OUR SAY: Students’ weight issues belong to parents, not teachers

Parents – not teachers – should be responsible for the health of their children.

This week’s revelation that teachers would have mandatory reporting requirements of children who are deemed “severely overweight” is a step too far and will cause more problems than it solves.

Teachers should be there to teach – not raise the children or impose expectations on the students.

Educating young people must be their primary goal – nothing more, nothing less. Identifying and raising issues about the welfare of children when it comes to physical or mental abuse should be part of their role but that must be the extent of their reach.

Playing nanny to kids who, in their opinion are overweight, is going too far.

Beyond the capacity of teachers to become health officials, identifying children as being obese can also lead to other significant issues for the child who would then be at risk of becoming further stigmatised for their size – singled out as a child who is overweight and unhealthy.

Given the bullying children already endure, this new directive has the potential to exacerbate the pain for young people.

A department of education spokesperson told Fairfax Media that “...schools have an important role in supporting the welfare of students”, particularly in cases where they are at “...risk of significant harm”.

Surely reporting overweight children to the Family and Community Services (FACS) Child Protection Helpline isn’t supporting the welfare of a child but has the potential to create more significant problems.

What a child eats and how much exercise they get is the sole responsibility of parents.

There’s no doubt some parents should be better educated on this front, but that lack of knowledge should not lead to them being reported to FACS, effectively labelling them a negligent parent. It also needs to be remembered that as children grow they develop at different speeds.

An overweight 10-year-old can soon become a “normal” teenager as a growth spurt kicks in. But under this plan, that larger pre-teen could quickly find themselves identified as being overweight and their parents neglectful.

At every opportunity we should be teaching children and their families about healthy living. It’s a balancing act, but the best way schools can help on this front is to have more sporting activities in the curriculum and less time in the classroom.

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