When it comes to covering the news of the local K-12 public schools, we are reporting on decisions adults make that affect children in the classroom. Sometimes, we are covering the schools for the sake of moms and dads who want to see their little darlings’ adorable faces in print, which I’d probably want too if I had some cute little spawn of my own. Either way, this often involves talking to the children themselves, which means people who are under the legal age of adulthood (that is, under 18 years old).
The Washoe County School District requires its students to get their parents to sign permission slips before being photographed for the news. While I am not sure this “requirement” would stand up to a First Amendment challenge, I bring it up simply to make the point that we often photograph children without their faces showing so we can still have a visual to go with some stories. One such visual was used in a story in the Tribune this past Monday, though I am sure no permission would have been given for it if the parent knew.
The story was about a grant for a health program in the schools to combat such risks as smoking and obesity. As is often the case, this article didn’t have a particular event associated with it to photograph and taking a picture of a school district office worker’s talking head would have been boring, so we used some photos to illustrate the above-mentioned health risks. The image for obesity was a knees-to-neck shot of a young girl, probably between sixth and eighth grade, with some very pronounced bulge. There is no way for a general reader to identify her, and even her clothing was generic enough that it would be difficult even for someone who might think they recognize her. I know she is a local student only because the picture was taken here by our photographer, but she could be from anywhere if you didn’t know.
Despite her anonymity, a little part of me felt badly for her. Maybe she has a genetic issue that is making her overweight, or perhaps she was ill. Maybe she has irresponsible parents who feed her fast food all the time and never encourage her to be active. That is where the problem lies anyway — with the parents. Sure, I played some video games as a kid, but I had to cry and cry to my parents for a Nintendo. They wouldn’t get me one and finally I had to cajole my gift-giving grandma into buying one for me. Money was probably my parents’ main reason, but long before that they signed me up for baseball and had us outside riding bikes and playing all the time. Besides, I played with that Nintendo for about a year before I got bored with it and returned to my outdoor activities. Man, I sure wish I had that Nintendo back, though. I bet I could still beat Mike Tyson.
And fast food? No way, except as an occasional special treat (Arctic Circle hamburgers, it was). Candy? I do remember the occasional candy bar and visits to the local confectioner, but sweet treats were certainly not part of my everyday diet and my parents certainly didn’t encourage it.
But if my parents had given me the Nintendo or piled my plate with junk food, would I have gladly partaken? Most likely. I was a kid, and kids don’t know any better. They want what is fun and what tastes good. It’s not that they don’t want what is healthy and good for them, it’s that they don’t care. They don’t have a sense of mortality yet. Parents need to lead by example in their own lifestyles and not take the easy route by buying whatever food is cheap with no thought of the consequences on their kids’ health. And of course it is easier to plop a kid in front of a TV than to get up and take them to the park and (gasp!) maybe even run around with them.
But we have turned the schools from a place to learn about the Declaration of Independence and the Pythagorean theorem into wholesale babysitters responsible for everything from how our kids learn to how they eat and play to how they have sex. If parents stepped up and did those jobs they’re supposed to do anyway, maybe that grant money could be directed to saving some jobs or programs that teach kids art or music instead of teaching them how to not get fat or why it’s bad to smoke. That can be done at home for free.
So, next time we print an anonymous picture of an overweight child, I will find their parents and print their mugshots alongside the image of their child so people know who the real responsible party is.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go walk the dog. We need the exercise.
Nathan Orme is the editor of the Sparks Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.