In a classic scene in the classic 1984 movie Starman, the extraterrestrial Jeff Bridges tells the human Karen Allen that, yes, he does know how to drive. Starman has just blasted through a traffic light changing to red, other vehicles crashing in his wake. Jenny Hayden, his protector, is screaming at him. "You said you know the rules," she berates him. "I do know the rules," he rejoins, calmly and purposefully. "I watched you very carefully. Red liight stop. Green light go. Yellow light go very fast."
Everyone can recognize themselves in those 60 seconds of film footage. In fact, many people who originally saw Starman nearly 30 years ago can recite those lines verbatim. The scene resonates for us because it is deeply human, because we have said and done the things the lead characters are saying and doing. We are drivers ourselves. We have taught others how to drive. We have been back-seat drivers, although we try hard not to be. And occasionally, very occasionally, we press down hard on the accelerator when we see a light change from green to yellow.
Jenny Hayden finds herself unexpectedly caught in a "do as I say and not as I do" situation, again something with which most of us are all too familiar. Jenny very much wants to be a good teacher, in a very challenging set of circumstances, but as always actions speak much louder than words. At this point in the film Starman is only just beginning to develop an ear for the subtleties of human communication. The only things he can go on, the only things on which he can base his decisions, choices, and actions, are the objective actions of others. When confronted with a yellow light, he does what he's seen others do. He "goes very fast".
This story sounds so familiar because, in part, it reminds us of how we are with our children. Starman himself is very much like a child and even began his sojourn to Earth as a newborn infant. We want our kids to eat right, get regular exercise, and make good decisions. But often the examples we set for them show the exact opposite behaviors.
We skip breakfast, eat junk food, and rarely serve fresh fruits and vegetables. We may join a health club, but rarely use it after the initial flush of excitement in the first two weeks. Instead of spending time with our kids outdoors, walking, hiking, or biking, we spend three or four hours each night sitting on the sofa or recliner, mesmerized by the television screen, computer monitors, or phone text messages.
Like Starman, our kids learn by our example. They're watching our every move, although they may pretend they're doing other stuff. The health and well-being of our children depend on our backing up our instructions and verbal guidance with consistent action.1,2,3 Regular exercise. Five servings of fresh fruits and vegetables every day. Eliminating excess calories. Getting plenty of rest. Encouraging a positive mental attitude.
If we want our kids to be healthy and well, it's important that we do the things that will help them learn how to take healthy actions on their own behalf. They are following our lead.
1Stabouli S, et al: The role of obesity, salt and exercise on blood pressure in children and adolescents. Expert Rev Cardiovasc Ther 9(6):753-761, 2011
2Sandercock GR, et al: Associations between habitual school-day breakfast consumption, body mass index, physical activity and cardiorespiratory fitness in English schoolchildren. Eur J Clin Nutr 64(10):1086-1092, 2010
3Fox MK, et al: Food consumption patterns of young preschoolers: are they starting off on the right path? J Am Diet Assoc 110(12 Suppl)S52-S59, 2010