekend Link Love, I’ve linked to a number of classrooms doing trial runs with standing desks, and across the board they’ve been successful at improving kids’ focus and reducing behavioral incidents. And kids with ADHD who are allowed to squirm around on balance balls or ride stationary bikes in the classroom learn better. Kelly and Juliet Starrett are starting a nonprofit called StandupKids that hopes to revolutionize the way classrooms are set up, so be sure to check them out.

They spend most of their free time sitting in chairs and sofas at home staring at screens.

In 2010, the average time spent each day staring into electronic devices for 8-18 year-olds was 7.38 hours. A 2013 American Academy of Pediatrics’ study found that average 8 year-olds use electronic media for 8 eight hours a day and teens average 11 hours. If that sounds like a bad idea, it is:

They spend what little time remains sitting in chairs while being driven between home and school.

Independent mobility is down, way down. Rare is the sight of a kid biking or walking to school, the park, or just aimlessly on a lazy summer day. Now, cars pileup around the block to wait in line to drop individual kids off at school. Even if the parents wanted to let the kid walk there unassisted, half the time it’s not allowed by the school administration. Heck, Child Protective Services gets involved when a parent dares let their kids walk a half mile alone to the park, even though it’s never been safer to be a kid in the United States (and the same goes for most first world nations). Wealthy NYC parents are hiring play date consultants. We’ve managed to stifle, confuse, and disrupt one of the most powerful forces in the known universe: a child’s sense of play and desire to explore the surroundings. It’s utter madness.

When they do get to move around, they’re wearing heeled shoes.

Look, if you want to teeter around on heels as an adult, that’s fine. Nothing wrong with that provided you accept the consequences and maybe try to take some steps to ameliorate the effect it has on your lower limbs. But kids don’t buy their own shoes. For the first few years, they don’t even put on their own shoes. They don’t really have the choice.

For every positive degree of heel elevation, another joint along the kinetic chain has to compensate by a degree. Maybe it’s your knee, or your hip, or your lower back. Maybe it’s all of them. Whatever it is, even a slight heel throws the rest of your body out of alignment. You may be okay with that. You’re used to it. But we should give our kids the chance to start fresh and establish motor patterns without the altered input from heeled shoes. If they want to mess with their joint angles later, that’s on them. For now, keep your kid’s heels on the floor.

They eat too much sugar.

The other day I wrote about average sugar intakes around the world, and the averages for all ages were quite high. The kids are way, way worse. In the US, boys get 16.3% of their energy from added sugars alone. For girls, it’s 15.5%. Rates are similar across other nations.

In theory, kids should be able to get away with a little more sugar than adults, especially if it’s whole food sugar from something like fruit. But not if they’re sitting around all day, failing to realize their essential natures as living balls of kinetic energy, and not if they’re eating added sugar and missing out on all the nutrients that normally accompany sugar sources in whole foods. In today’s kids, just one daily serving of sugar-sweetened beverages is linked to a 60% greater chance of obesity.

They don’t get enough time in nature.

I’ve often said that nature is the default environment of the human genome. Our genes expect trees, grass, weeds, sand, desert vistas, rolling waves, gurgling brooks, rushing rivers, towering rainforests, and all the other things we associate with “the great outdoors.” Before agriculture (and for most people long after), that was the world. It wasn’t a separate place, the wild frontier we explored and conquered and today pay a fee to access. It simply was. And if we adults are susceptible to inadequate amounts of time spent in the default environment, kids are even more sensitive.

Nature deficit disorder is a real issue that research has linked to rising rates of depression, ADHD, obesity, and sedentary living. The more green space children can access, the more active they are, the less TV they watch, the more independently they explore the neighborhood, and the fewer behavioral problems they have (which applies to both green and “blue space,” or the beach). Forests seem to be especially effective at promoting greater physical activity and less sedentary time, far more than residential greenness or public parks (which were surprisingly associated with a greater risk of asthma and only a modest reduction in sedentary time). The wilder the better, I suppose.

They’re not sleeping enough.

Kid physiologies are finely tuned to their sleep needs, if you let them. They rub their eyes the instant the pineal gland starts pumping out melatonin as a warning sign to everyone in their immediate vicinity: get me to bed or face the consequences. But we get in the way.

We give them the aforementioned electronic devices to keep them quiet and save us the burden of reading stories to them before bed. We keep the TV on late into the night. We install blue night lights in their rooms to keep the bogeyman — and sleep — away. We allow TVs and other small electronic screens in the bedroom which disrupt their sleep. The result is that 30-40% of kids don’t get enough sleep each night, and what sleep they do get is often of poor quality. Plus, over 2 million kids have diagnosed sleep disorders. Even obstructive sleep apnea is prevalent enough in kids that it has its own name: pediatric OSA.

They take more prescription drugs than ever before.

Diagnoses for anxiety, ADHD, depression, and eating disorders are way up in American kids, which is just sad. Some people worry about illegal drugs, but I find the prospect of our children filling more prescriptions chilling. Even though the prescription numbers don’t seem astronomical on an absolute basis, but they’re higher than they should be and probably belie even higher numbers of kids with the conditions but no diagnoses or access to health care. How many kids who are suffering from depression, ADHD, and other conditions aren’t taking prescriptions because they have no access to health care or refuse to admit they have a problem or tell their parents, let alone a doctor?

Antidepressants are associated with suicidal thoughts and weight gain, and we don’t even know if they actually work in kids. But the biggest, saddest issue in all this is that we have millions of children who are so depressed that they need medication.

They’re still too fat.

Although the obesity rate for the youngest (2-5 years) Americans has slightly declined to 8.4%, childhood obesity in general (2-19 years) has remained steady. And among all children, tot and teen alike, obesity rates remain elevated and largely unchanged from a decade ago. The causes are multifactorial — see everything above for some strong candidates — so addressing childhood obesity is a big, big job.

Okay so these are (some of) the problems facing our kids and, by extension, placing the future of the species in peril. What can we do? That’s for another post at another time. For now, I want to hear from you.

How would you address some of these issues? How have you addressed these issues in the children in your life? It’s not quite so simple as “go Primal,” is it?

Prefer listening to reading? Get an audio recording of this blog post, and subscribe to the Primal Blueprint Podcast on iTunes for instant access to all past, present and future episodes here.

TAGS:  body fat

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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128 thoughts on “How We’re Setting Our Kids Up to Be Fat, Sick, and Unhappy”

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  1. I totally agree. It’s difficult to fight the ‘brain washing’ on so many levels. Food, activities, social norms, materialism…. the list is never ending.
    Thanks for the daily affirmations.

  2. So, so important to bring attention to these disturbing trends among today’s kids–thank you. And so, so frightening to ponder what over-prescription of pharmaceuticals does to kids’ developing bodies and brains.

    Our bodies want to move toward balance…and oftentimes kids are way more in touch with this than adults. But things like over-prescribing meds and over-stimulation by electronics throw this innate movement toward balance and wellness way off kilter.

    As adults, we at least get to make the choice and take responsibility for our actions. So, so important that we also take responsibility for how our choices around food, nature, medicine, electronics, etc., affect the kids in our care–and exert an impact extending into their adulthood…and into the lives of their own kids.

  3. transitioning to a primal lifestyle was one of my biggest motivations to start homeschooling. I know that not every parent has this luxury.

    Now that my kids are home, they move more, we spend a lot of time outside (no matter the weather). We live in AZ. We spent time in the desert when it was 105. We spent time in the desert when it was raining and the washes were full of water. They LOVE it.

    They also seem happier and healthier now that I have stripped myself of the CW mindset.

      1. that’s a great idea! Many of the people in my home-school group are paleo or at least paleo-ish. I think that more homeschoolers tend to eschew CW… 🙂

        1. I started one!
          Feel free to use or edit my wording for your town.
          Brave (ish) parents of young school (and pre-school) children who want their kids to have a more traditional childhood with safe and healthy developmental independence. (See Lenore Skenazy’s book “Free Range Kids.”) Wouldn’t it be great if you could find other parents at you kids’ school who value age-appropriate, unstructured, independent activities over detached, passive screen time and virtual “play”? Wouldn’t it be great if kids could find friends to safely free-range with as they get older? This group is for parents that want to bond with like-minded families from their DS school for years of support from a satellite community outside the classroom. Get to know each other while the kids are little! Stand together for healthy human values! Home schoolers have done this and there is nothing stopping school families from establishing friendly communities too. I am a home schooler who would love to help empower school parents wanting to push back a little against our over-scheduled, overprotective, “virtual” modern lifestyle. After splinter groups from each school form, I’m outta here!

    1. I agree that nature is super important for all of us. My son and daughter are 40 and 39 and often refer to all of the ‘nature walks’ and picnics I would take them on. Sundays also included Dad and we’d go for walks as a family. It’s among the first ‘good memories’ they mention about childhood and they crave it to this day. I emphasised it with them because I grew up surrounded by forests and woods and always went exploring through them and along creeks, etc. Keep passing on your love of nature to them and they’ll be sure to mention it when they’re grown-up, as well 🙂

      1. Thanks! I’m glad to see that you have been appreciated for the effort you made with your children. 🙂

    2. Hi from another homeschooler/unschooler, paleo, Zonie family. We are in Phoenix

  4. I have recently started a Meet-up group in my town, “Austin Paleo Families” which is primarily for fostering free ranging at different levels of parental comfort. I know a lot of cool places where the kids can safely be out of the parents sight. I’m also hoping to foster Meet-up groups among young school kids’ parents so they can be around like-minded families without home schooling.

    I unschooled my kids and made sure they had free range possibilities every day. I made sure we had a close community of kids for them and moms for me. They grew up in a gang of 11 girls. For most of their childhoods we only watched TV on weekend nights.

    My philosophy was, and is, that staring at a wall is better than the best educational TV show. Of course they went outside to the creek! No TVs or computers were allowed in rooms (computers allowed in rooms after they are teenagers).

    I let them choose how to get educated and sometimes begged them to stay home from (a la carte) classes if they were tired. They are all in community colllege by 16 and close to 4.0 gpas.

    1. Catherine, that is so awesome! I too would love to unschool my kiddo (not my special needs kiddo……she loves school and thankfully her teacher this year is amaaaaaaaaazing…she is helping us out so much with some of the important independence skills that she needs. But yes, I definitely agree with you on all accounts. I am surprised you said unschool because most unschoolers I come across let their kids eat and watch what they want. So I am assuming you are not a radical unschooler, lol!

      Anyhoo, love what you have done and am glad that you are setting up these meetup groups!

  5. I have a 14 yo boy with ADHD. Although he does take a medicine to help him concentrate at shcool, he also is very physically active. I tell people all the time that when he gets out of control, I make him go outside and run sprints, or if it is raining, the stairs inside. He has begun to recognize those times and will often tell me he needs to go outside and run. We also live on 3 acres with very old trees. At least every weekend he is outside picking up limbs that have fallen. He also cuts our 3 acres of grass and does numerous yard tasks. No, he is not a slave. We are with him outside and helping. The benefits of being outside and physically active are numerous. He also plays travel baseball and hunts and fishes.Thanks for this article Mark. I think you have hit the nail on the head with this. I wish more parents would realize what nature does for us as human beings and just send their kids outside to play games with sticks and rocks instead of toys.

  6. Our answer to life not fitting our kids very well these days is homeschooling on our little 5 acre farm. The kids get to run around outside as much as they want, can do math standing on their heads if they feel like it, and can move as their bodies direct them. No forced sitting at desks at our home! They can also learn per their interests and individual rates of development. Makes for very happy, healthy, active kids.

      1. Yes, I’m lucky enough to be able to develop software part-time from home. This gives them a good view of the work life of a software engineer and into “life as an adult.”

  7. What I’m doing is getting my tween to read this. I’m printing it out right now, so she can sit down and read it, not stare at a screen to read it (because that’s a little bit of a mixed-message in this context). I encourage all parents of literate-aged kids to stick this article under their noses!

    The other awesome article that I had my tween read (also from last Sunday’s MDA) is “Distraction is a kind of Obesity of the Mind.” Great article.

    Our school really undermined us. A few years back our kids had no screen time, and then the school introduced an iPad program. So we had to buy them iPads, and they had to bring them home for homework every night. You’d never hand your kid their textbooks and a comic book at the same time, right? Well, giving a kid an iPad is like giving them a textbooks with a comic book in the back. Or…one thousand comic books of various levels of appropriateness.

    My tween has gotten out of control with innocent-but-time-consuming texting. I remember being that age, and wanting to be on the phone all the time; I get it. But spring has sprung in our area, and the other, rare, perfect-weather day she spent texting it away, inside.

    We had a talk (this is like my 20th talk and of course it’s talk combined with other strategies and tactics) and suddenly there was hope. She said, “you know, mom, I realize you have a point. I was looking at (prolific texting friend “Larla”) texting and I thought, “you know, Larla’s got no life. And I’m starting to think I need to get a life too. So I’ll go walk in the woods with you.”

    1. I’m encouraging parents to start Meet–up groups with like minded families from school. Best to start young so they know each other early.
      C’mon peeps! Start your own “MLK Elementary Outdoor Kids”Meet-Up group today!

  8. I start by saying “I am not a parent” as not admitting that first off is certainly a rule for disaster.

    I was on a day trip recently over to Catalina. I suppose it could have been anywhere but as it was I was in the mode of people-watching. Sitting, relaxing and letting my husband and sister in law catch their breath.

    As I mulled over the aging process I was seeing in them, I looked at the children around me: from toddlers to adolescents. And I said to myself, “What are we doing to our children? What have we done to our species?”

    A little dramatic but it struck me so that this thought rose to the top. It wasn’t judgmental in anyway, believe me. But it was really an observational question, similar to if you asked “Why is the sky blue?”

    1. We are all involved in this, parent or not. As I wrote in a recent blog post on free-range kids, “How long will this be a great country if we teach our kids it isn’t?”

  9. Love it Mark. If I had a dollar for every pediatric patient sent to me for obesity nutrition counseling, a quick chat with the parent usually yields a lunch box with capri suns, 100 calorie snack packs (“but they’re only 100 calories,” they say) with crackers on top of it. Don’t even get me started on the sandwich. Breakfast usually includes toaster strudels with their copious amounts of trans-fats, added sugars, and refined starches (the evil trifecta I always tell my patients), or some kind of breakfast cereal.

    Then they can’t figure out why their kids are overweight. YOU’RE FEEDING THEM CANDY FOR MEALS TWICE A DAY! For crying out loud, it doesn’t take a whole lot longer to cook eggs than it does to pour a bowl of cereal and to throw a chicken breast, microwave vegetables, and an avocado in the lunch box now does it?

    Sorry, sensitive subject for me, I need a new fuming fuji post, I do believe.

    1. If you really want to go ape s***, check out what the public schools are feeding the kids for breakfast and lunch. It’s terrible. Check out what’s being marketed to children in the cereal aisle of any store – even “health food” stores. It’s pretty criminal and doesn’t teach kids to distinguish between meals (something we need daily) and snacks (rare occasion sugary treats).

      I remember the first time my mother gave me Lucky Charms for breakfast (I was a teenager). My reply: “No thank you, I’m not in the mood for candy.”

      I’m feeling your rant. 🙂

      1. This is the exact reason I send my kids lunch. We aren’t perfect but most days now it’s sausage and eggs for breakfast (maybe some gluten free bread for the little one) We send the best food we can and very little junk.
        With my oldest (5) it’s apparent when he has had too much sugar or gluten.
        We are working on screen time right now (all of us).

        This is a great post and I plan to share the crap out of it 😉

      2. Theres a good documentary on Netflix, Fed Up – Congress thinks pizza is a vegetable. It’s about how factory food processors have abducted the school lunch programs in public education.

    2. +1 I wish I could get my PRS(primal resistant spouse) to read this whole blog and the comments. Sometimes she puts oatmeal in their sugar in the morning. I’d like to ask a pediatrician if they see a correlation with junk food and non-breast-fed or formula babies? Perhaps there may be neomaternal subconscious worry to get babies to eat so they inadvertantly get them hooked on sugar as infants and never let go?

  10. I didn’t see any comments about having children stand up more and sit less even at school. This is a foreign idea to the modern world and we need to get the word out to everyone. Don’t forget that there is great scientific evidence now proving that sitting a lot is bad for your health. I think it is a leading factor in plague of back pain which costs all of us so much sadness, lost productivity, is a huge burden on our healthcare system and shortens our life.

    This really is an important issue everyone; pay attention and inspire others and schools to figure out the best way to get children out of their chairs and improve the learning environment. By the way, you can create a standing desk in 5 seconds. Simply put a cardboard box on top of the regular desk. You don’t have to buy a $3,000 desk with a timer that automatically moves it up and down every 20 minutes. Yes, that actually does exist.

    1. I’ve mostly got my kid standing at a counter while doing her homework. I’ve got the computer at the counter, with a gel mat underneath, so that makes her stand by default.

  11. Great information!
    My wife and I have four children that are now adults/young adults. We began the process of home education when the oldest was in ‘preschool’. One of the greatest benefits of ‘de-schooling’ is the freedom to vary the schedule, get outside on a beautiful day, spend more time together – doing and learning together. They learn so much by example. But if they are always at school and doing homework, there is little time for learning by example. And less shared experiences.
    Our son led the way toward Primal improvements at home by asking me to read The Primal Blueprint three + years ago. Mark synthesized so much that I knew (plus much that I didn’t) but didn’t practice. We have made significant changes to our diet and eating habits. But, I made so many mistakes early on that I worry that my children will suffer with stubborn weight problems as I have. Epigenetic expression is a powerful force is shaping phenotype. I am hopeful that making the right choices from here forward will change the trajectory for their lives in the future.
    I never realized that anyone but me and my children experienced Nature Deficit Disorder. I have known for years that I had it regularly. I have a plaque in my office that says, “The mountains are calling and I must go.” And I do regularly!

  12. This is a really good message to remind me to stay the path, and to make more efforts to do the right thing.

    I’m not a big co-sleeper, but we did co-sleep some, with both of our boys (to start, they were in our room, and the younger one was in a co-sleeper attached to the bed). Our hospital had changed quite a bit between the two, so the #2 spent an hour or two straight on me, naked, nursing, before ever being measured or weighed or anything. (The nurse was a little horrified that he pooped on me 2x. I of course, was unfazed because of that beautiful face.)

    I try very hard to cook healthy meals for my boys. The outdoors and electronics thing – that is very hard. Part of the problem is two full time jobs. It is sometimes super-easy to distract them with a TV show while I cook. However, it’s also super-easy for that to become “their thing”, and I have to fight hard against it. As much as possible, I let them loose in the back yard to play and fight (but the 2 year old – he’s a jumper, and we have flagstone. No broken bones…yet.)

    We all have to just do our best!! Luckily I live in So Cal – so my school aged kid gets lots of play time outdoors, and so does my toddler. And we can go to the park and the beach on the weekends.

  13. Please, if you are going to co-sleep , go to Mark-s do’s and don’ts and follow them religiously. I work in the pediatric ICU and have seen death and permanent brain damage as a result of co-sleeping. Usually in these cases a “don’t” has preceded the event. I am a previous co-sleeping parent, but after what I have seen would not do it the way I did before. I truly believe in having your baby in the same room and as close as possible, but be really, really careful about putting them in the bed. If you can’t adhere to absolutely everything Mark talks about, don’t put them in the bed and don’t underestimate how tired you are.

  14. A couple of observations (as a homeschooling mum of four):

    – American society has become absolutely obsessed with early education – meaning that it is now super-trendy to stuff two-year-olds (or even younger) in high-priced full-day preschools so that they can get the “academic edge they need for kindergarten.” Add in all-day kindergarten, increased school day length, increased school year length, increased homework loads – and you’ve got children sitting, sitting, sitting for hours upon hours every day.

    Our family’s answer has been homeschooling. Our second-grader gets all of his work done within 2-3 hours per day, and is working above grade level in many subjects. He has hours per day of free outside play – great for imagination and cognitive growth, great for physical health.

    – I think that another reason so many of these negative health factors are sucking the health of our children is simply fear – fear of being thought a bad parent, fear of child abduction if children are playing outside (fueled by media, of course) and the growing fear of having child protective services called if we so much as let our children play in the yard without an adult three feet away. Our culture keeps parents in bondage to fear through unhealthy cultural mores and threat of legal action (that is, calling CPS). It’s difficult being a free-range primal parent when you have those forces working against you. Not that it’s impossible, but it does add layers of difficulties.

    Love these articles, Mark! Please keep them coming!

  15. although I agree with many of your points, Mark, as a pediatrician I feel obligated to disagree with one of them. Co-sleeping with infants has been shown to be a risk factor for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), which is made even more risky with things like soft bedding and blankets, which are often present on parent beds. No studies have shown that the risks are any less with use of a co-sleeping device, either.

    I know that many cultures outside the US, and in fact, many US families practice co-sleeping. And, I know that the overall risk of SIDS is low. However, the increased risk of death for your infant is still there if you practice co-sleeping. Is that a risk that you are willing to take?

    1. I have to wonder how the risk to children from co-sleeping compare to the risks to children of having exhausted parents. What kind of data is kept on parents who get into car accidents, etc, because they’re exhausted because their infants don’t want to sleep alone in a crib and wake them frequently at night?

      My husband and I were zombies from lack of sleep with our infant until finally when my daughter was 7 months old I decided that the risk of accidents due to exhaustion had to outweigh any risk of suffocation from cosleeping (following recommended safety precautions). This immediately solved our problems with tiredness and led to a content, relaxed baby. With our next child, we coslept from the get-go (again, following recommended safety precautions), and I’ve never felt that he was in any danger from the practice. It’s amazing how much awareness a mom has of the infant next to her, even while sleeping.

      1. One of the big ironies is that cases of SIDS are almost non-existent when co-sleeping. If you take precautions, co-sleeping is much safer than putting your baby in a cot in the next room, and hoping they will still be breathing in the morning. From what I’ve read, the co-sleeping helps prevent SIDS as the baby can hear the breathing and warmth of the parent, and this triggers the baby to start breathing again if it stops.

        If the baby stops breathing in an isolated room, there won’t be that connection or sound anymore to re-start the breathing.

        The parents will get a better nights sleep as well, which means they will be more alert, and hopefully have energy for other activities. Many parents feel that they want to keep there bedroom private to allow activities, irony is that you’ll be so tired you won’t want that. Better to get a good nights sleep, and get another room for an extra-curricular nocturnal activities

      2. Goes without saying of course that ALCOHOL and co-op sleeping is dangerous – if you are a drinker, then better change that.

    2. Yes, I think it is advisable to have a child’s bed NEXT TO the parents’ bed. I did sleep with my baby, but I understand now that this has some risks. Later, we just had a separate single futon next to our double futon, and this worked fine and was probably safter.

    3. from a Today Show post:
      While the researchers were able to associate bed-sharing with a higher risk of death in infants, they did not analyze factors that are known to increase the risk of death in co-sleeping infants, such as parental smoking and alcohol consumption. That data may be part of a future study, Colvin said.

    4. Interestingly, there are studies that show that SAFE co-sleeping actually reduces SIDS. Just google “co-sleeping reduces SIDS” and read both sides.

      When you love someone more than your own life, parenting choices are sometimes a scary double-edged sword to walk. Like all things we need to take in the information, process that info, and make the best choice we can with the current information we have, and move forward.

      My best to all parents who want the very best for our children.

    5. Telling people that it’s dangerous to co-sleep and they shouldn’t do it is more dangerous than educating them about safe co-sleeping practices because the day they are completely exhausted, they WILL sleep with their baby and they won’t know how to make it safe before hand.

      I remember reading a story of a mother that started to co-sleep after she almost drop her baby from the rocking chair she was using to “try and not sleep with the baby because it’s dangerous”. She figured it was safer to sleep with him than drop him because she was falling asleep somewhere not safe. And I must say it’s common sense but I think that where I live, co-sleeping is less a taboo than in the US.

      1. I was always concerned about co sleeping with my two kids – but I have learnt that as long as you are healthy (i.e not affected by drugs or alcohol) then you’re body protects the child naturally, and my husband has found the same with him. We have had some amazingly good sleeps knowing our child is with us but as soon as the child moves or does something you are awake, and i mean wide awake not drowsy! Instinct is wonderful and we shouldn’t be scared to use it – education is always the key.

  16. The funny/sad thing is all the items on your list would have just been the basics 100 years ago. Nobody would’ve second guessed your solutions to all the challenges facing our kids today. It is scary thinking how much work I have to do to counter society’s current approach to learning and living.

    But there is hope found in this community and even the fact I still have dirt under my fingernails from the garden my 5, 3, and 3 year old planted last night. Spring is a great time to remind us to plant those seeds and let them grow into amazing things…literally and figuratively 😉

  17. This is really good to know and think about, thanks for posting. Kids mimic adults and are taking on our lifestyles and limiting their futures. We all need to take a step back and look at how we are living.

  18. Great Read!
    I am a mother of an almost 1 year old. In this year, I have learned a lot and become frustrated by a lot.

    She is a daycare baby, I drop her off with all her food and milk for the day (still breast milk) and most other babies are being fed waffles and the “healthy” meals are premixed yogurt which are all loaded with sugar. I refuse to buy those. Why is it so hard to mix full fat yogurt with fruit? Or boil an egg yolk?
    I am not that strict primal for her, but want hew eating and liking real foods, I refuse to let her get addicted to the processed baby food, what is actually in those “Puffs” anyway?

    As far as being outside, we have had her hiking in a pack in all weather conditions, out for a walk almost every day, I have had people say to me, “Isn’t it too cold for her?” and “Oh get that baby inside, it is allergy season!”

    And the shoes?! She is walking now- I have her in basic leather booties, almost socks, they are great. But the infant and toddler baby girl shoes are shocking – what baby should be learning to walk in patent leather, slippery soled, heeled mary janes?

    I am only a year into this journey of parenthood, I have no idea how I am going to face the iPads and screen time and the sitting all day at school.
    And isn’t it crazy that we have to have Free Range Parenting meet-ups? Seems an oxymoron, but I guess this is the time we are living in.

    1. I just want to say good luck with shoes. I have 2 girls and I have a very hard time finding barefoot style shoes for them. We did Robeez for a long time then the strideRight early walkers (didn’t love those though). I finally found ZEMgear last year and they’ve been great except that I can find them anymore. If anyone has suggestions for barefoot shoes in Toddler size 10 I’d love to hear them. Merrill and Vivobarefoot and Five Fingers all used to come this small but don’t seem to any longer.

  19. I was the 4-year-old with undiagnosed ADD stuck in a kindergarten classroom and I agree with this article. I have an ability to remember my early childhood and babyhood. Though I didn’t have the language or the adult knowledge to understand, I remember feeling unheard and ignored in terms of what my needs were. By the time I was just past the age of imprinting, I felt this was all there was and I had no choices. Seeping in my crib and feeling isolated, scared and alone was one of my worst baby memories. Later on it just gets worse. These things may not be a big deal to the adults but for us babies, its everything.

    1. Hmmmm, I remember a LOT of my early life as well. I think it was because I am a twin who’s sister did not survive much past the first 2 months inside of our mom. I remember losing her and in a bit of a panic because I couldn’t find her and she never came back. People who tell you that you are not “alive” until birth are wrong. (I don’t have ADD, however.) Makes me wonder if you are a twin who’s sibling did not survive as well. You are the first person I have heard that has similar vivid memories of very early life.

  20. The best parenting advice I ever got was that it was my job, as a parent, to prepare and teach my children how to survive in the world.

  21. Can I add to the problem of too much screen time that new research is proving the damaging effects of EMFs on human DNA.

    We need to reduce children’s exposure to wireless devices (and adults should probably use ‘airplane mode’ more often too).

    The challenge is that now every school thinks they’re being ‘left behind’ if they aren’t “wired”, so they’re putting WiFi in every classroom, with laptops / tablets on everyone’s lap, and have read nothing about the biological effects of EMFs bouncing off every highly-conductive human body in the room.

    1. Is the problem from the device (wifi receptive computer, iPad or iPhone) or with the Wifi being generated? What I’m trying to figure out is do you turn off the router or the wifi reception on the computer?

      1. Both. The device emits RF radiation to communicate with the router, and the router emits RF radiation to communicate with the device. When I got pregnant, we got rid of our wi-fi router and put our computers permanently into airplane mode. I also connected a regular wired phone to my cellphone and put the cellphone in another room, far away from me.

        1. Thanks! (ugh! My husband will be the person I have to fight on this one. I used to make him power off his iPhone every night and he hated it. But the wifi thing sends off the same “this is not quite right” signals in me that shoes did, or staying up late under artificial lights, or the advice to graze throughout the day)

  22. My husband and I do not keep up with any TV shows and so many of our peers can’t understand why we didn’t have time to watch a whole season of something on Netflix over the weekend. But it really just makes me sad for them. We love to be active, spend our time outdoors, and discover new places around us. I can’t wait to continue this with our future children. There’s a park a short distance down the street that I picture them walking to (alone, when we feel comfortable) and spending time just roaming around. I see the creek behind our house and picture muddy kids romping around in it. I am grateful to have found primal living before having any children and I know that we will raise them primal from the get go!

  23. How I agree with much you say Mark. Things have so changed over the years. I realized the danger of too much sugar years ago and restricted sweets and sugar for my boys as long as I could. I even had a disagreement with my Mum over sugar. She said my boys needed more sugar for energy. I told her they had enough energy and didn’t need lots of sugar. I have two sons who are now 47 & 49 who are both slim and two grandchildren who are both slim. I’m going to print out this article and give to my granddaughter who has two very small children of her own. We have a good relationship and she does listen to what I say and I think she is allowing too much sugary things in their diet, probably because of her partner.

  24. Mark, where were you 20 years ago when we were raising our kids??? This will have to be passed down to our kids when they’re ready for their own family.

  25. Ohhh, this one gets me so much more frustrated than my own struggles. My 9-year-old is overweight, enough that she has a big, frighteningly bulging belly, and it bothers me a lot. I have been trying to help her slim down, but it’s not working and I feel like it’s all my fault. She is about 70/30 Primal eating, so that’s a good thing, the problem that I have is with getting her to exercise. At all. No matter how many times or how many ways I express my concerns, my husband still lets her sit on her butt in front of the computer or the TV for hours on end when I’m not home. We were going rock-climbing together twice a week, but she just hangs on the rope all the time and doesn’t really try to get stronger or better, so of course she doesn’t, and then she gets frustrated and wonders why she can’t climb harder than a 5.4, and she cries and whines and hangs on the rope more and we all just have a miserable time. She likes the slackline, so I bought her one for her birthday, but then she came down with Lyme disease, and now she’s stuck in a leg brace for God knows how long. She’s an only child and doesn’t like playing outside by herself, so about the only way I can get her to actually stay outside and play without moaning about being bored is to have her play with the dog, but then she gets mad at the dog when the ball goes past the invisible fence and he won’t go get it. Duh. That’s the point of the invisible fence, sweetheart. If I force her to go walk the dog in the woods with me, she whines and complains and lags behind the whole time and it adds to my stress and ruins all the benefits I get from going for a peaceful, enjoyable walk. How does a Primal Parent turn a Korg child into a Grok child without all of the whining and moaning and crying and general stress-inducing arguments that make you want to just pack up and go live in the middle of nowhere by yourself until you die and your dogs eat you?!

    1. If the kid has Lyme disease, are there some fatigue issues? It’s absolute hell to be dragged on physical activities when you’re fatigued. Or when the parent is in better shape than the kid, and keeps dragging the kid along long after a walk turns into a death march. If you want your kid to absolutely hate physical activity of any kind, keep doing what you’re doing. If not, go talk to a Lyme disease specialist and ask what kind of activity is OK for the kid.

      Also, does she have friends? Does she do any activities other than watching TV and being dragged on walks with you? Is there anything she finds interesting?

    2. On the exercise front, find something she enjoys. Maybe swimming, or a team sport, or yoga, or bicycling….ANYTHING. If she enjoys it, then she’ll naturally have an inclination to get better when things get difficult.

      On weight loss: be careful on this one. I was overweight when young and very much aware of it, and my mom’s well-intentioned attempts to help me lose weight only made me hate my body and have a terrible relationship with food. Maybe take weight loss off the table, and keep the emphasis on eating healthy foods that nourish her body, so she can do the things she loves (especially if she finds an activity she likes!).

      I hope this helps. Expect the occasional whining, and just be understanding that she might need to go at a slower pace and might need you to come from a place of empathy, first and foremost. You want the best for her, that is very obvious. Good luck!

      1. Meepster, she is perfectly healthy except for a swollen knee, her energy level has not changed, all of this was a problem before the Lyme disease happened. And yes, we are seeing a doctor, and no, I haven’t been dragging her along on anything she can’t or won’t do. I try once or twice and it’s a whine fest and I hate it, so I don’t take her with me anymore. The problem is that I can’t find anything that she likes to do that involves physical activity, so she isn’t doing anything.

        Stacie, I don’t tell her she’s fat or needs to lose weight or anything like that. She understands how to eat healthy and generally makes good choices in that arena. Some of her favorite snacks are carrot sticks and apples. The other day she chided my husband for buying a juice drink that has high fructose corn syrup in it (haha!!) I just try to encourage her to go be active.

        She has friends, but when they come over they just want to sit and play with dolls. When I suggest they play outside, they BOTH whine. She likes bike riding, but our street is a busy, dangerous street, so we can only do that if we pack up in the truck and drive somewhere. Everything else she THINKS she wants to do (swimming, gymnastics, dance, etc.) she tries one time and she decides it’s not fun when an instructor is telling you what to do and it’s little skills drills instead of the activity she pictured in her mind (like somehow magically she’s going to be able to swim all the way across the pool and back just by attending swim class) and then she doesn’t want to go, and she doesn’t try, and she gets frustrated, just like the rock climbing. She has no desire whatsoever to actually LEARN HOW to do physical activities properly and put in the effort to be able to accomplish the finished skill.

        I just don’t know how to motivate her. I have high hopes for the slackline once she gets her brace off and is allowed to do more things again, but other than that it’s like my choices are forced exercise where the first step is already a death march, or give up and let her sit around all day.

        1. You are describing me as a child. I HATED team sports (still do) and all other forms of activity. I wanted to sit with a book and read all day. Keep trying different activities but have a heart to heart about how much work (practice, repetition, conditioning) is involved in becoming compete. Maybe consider private lessons in something she’s interested in? I know that I feel very uncomfortable in group situations and I’m very akward learning new skills. just some thoughts from the perspective of a kid like that. She’s light years ahead of where I was in terms of health because I had terrible eating habits.

  26. And Mark, you asked for solutions / ideas, and I want to tell you that my husband and I take this problem very seriously, and have been exploring new schools because of all the health effects we see (too much sitting, obedience/compliance, etc.).

    One “Solution” is this new school we discovered:

    I hope we’ll see more and more schools being created that take children’s wellness, wholeness and natural learning as seriously as they do!

  27. I cannot even begin to express how difficult it is to combat these stressors in our kids life. We do a lot in our family to prevent all the “bad” listed above including:

    ~skin to skin for sure when my babies were born, they slept in my room for almost 6mo! I still get up with my 11mo old because I cannot just listen to her cry. Instincts always win out!
    ~good quality sleep, including enforced bedtime, stories before hand, no tv etc
    ~good quality food, this is where being Primal for 5 years has paid off, our kids know the good foods and recognize the bad foods that make their bellies hurt.
    ~iPad, Computer, TV is limited (but not totally gone either) We have totally screen free days
    ~they play outside as much as possible, especially after school!
    ~no sugar on a regular basis. (of course there is always time for a little ice cream here and there, it is childhood after all 😉
    ~No phones! Period. Until they are old enough to pay for it on their own, and even then they will have to explain to us why they “need” it and we will help them make that decision. It kills me when I see kids with phones.
    ~we walk, we bike, we hike, we swim, we camp…we get outside as much as possible and we relax as a family as much as possible

    In short, move, play, eat well, and enjoy the company of the kids you brought into the world!! 😉

  28. As a homeschooling mom, well-meaning people ask me every year if I intend to continue to homeschool through high school?
    Honestly, the answer is that I take it one year at a time. For the present, I can’t imagine putting my children in school. While I have no doubt my daughter would handle herself without incident, I think they would want to medicate my son. He is all over the place while we are having lessons. He regularly answers his grammar questions from the floor, (often while crawling under the table). He builds with Legos while I read history or literature. The only time he really SITS is to work an assignment like math or handwriting (and even then he often stands or uses a balance ball). As long as he’s giving me the right answer, I figure he’s paying attention & learning something.
    There will be plenty of time left in his life for sitting.

    And even in our homeschooling house I realize the dangers of the mind-sucking computer monster in our study. My son will play outside for hours as happy as a lark, but if he plops himself in front of the computer, it’s like they’ve formed a symbiotic relationship & they need to be surgically separated.

    1. We took it one year at a time too. That works fine. They will tell you when they’re ready to go to school. In my son’s case, he went in 9th grade.

  29. My household didn’t have a TV until I was almost 6 years old, and even then it was kept in the den and rarely on. I spent most of my time outside or playing indoors. What has been really odd for me is that now as an adult I lack to the ability to see the TV as ‘background noise’ if one is on at home or at a restaurant it takes a lot for me not to focus on it. I am not desensitized enough to its presence to ignore it. This has good and bad consequences, on the one hand I very consciously have to turn it on if I want it on, and on the other if it is on I often lose the ability to focus on anything else. It really tells me how pervasive those electronic devices are when I don’t even hear someone talking to me if I am watching TV.

    There are signs of a small shift across the developed world that recognizes the need for more movement. I ran across this a couple weeks ago. I would love to see more of these and some in America:

  30. I did all the right things in the 80s: held my baby immediately; slept with him; allowed him to home school till he was ready to go to school (9th grade), thus allowing him plenty of time outside on our farm and in the woods; didn’t allow much sugar or candy; and allowed him to sleep late as long as he got his four hours of home school in every day. He turned out great: his wife is always remarking on his remarkable good health and good mental attitude and confidence.

    But this was not easy. IN one sense, it was as easy as falling off a log, just doing what came naturally for both of us. But his father resisted the home schooling idea and sued me for custody. (He lost.) My parents, especially my mother, thought that breast-feeding was just gross and went on too long. These critics were eventually silenced by the good results, however.

    Nowadays I think it is harder to raise a child this way, for several reasons. One is, there is just less empty space for kids to run around in. Second, parents are often rebuked by the authorities for letting kids run around unsupervised. Third, middle-class parents are so squeezed financially that it is harder for one parent to be home all day, which is necessary for kids to have this sort of normal life, unless you can find a Sudbury Valley School near you, and there aren’t many of those.

    If I have any grandchildren, they will be very lucky to grow up as my son and some of his friends did, back in the day when hippies were home schoolers. Now all the home schoolers in this area are evangelical Christians, and I think many of them would actually be better off in school. They learn pseudo-science, are only allowed to play with other evangelical kids, if they’re allowed out of the house at all, and usually don’t run free in the woods.

    I have also observed as a teacher that kids who are in public and private schools all day are physically impaired frequently. They walk funny, in a kind of awkward shuffle. They eat chips and drink soda all day, EVEN AT SCHOOL! For some reason this is now allowed. (It was not allowed in the recent past.) There is very little in the way of gym or recess. Of course, many are obese. Most of their mothers are obese also. In fact almost everybody in the rural South is obese. Not just overweight: obese. It’s not unusual for people to be 100 pounds overweight.

    Also, kids don’t eat regular meals, even the home schoolers. They sort of snack all day, and then go out to eat at night. The mothers have forgotten how to cook and regard me as an anomaly because I enjoy cooking. The kids sort of forage in fridges and cabinets for food. Not surprisingly , they have a Diet Coke and a bag of chips for breakfast, and yet they think their family eats “healthy.” Because they go out for supper so often, it is impossible to have a regular family meal where everybody eats the same thing, because they all have special likes and dislikes. This is one of the worst trends in contemporary families: the trend toward custom meals for each child. This is not normal, and yet many young parents humor their children’s demands for short-order food at home.

    I could go on and on, because I am worried about the health of the children whom I tutor. I wish I could free them from the tyranny of being indoors all day and the tyranny of snack food, screens and constant testing. But I can’t.

    1. I’m an evangelical Christian, but I conduct my homeschool much like you did. I only have 1.5 acres, but my children are “free-range” and allowed to play with anyone in the neighborhood, regardless of their professed (or not) family religious background, provided they behave themselves.
      Please don’t confuse some people who would shelter their children from the world with all of us.

      1. Also evangelical homeschooling Christian – I don’t teach my kids “pseudo-science” and allow them to play only with other evangelical homeschoolers. I actually care that my kids understand all sides of any science debates. Plus, I’m in the rural South too, and the other homeschool families all look athletic and healthy to me. *I’m* the heaviest, but I’m steadily getting healthier (yay Primal!) and I never reached 100 lbs overweight in my life, not even pregnant.
        Are you sure you aren’t just noticing the stuff you personally can’t stand? 🙂

        1. I have worked for several evangelical home schooling families, in their homes at pretty close quarters. Although (obviously) all families are different, there are certain things that I have noticed among them that are concerning. The biggest concern is a common belief that it is bad to let your kids play with “regular” kids who aren’t evangelicals, even if they are more moderate Christians. The idea seems to be that the non-evangelical kids might somehow corrupt the Christians. My other big concern is that around here, the evangelicals who learn about evolution and real science are in a minority and are sometimes ostracized by the “creation science” home schoolers. They have told me this themselves. It seems to be a sore point within this group. The third concern is that while most of the kids look reasonably normal weight, the majority of the mothers are quite heavy and seem unhappy about this. Many also seem depressed, although this seems to be true among many mothers generally, not just the Christian mothers. It has happened several times that the mothers cried while I was at their house tutoring their child. Finally, some of the evangelical mothers seem very worried about the fact that I am not an evangelical (altho’ I was raised Christian), a Democrat and a feminist, and they feel they have to harangue me about political and social issues and start fights with me, almost on a daily basis. After a while it became impossible to work with one of the mothers because of this. Also they have accused me of being a lesbian, apparently simply b/c I am not married!

        2. Sorry, I mean I am not an evangelical, and I am a Democrat and a feminist. This upsets them quite a lot, it seems, even though it does not affect my ability to, say, tutor their child in algebra!

        3. I”m sorry to say that around here, things are quite polarized, with an “us” versus “them” mentality. I’ve lived here for a long time, and it was not like this thirty years ago. The steady stream of political and religious hatred from the media has fueled a lot of paranoia and hatred. It is awful. It is dividing the evangelicals amongst themselves, not just against everybody else! If you don’t hew to the correct views of evolution, gay marriage, abortion, etc, you have to leave and form your own church! Why can’t we all just get along? Believe it or not, in the 80s, we did. The secular home schoolers and the Christian home schoolers did a lot of stuff together. But now there are no secular home schoolers, it seems. At least, I’ve not met any in my area.

        4. The hundred-pounds-overweight people are everywhere. If you read my post again, you will see that I was not talking about the evangelical home schoolers in particular there.

        5. According to wikipedia, only 24% of evangelical Christians think that evolution is the best explanation for the origin of human life on earth. In my area, it may be an even smaller percentage. Some of the home schoolers whom I have tutored have told me that there were dinosaurs on the ark. That’s a new one, even to me. Thirty years ago, they were telling kids that the dinosaur fossils were just put here “to test our faith.’ Now apparently they say dinosaurs were real, but they existed with humans. Hard to imagine a dinosaur on an ark.

        6. Google this article. My experience with homeschooled teenager girls fits this description:

          “Homeschooled Girls and Trash Cans: The Social Isolation of Homeschooling”
          What do homeschooled girls and trash cans have in common?
          They both only leave the house once a week.

        7. I’ve known *one* family that was that strict – and I’m a second-generation homeschooler. It’s like we live in different universes – I never would have thought that degree of isolation and fear of the world (which is actually unbiblical) existed in any large degree.

          I was “shy” as a teen, I still dislike public speaking, but I’ll do it – but as I grew up I discovered that I was simply introverted and sensitive and that feeling drained by too much company is experienced by half the population. Also I was frustrated by the idiotic games immature people play – you know, the conformity game, where you have to dress, speak, think, act, etc. like you are expected to or else you get ostracized, mocked, bullied, gossiped about, etc. Why be with people when (A) they are exhausting, and (B) they act like that? I like my quirks, yo.
          Why are these parents homeschooling if they are just going to carry on new cliques at home? Leaving the cliques behind is the best part! 😉
          Ah, well, I’m sure they are just doing the best they can with the knowledge they have. Maybe in another year or two, they’ll realize that faith in God and hanging on to control with a death grip aren’t simultaneously possible.

    2. Interesting observation of evangelical Christian homeschoolers.

      The reality is that every parent teaches what they believe to be ‘true’ to their children. Whether they are Christian or Muslim or atheist, they are instilling in their children, by instruction and example, what they believe to be important. Or, they simply allow their children to explore and discover whatever makes them happy and by default they are teaching their children that there is no truth and they have nothing of value to pass on to them. You use the term ‘pseudoscience’ because you disagree with the premise of a creator or creation rather the accepting the mainstream materialistic belief that matter (or the “cosmos”) is all there is and all there ever will be. Everyone has a worldview and parents need to have the freedom to raise their children according to their values without someone sitting in judgment.

      My children have been active in homeschool sports, JOAD archery, community baseball leagues, gymnastics, swimming, etc. since they were first able to participate. My son went on to play college basketball and on the club football team. My two younger daughters played on club volleyball teams this past year and my youngest is hoping, and working, for a college scholarship with her volleyball skills. Many of these athletic teams were not just evangelical Christian teams. Your observations of sheltering and exclusion would not fit the homeschool community we have experienced and observed around the Cincinnati area.

      Because my oldest daughter has always been so good with social interaction she has been a receptionist in my veterinary office since she was 15. My 18 year old has also been working in my office for 2 years. And I get regular unsolicited compliments on how pleasant, friendly, and professional they are. These are not socially awkward children.

      Unfortunately, ignorance of nutrition is widespread and that includes most physicians. And additionally unfortunate is that MANY people look to their physicians for advice. Instead they get a prescription for a pharmaceutical to manage the signs of their horrible nutrition and resulting ill health.

      1. I think it’s ideal for homeschoolers to have a lot of group sports activities. My son did that too: he had a sport in the afternoon almost every weekday. He was also in Boy Scouts briefly. Savvy home schoolers know that it is essential for kids to be with other kids, and not just the kids at their Sunday School, but lots of different kinds of kids from different backgrounds and beliefs.

        I think home schooling communities in and around urban areas are often more inclusive and healthy than the ones in my rural area. Here, many evangelical home schooling people are quite xenophobic and regard public school kids with something approaching terror! They will only let their kids participate in “Christian” groups, lest they be contaminated by contact with us regular folk. The parents have told me that they don’t want their kids in contact with “troubled” kids, which seems to mean “any kid not in our church.” But one family was even afraid to let their children attend the youth group at their church b/c they thought there might be pedophiles there! the paranoia is just off the charts.

      2. And I agree, parents should communicate their own beliefs about creation, or whatever, to their children. It’s their right as Americans to practice their religion whatever it is. I believe in science; fine. You believe in a creator God; fine. I just think that very isolated and sheltered home schoolers who have beliefs such as the one about dinosaurs on the ark are going to have a very hard time if they ever try to go to college and take a science course, for example.

        BTW, until recently, most people did not see a huge contradiction b/w science and religion. Religious texts were thought to be metaphorical rather than literal. When I was going to Sunday School, we were taught that the seven days of creation were not literally seven days, but we still believed God made the world. The issue has become politicized as a way to divide people against each other. It has certainly done that, very effectively. And this divisiveness is quite destructive of community.

        1. Not to worry, Shannon. By the time most kids are ready to enter college they’ve formed their own beliefs and opinions, for better or worse. Even by their early teens it’s almost impossible to keep them sheltered and brainwashed to the extent you’re talking about. Kids pick up information almost by osmosis. As young adults many of them have walked away from an overly restrictive upbringing. They are, after all, individuals with their own views and (hopefully) a modicum of common sense. As such whatever got pounded into their prepubescent heads doesn’t necessarily follow them into their 20’s.

        2. Funny thing: I went to public school and still believe the earth was created in a literal seven days.
          I can believe that, and still appreciate all the science and research behind diet and exercise that Mark puts out in his posts.
          The only thing I don’t appreciate when I visit MDA is when other members of the primal community rail against the Christians.

        3. I’ve heard some college science teachers, especially in the South, talk about how students get angry in their classes and refuse to believe that humans are related to other primates, etc. Fine, whatever. The real problem is the enormous divisiveness this has created in our culture.

  31. Mark wrote: “Some of you have speculated via email that Carrie and I have something to announce, but that’s definitely not the case.”

    Still, you have to admit that if you were expecting at your ages, it would sure make people think that Primal was the Fountain of Youth.

  32. I sent my kids outside to play and seconds later someone took them out of my yard… My sister called my cell phone to tell me she was taking them to see the newborn piglets 😉
    Had you going, didn’t I?

    Still, I don’t let my 4 1/2 y.o. go outside by herself, and I wouldn’t allow my 9 1/2 y. o. by himself if we didn’t have the yard fully fenced and gated, even though we live in the country, far back from the road, I watch them from the window, and our closest neighbors are family.

    Is CPS on the way? I can’t imagine someone getting out of their vehicle and unchaining the gate before the kids run in to tell me there’s a strange car, or even luring them all the way past the right of way and the pasture in front of the house. But since I get more done when I shoo them outside than when either I’m shadowing them or they’re shadowing me (“I’m bored! I wanna snack! Where’d I put my cup/toy/book/thing?”) I’m afraid it’s going to be a draw between guilty because they’re outside sans helicopter parent, or guilty because they’re indoors among increasingly ridiculous amounts of clutter.

  33. The Waldorf School philosophy is wonderful. Our family got to participate in both that, and in homeschooling through the high school years. We live in a farming community, where kids get to be kids. The public school we share with success-driven parents from a nearby gated development has been so messed up they send kids home if they get dirty. We found we couldn’t compensate for the school’s misdirection because their homework policies were pervasive and took over the time we had for a family life. Why have kids if you can’t enjoy them?

  34. On the subject of kids’ shoes… I’ve been obsessing over finding the best option for my two boys, ages 3 and 5. I think I’ve settled on the ones made by Plae ( ) because they’re supposed to be very flexible, zero drop if you remove the insoles, have a wide toe box, and they claim to be designed around the natural form of a child’s foot so not to interfere with proper bone growth. My older son is moving out of toddler sizes and into youth, which means fewer options for this type of shoe. Does anyone have experience with this brand? I know they’re fairly new to the scene and not available in stores around me. Any other suggestions? It seems minimalist childrens’ footwear is becoming harder to find again these days as the minimalist footwear trend is general is starting to wane.

    1. My 7 y/o son likes Converse All Stars: they have flat, thinner soles, are washable, last longer then he fits in them, and aren’t expensive. Not REALLY minimalist, but pretty dang close! He also likes flip-flops and sandals, which are the OG minimalist footwear 🙂

  35. I just want to show this to every single person in charge of schools in this country! Mandatory sitting for 8 hours a day is ridiculous!

  36. 100% spot on. That’s why we practiced attachment parenting with all three of our children, fed them mainly paleo (without even knowing it), and homeschool all three of them. They can run, play, and get crazy all day and still get their school work done. It’s challenging but the rewards are exponential.

  37. Geronimo, Pocahontas and Hiawatha are surely turning in their graves.

  38. Reading this post, I realized my mother provided us with a paleo childhood 30 yrs ago, albeit somewhat due to poverty. We co-slept and she nursed for over a year (almost two, I believe), because it was free. We had old-fashioned, reusable cloth diapers, no plastic ones. She had no car, so we walked everywhere (including school). She took me with her to her cleaning job instead of day-care. I was always allowed to ride my bike around the neighborhood and play outside, my brother too. We went to parks and free nature preserves or walked around and looked and people’s gardens, for fun. I remember my childhood fondly and am close with my mom, as an adult. I know a lot of people my age who were from wealthier homes, yet had poor relationships with their parents…maybe bc they were always in day care/after school programs, and given video game consoles instead of bikes, but who knows? This was in the 80’s in an upper-middle class area where my mom’s decisions were not popular, but I’m still glad about how I was raised.

    1. Ahahahaha, I was raised in the 50’s – 70’s and it was primal due to poverty. (We had homemade bread, old style wheat I’m sure, I didn’t like bread tho.) It was a good life, I feel bad for my son who hasn’t had to invent toys from sticks, dirt and leaves like we did (altho I save random stuff for him to create with). My husband got “better food” growing up(which was store bought bread, etc) and is a carb-a-holic and can’t fix anything without the proper tools, I say “tools-schmools, gimme a thingie and that dealie over there and I’ll fix that for you”…… growing up “poor” was actually a better education. Grateful.

  39. This is one of the reasons we’re planning to homeschool. I am currently pregnant, and I know that I want our kid to get a normal amount of sleep, to have some time to run around and play, to spend time in nature, and to not be stressed out all the time. I had a tutoring business for 3 years and all my students were so stressed out and exhausted all the time. They had too much homework, they woke up way too early, they had no time to do anything fun. The only kid I had who was not tired all the time was the one homeschooled kid.

    I will add one more thing – because kids don’t really have a lot of time to play and to encounter other kids in unstructured settings, they don’t learn social skills and they don’t learn empathy. I am sure that bullying and other similar issues arise partly because of that.

    1. True that. Playing in the neighborhood, organizing your own games, compromising so the game can go forward, accommodating kids of various ages and skills: all that used to be part of childhood. Not any more.

  40. Our son is 10 years old and he gets addicted to video games really bad. We had had to finally take them all away. He won’t go outside unless we push him out the door. Then bugs us about going to his friends that have video games also. Its all he talks about. It seems they all have them now days. All he wants to eat is junk food even though me and my wife eat natural foods. He’s very hard to get to take care of himself also. Does anybody know what to do about his laziness?

    1. Keep on fighting it, it’s not easy, but it’s not too late. We kept video games out of our home as my husband and I detest them. We have friends in their mid thirties who are hooked on them, and they are some of the loneliest people I know. Send him to overnight camp for a week, maybe he needs to see what other kids are capable of when they are on their own.

    2. I had a rule about “screen time.” Back in the 80s it was one hour per day. You could blow it all at once in one binge, or use it a little every day. This reeled them in a little. Sometimes they worked around it and cheated a little, but it did limit them some.

    3. A friend and I, home-schooling parents, used to negotiate with our older boys a set number of computer hours per week and then let them have the freedom to choose when to use those hours. It was important that they felt part of the decision-making process and still felt respected enough to be in control. Reading Parent/Family Effectiveness Training helped. Best wishes.

  41. I think there needs to be a huge shift in the schools – yes, parents are responsible for their children, I do what I can during family time, but my oldest is in school, sitting, getting antsy (and in trouble!) for most of the day. They should move more and sit less – standing workstations, or floor desks. Our school is raising funds for an outdoor classroom, it’s a start and motivated by the parents in the community, but it’s one small space to be shared by the entire school.
    I wish I hadn’t caved to pressure and had the courage and confidence to home school. I see depression creeping into my child and he’s very active and healthy, just not cut out for ‘the system’… training for the rat race.
    Don’t get me wrong, there are lots of parents out there doing a great disservice to their kids. But I see problems starting with my kids and we’re a healthy, active, low screen time, lots of outdoor time family.

    1. While homeschooling is not for everyone, there isn’t any reason you can’t change your mind & begin your own journey. I know several families that began homeschooling after realizing that public school just wasn’t the best fit for their child/children. Reasons vary from academic, to physical, to political.

      Why not try it out over the summer while leaving your child enrolled in next year’s class. If, at the end of the summer, you have grown in confidence, send in your letter of intent to homeschool. And if not, you haven’t lost anything since your child is still enrolled for the next school year.

      Just remember that they are YOUR children, and that means not caving to anyone’s pressure regarding raising them. Like Mark said, your instincts are probably spot on.
      Best wishes to you.

    2. I was homeschooled k-12 back in the day when it was new and weird (I’m 36). There were pretty much three curriculum choices, or you made up your own. Now there are SO many options! My younger sister (there’s a 12 year gap between us) did a challenging online private school program for highschoo (they corrrected her work)l; my brother did one year of highschool on his own, and then enrolled I’m Wisconsin’s satellite (I think that’s what it was called) program. They provided a laptop to the students, and he had some live online classes, access to tutors, and the school corrected his work. (It’s not unusual for a homeschooling family to have their kids in different programs. You do what works and catches the interest of the student). I’m looking forward to teaching my littles! Good luck with your family!

  42. Great information here! I am a school nurse and a community health educator. I want to encourage any of you that have children in schools to SPEAK UP! There are a lot of great resources out there that our schools can use, for FREE! I have worked hard this year, and have successfully improved the health and wellness of our building. It doesn’t take much, and is easy to do!

    Some great free resources:

    ANd feel free to reach out to ask me ANY questions! Family health is my goal, and I am heappy to help!

  43. We’ve raised our kids pretty much to the letter of this article and they’re great kids. Never any TV, a movie every month or two, self directed unschooling with LOTS of trips to the library and LOTS of time with animals and sports and climbing trees to pick fruit and nature exploring. Lots of time at the pool and beach and mountains skiing and hiking and exploring. Lots of time riding roller coasters and fetch with the dogs.

    Lots of dirt. Lots of time in the kitchen figuring out how to get the salmon seasoned just right. They know how to brew kombucha, beer, and kefir, ski double black diamonds on big mountains, jump a horse over a fence, how to win a bike race on a velodrome, and how to research on the phone to figure out how to make cuttings of their favorite plants and figure out which fish clean algae the best.

    They’ve never had prescription drugs, ever and they rarely get sick. No allergies. No ADHD. No whatever it is everyone seems to be aflicted with these days.

    Our girls live a totally primal/bio hacking lifestyle. They train hard everyday. They use sleep apps on their phone. They check their heart rate variability and resting heart rate. My 10 yr old can pull more than body weight deadlifts and has a great looking power clean and researches her nail polish and lip gloss on Cosmetic Database. They have no idea who Justin Bieber is, but Robb Wolf, Chris Kresser, Mark Sisson, Ben Greenfield, Fred Hatfield, Mark Rippetoe, Sally Fallon and Dave Asprey are household names.

    This stuff works and it works fantastic. Let kids be themselves, lead by example, treat them like adults as long as they continue to show good judgement and they’ll become amazing people!

  44. All great points. While my husband and I are overweight (getting less so all the time) we have managed to somehow keep our teenagers from that fate. Part of it was heading off known issues by testing early and often (celiac disease, thyroid disease).

    I am a staunch proponent of not backing down and following your instincts as a parent. Otherwise we would not have been tested (positively) for Celiac disease or Autism spectrum.

    We all get outside on a regular basis to the point my daughter prefers the 20 minute walk to and from school as it keeps her mentally healthier. We all wish we could get out more but work and school keep us inside more than we want.

    The heeled shoes is a big one we talked with our children’s doctors about, regularly from the time they were small as they were both toe walkers (not uncommon with some children that are autistic). Even as a teenage girl who wants to wear heels she has a height limit and usually wears flat shoes for walking. Our entire family also does Karate and so we do activity barefoot and are stronger because of it.

  45. Thanks Mark,

    This is a subject that has been on my mind a great deal very recently.

    The official line on what is considered to be a healthy diet by our governments needs to be changed. But given the financial implications of such a change, I really don’t know how we (relatively) few can force the issue.

    What would it take to get this issue enough attention that would overpower the government lobbyists?

    I do my best to try and encourage the people in my life to at least look into it for themselves, but this is really hard work.

    People are just so brainwashed and content with their addiction to carbs, sugar and modern day habits, they really are sleep walking the human race off the edge of a cliff.

    We need someone to compile the hard evidence, do the double blind studies, write the reports, produce the documentaries, and get it all in front of as many people as possible.

    So much of this is already there, the documentaries “Cerial Killers” and “In Search of the perfect human diet” and blogs such as this are great. But they need mass exposure, and conclusive studies to back it all up.

    Is there anyone out there in a position to make the rest happen? A University maybe?

    Spreading the word is a key part of this. Many people tend to need to hear things from multiple sources before they pay attention. So the more we talk about it, the greater impact we will have.

    I now consider it a duty of care to raise awareness.

    What approaches have others found most effective to encourage proactive adoption?

  46. The decision about where to live is a critical one in terms of offering kids the freedom and independence (not to mention exercise) to transport themselves via foot or bike to school, sports practices, friends’ houses, etc. We selected a neighborhood that has sidewalks and great infrastructure for pedestrians and cyclists, and is about a 10 minute walk from the DC Metro subway. My two daughters (11 and 13) have walked or ridden their bikes to school by themselves since Kindergarten (there is a crossing guard at the only intersection that concerns me). I realize that sometimes finances can dictate where one lives, but I would strongly urge anyone who has kids and has the financial luxury to do so, to give your kids the gift of living close to the places that they travel to frequently. It’s liberating for both them and for you!

  47. Thank you for this. Makes me feel better about being the “mean mommy” who doesn’t allow tons of screen time or allow my young kiddos to play on tablets. I facilitate boredom busters that involve getting outside or paint or library books. I love to see my children deep in thought through creating and fabricating what their minds hold.

  48. Excellent points Mark. Oh … they’re about KIDS eh … well yeah, like I “said”, excellent points. 🙂

  49. If you have to do a school, a real montessori school is excellent. They take into account the individual needs of the child, let the child explore what interests them and lets them run around outside a bit before encouraging some “work”. 🙂

  50. Thanks for posting this Mark. This is all so important and the more people who share the message, the more likely it will not only be heard, but listened to.

  51. Our children sure do know how to have fun, if we let them. Pity us adults have forgotten how…. Maybe we should let our children parent us once in a while and join in their fun with their rules!

  52. I feel the draw of unschooling sometimes, & although my kids’ school has a healthy eating programme I sometimes role my eyes when I hear what lunch has been (though even when they have pizza the cooks have made the bases & sauce from scratch so its not the end of the universe). But equally I’m conscious that school is a site of social struggle & transformation. We have a terrible conservative government who thinks even a 5yr old should have standardised tests performed, but we (teachers, parents, students) are citizens – that means we can resist & fight back. School is is one of the few societal commons left, even as there is pressure to privitise it. Its our duty not to withdraw, but fight for that common space, & fight to reshape it for the better. My heart goes out to you if you are in a particularly bad area; options may seem limited to struggle for our kids wellbeing, but struggle for the good life is part of the good life.

    1. Sometimes the most effective form of struggle is dropping out. Our school district now offers “part time school” twice a week for homeschooling kids. This is a direct response to losing market share when families opt out of the school system to homeschool.

      I don’t see school becoming anything even remotely approaching unschooling in the near (or distant) future, despite the struggles of a few motivated parents. There are too many reasons school is what it is, and they have nothing to do with the needs of students.

  53. I love this post, however, reading some of the comments are giving me a bit of jealousy.
    I’ve always wanted to unschool our son but things turned out differently than what I wanted. He is an amazing person who has a lot of interests, questions, ideas. He for several years thought he was actually building a rocket that would fly into space, then a tunnel that would lead to Disneyland, had most of his preschool friends pack a bag and be ready to go with him to Disneyland – a persuasive speaker apparently. I was the mom who taught him how to splash mud puddles, play in the soft dirt under the steps, get his feet into the muddy earth, build forts in the woods, the mom who didn’t try to “fix” his boredom but left plenty of paper, pencils, scissors, tape, cardboard, colors for his own fix. His preschool class had a little gang of kids like him. They would think as a group and come up with some pretty amazing things from a box of wood blocks, his teacher would dump them out and off they would go on an adventure with them.
    Sad that his brain is being wasted on the confines of public school.
    Of course, I am the strange person in the family, wanting him to eat “real food”, not handing out a cell phone (when apparently ALL kids have one, who knew) or a tablet, no hours of TV watching, making him clean up after himself.
    He’s the one who for the first 6 months after we gave him a safe place to live (15 months) slept on top of me, then he moved to the middle of the bed. He still, at 12, would prefer to sleep in my bed all night long. I let him start his night in there but at 9 he’s in his own bed, he kind of a bed hog and I need my sleep.
    So to all you “unschooler” parents THANK YOU, it shows that it can be done and the kids don’t just become lazy, good for nothing adults because of it. I still hope to turn things around so that I can be the homeschooler/unschooler parent.

  54. I really wish Mark would have said something about how we should start with NEVER reward or punish with food!! Holy cow…we’re teaching our kids such terrible food relationships with this one!

    1. Agreed.
      When my kids ask if they can have a treat for finishing their meal, I respond that we don’t eat food to get more food. (Of course, before primal living, I’m sure I bribed with dessert.) Change isn’t easy, but necessary.

  55. Co-Sleeping is AWESOME! My non-Primal breastfeeding wife is all about co-sleeping and cloth diapering. I am so proud of her for that. Now if I could only get her on my side with getting rid of at least one of our couches for when our 5 month old grows into toddler age, that would be helpful!

  56. As the parents of 16 children, we decided to homeschool the youngest three, and two of our teenagers also chose to do this. We do “school” work at the kitchen table for a while each morning, but then they are free for the day. They can dollhouse or store, or go outside and play in the creek, climb trees, or build forts. They can color and make projects, or rollerskate in the kitchen. But they cannot watch television or play on computers or tablets during the school days. This has been a glorious year of watching these kids of ours grow and develop. They do run barefoot like wild Native Americans, but they are enjoying life! I think they learn as much in about an hour a day as most kids learn in school all day. They are so happy, and they sleep like babies at night. I know it isn’t feasible for everyone to homeschool, but it seems like public school is a giant babysitting service with very outdated principals. We know some teenaged boys who are paleo, and trying to get permission to stand in the back of the classrooms instead of sitting at desks, but have not been able to yet. These kids have drinking fountains in school, but never enough time for a drink or they will be late to class. They can’t even use the bathroom or heaven forbid, they’ll be late. It’s sad for me when I drive down suburban streets during the most beautiful days of summer, and where are all of the kids?

    Ah well, change comes slowly.


  57. Great article. I’m a 27 y/o female, and when I was a kid and not at school I was outside, barefoot most of the time, and my parents had to beg me to come in and sit down. Things have changed big time, and it really is upsetting. I also had an early bed time, and it amazes me that some elementary school children go to bed when they decide! 10-11 pm?! It’s insane to me. I was an active, well-fed, well rested child and those are great memories for me!

  58. We have two children, one of whom has both sensory issues, and high functioning autism. Our younder son is just plain old hyperactive. To answer the question, is primal the answer? Yes, for us it is/was. I incorporate both boys (ages 4 and 6, about to turn 5 and 7!) into my workouts when they don’t go outside on their own. I feed them primal at home, but school continue to provide gluten, sugar, and preservative lade foods, so that’s only half-way controlled. But even still, they are calmer children since we switched 2 years ago. I notice on weekends, they’re even more calm when I ahve total control over dietary issues. Essential oils, removing chemical cleaners in the home are also contributing to the improvements I think. We still let them “be kids” and partake in birthday cakes and treats now and again, but we teach them that those things are “treats”, and they’re not something healthy to eat all the time. Their favorite bedtime story is “Paleo Pals”, and they love reading that book over and over, and talking about how food grows, and cooking, and how yucky processed foods make them and their friends feel at school. Every little bit helps – we can’t control it all, but the small changes really make a difference. Kids can and really want to learn how to be healthy. My kids not only willingly learn about health and exercise with me, they ask to do it.

  59. This post makes me so happy!! From beginning to end…and as a mother of four (5,6,8,9) I feel much less “crazy” reading that how we are raising our kids is the best thing for them. It scares me to see how the world has become so overbearing that it has convinced many that inside staring at a screen is best and free range outside play is bad. THANK YOU Mr. Sisson for spreading the knowledge!

  60. I agree with most of this and the general consensus that we should want our children to grow up with the habits we are now trying to instill in ourselves. This is rather nitpicky, but I don’t agree that night light inhibit sleep in children. I was an Alaskan summer baby, which means that for the first 3 months of my life I slept in a sunlit room and that I actually had trouble adjusting to sleeping in a dark room come the winter months. My parents were not of the opinion that they should blackout my room so that I could sleep better, they hadn’t gotten to it before I came along early and found that I slept fine in the light.
    To this day I sleep better (sounder) in a light environment and found it entirely too strange when I found that non-native Alaskans had special black out shade/curtain combos so that they could sleep. I believe that this aspect of sleep, as with most other things in our lives, depends on your environment and your body’s acclimation to that environment.