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We had a piece yesterday about how a prepayment service called MealPay, now used in 75 school districts in 21 states, “allows parents to electronically put money in their children's accounts. The student gives cashiers a card or PIN number” and now “tracks all the items a student buys in the cafeteria each day.” The goal: allowing parents to track the kids’ eating habits and encourage more nutritious food consumption.

One MNB user objected to the system:

In the olden days, parents used to ask their kids what they ate and the kids generally told them. Occasionally they told fibs or misled Mom and Dad but part of parental responsibility is to teach kids to give a straight answer to a straight question. It really shouldn't be part of a parent's responsibility to teach kids to expect to spend their lives being spied upon rather than trusted.

While we don’t like the word “spy,” we have to say that in today’s world, oversight and vigilance about our kids’ activities and decisions is an absolute part of our responsibilities. Wish it weren’t.

MNB user Donna Burns wrote:

I also wanted to comment on the MealPay program. My children (ages 7 and 9) now attend a private Catholic school in our city and we were recently introduced to this lunch program. At first I was thinking, “A debit card in a 7 and 9 year olds hands?” Half of American adults can’t handle their own finances, what can we expect from kids?

I have since changed my tune. We are so pleased with this system. We just deposit monies into their account and every month we get a print out of what was bought by EACH child and how much is left in the account. Face it, we are in the fresh produce industry, so our kids are health conscious and actually enjoy eating fruits and vegetables, but instead of sending $1.00/day for God knows what we can now see what they are buying and discuss it with them if it is not on our balanced diet. The other positive aspect is that our kids can’t “lend” money to everyone at their lunch table because of their generosity when one of their friends “has to have" potato chips and ice cream. We actually saw that our son was purchasing fresh mashed potatoes and the fresh salad bar two times a week.

Maybe adults should have the same system and then we can actually see what we put into our bodies every month. Scary, isn’t it? Keep up the good work. This is the only email I get that I stop doing my everyday work to read.

MNB user Jeff Hyatt wrote:

Being married to an elementary teacher as well, I spend time in the classroom and the cafeteria. But just because the MealPay systems tracks what a student "buys" for lunch doesn't mean that's what the student "eats" for lunch. Even with brown bag lunches, prepared and packed at home, I see many students just eat what they want and discard the rest. Healthy habits start at home and can only be reinforced by parents who encourage their children to eat wisely and healthy at school or anytime they are not supervised by a parent.

And not so obviously, schooling is not a substitute for parenting. Schools and teachers should not be expected to be the daytime parent for the students. Schools must provide a comfortable, welcome, safe and learning environment; but parents must prepare their child for and support their child in that environment as well as provide a leaning environment at home.

MNB user Brad Morris wrote:

My kids have food accounts at school. It has been great. I thoroughly recommend it.

When my kids started school in kindergarten they were each assigned pin numbers they would use for their entire school careers. We can put money in two accounts for each child: one account for regular school lunches (for when they don’t brown-bag it), one account for snacks. It works great.

We get to say the amount of snacks they get in proportion to regular food (we allow them one serving of snack or junk food a day). If they spend their snack money all at once, against their better judgment, they are done until we decide to put more money in the account. We can also get a listing of exactly what they purchased from each account and are using this information to help them understand the food choices they are making and how to they should eat for a healthier life. Believe it or not, they get it. At 8 and 10 years old my children are eating better every day and getting more exercise then I ever did as a kid.

You will also notice that WE have taken responsibility for our children’s eating habits. WE are working with our kids on food education. It is not the responsibility of the teachers or the school system. They can help support what we teach, not the other way around. They are just giving us better tools to help our efforts and reinforce.

We criticized a bunch of high school kids for staging a protest because they didn’t like the healthier meals their school was serving…not because we’re anti protest, but because we think they should find something important to protest about.

MNB user Alex Malaspinas disagreed:

Although your argument holds water here, I have to make a plea for the sake of the adults that stand somewhere above eye level to the junk hungry teens, and below the receding hair line of the freedom generation and baby boomers.

Being 27 yrs old, just barely of an age warranting respect from most adults, I know what it is to test the limits of my elders and challenge myself by taking up space that wasn’t previously mine, and building a podium in its center. It’s true these kids are left with little else to hem and haw about then what they could proudly pack in their gullets over a cafeteria lunch hour, but don’t forget their influences (media, politicians, and now adults adopted complacency) having taken a strong hand to our involvement in a working democracy. These kids are doing what they know best, which is to take what is perhaps the only thing they thought for sure was theirs, and squeeze as hard as they can to hold onto it. If we simply ignore them and scoff upon their meager ideals, what then can we say for the part we take in the building of their character and strength?

We cannot simply write them off and “let them find out the hard way”, but better to educate them now and present material to stand against their (now poor) argument. It is a fundamental part of youth to challenge authority, no matter the battle or weapon that is chosen, and if we do not nurture it in them from where it is stemmed, we might as well hand them the rest of the pre-packaged world for them to settle on, no questions asked.

We love it when kids challenge authority. Except, of course, when our kids challenge our authority.

Actually, that’s not true. We think a little rebellion is good for the soul…and as long as they’re not going to get hurt, we want them to push for greater autonomy.

However, we do emphasize that autonomy is just one piece of a three-part equation:

Responsibility + Discipline = Autonomy

Finally, to the dozens of you who wrote in yesterday that it was Rob & Laurie Petrie who lived in New Rochelle, you are absolutely right.

But you knew that.
KC's View: