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Parents, don't blame Happy Meals

By Roland S. Martin, CNN Political Contributor
  • Lawsuit asks California to ban Happy Meals, saying they encourage poor eating habits
  • Roland Martin says parents want government to step in and prevent kids from bad choices
  • He says it's the role of parents to exercise control on what children eat
  • Martin: Parents, take responsibility and stop blaming outside corporations

Editor's note: Roland Martin is a syndicated columnist and author of "The First: President Barack Obama's Road to the White House." He is a commentator for TV One Cable network and host/managing editor of its Sunday morning news show, Washington Watch with Roland Martin.

(CNN) -- As a strong proponent of parental responsibility, it both amuses and angers me to see some parents lining up behind an initiative to sue McDonald's over the inclusion of toys in their Happy Meals.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest is leading the charge in this case, pushing the state of California to ban the toys, suggesting that the toys in Happy Meals are inducing children to eat burgers and fries, thus contributing to the obesity epidemic in America.

As I asserted a few weeks ago in my column supporting First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move initiative, I fully back efforts to end obesity among our children. But at what point do some folks use common sense?

For example, in a story in the Chicago Tribune, parent Monet Parham said her 6-year-old daughter was so enamored with toys offered in partnership with the movie, "Shrek Forever After," she pestered her mom to collect every toy. That would mean going to McDonald's every week, since the promotion was a giveaway each week. And that's not something Parham wanted.

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So instead of being a parent and telling her child, "no," Parham decided to become a plaintiff in the lawsuit. Instead being the grownup and not giving in to the demands of a 6-year-old, Parham thought it made more sense to sue McDonald's to make her job as a parent easier.

I've long maintained that the problem today isn't children or the world changing. It's punk parents changing. Yes, I know that's a strong phrase, but when a parent can't control a 6-year-old, then we have some issues.

Do I have any biological children? Nope. But my wife and I at different times have raised six of my nieces. And when they lived in our home, we would take them to McDonald's for a Happy Meal. And when we went, instead of fries, we would order them apples. Instead of a soda, we would get apple juice or milk. Yes, it was that simple. All we did was ask for the healthier options on the menu, and the girls were happy with their Happy Meals.

Why is this so hard?

There is a fundamental role government can play when it comes to nutrition. Going after the cigarette makers who enticed children with cartoon characters to smoke? Good. Limiting trans fats in cooking? No problem here if it makes us healthier. But this is ridiculous.

What we desperately need today are real parents. Parents who understand that it is not their job to be friends with their children but be parents. Parents who get that having a disappointed child who doesn't get his or her way all the time isn't a bad thing. Parents who will give their child the right look when the child begins to act a fool and throw a tantrum.

I am not one of these adults who subscribe to the notion that no one can tell them what to do and they can do it all. For instance, I support sex education in schools and don't believe that we should leave that up to the parents. It's called education for a reason!

Count me as a major supporter of schools changing their menus to have healthier eating options. And I'm also down with school uniforms. The heck with the peer pressure of the haves and have nots based on designer clothes. None of these prevent parents from doing what they want to do with their children. It's all about focusing on the broader needs of the child.

What has to be understood is that a lawsuit isn't the answer to everything. And if we want our children to be healthier, banning a toy will do nothing to make that happen. Push McDonald's to make healthy options more visible on the menu.

I love the idea of having calorie counts on foods. It has changed my mind on many occasions as to what to buy in a fast food restaurant. Push fast food joints to have a health menu option by adding a salad, fruit and/or water instead of fries and a fountain drink. All of these make sense.

Trying to ban a toy because a parent can't tell their child no is ludicrous.

My nieces and nephews know full well that when it comes to who is in control, Uncle Ro Ro doesn't play around. I'm not their friend or buddy; I'm their uncle. What I say goes. I don't negotiate. I don't consult. I don't give in. I make it clear: my money, my rules. As my dad told me, "When you're grown enough to pay all of your bills, you can make the call."

If a niece or nephew wants to go to McDonald's every week for a month just to get a toy, and the deal is we only go once a month, here is the option: "We go once a month or not at all. Your call."

Trust me, even the biggest child pest has enough sense to figure out that once a month is the better option.

Parents, buck up and be the adult in the family, and stop blaming everything on an outside agency or corporation. Maybe McDonald's should think of suing sorry parents for not doing their job.

Now that's a lawsuit I'm willing to support.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Roland Martin.