Really, You Can Just Say 'No Thank You' To Girl Scout Cookies

Don't send the Girl Scouts a message you can't take back.

As a Girl Scout of the '90s, I remember overseeing the booths we'd set up in public places during cookie season. Lots of neighborhood passersby bought cookies from us, but not everyone. Sometimes a potential customer would decline with a polite "No, thank you," while others would explain the reason for their refusal: "I can't have those in the house or I'll eat all of them!" or "These have way too much sugar!" or "I'm on a diet!"

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I too was often on a diet, first as a child, then a teenager, then a young adult, and into adulthood. Each time, I swore off cookies and told everyone about my decision to do so, for "accountability," the magazines told us. I developed a disordered body image and an eating disorder. I'm a millennial in therapy now (natch). I'm also, for the first time this year, a mother to a Girl Scout.

Please, if you don't want to purchase the cookies for any reason, just say, "No, thank you."

Don’t unload your baggage on random kids

If you're planning to swear off sweets to get ready for hot girl summer or whatever, that's your journey. If you just plain don't like Girl Scout cookies (what, not even Samoas?) or your family doesn't eat dessert, okay. If you consider sugar the devil incarnate, fine, sure, whatever, live your truth. But it is not your responsibility to explain your objections to the kids selling cookies outside the local grocery store, nor is it your job to "educate" them about the product they're selling.

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If you're on a diet and can't stop telling people about it, my not-so-gentle advice is to ask yourself why. Is it to hold yourself accountable, as I used to do? Is it to explain your current shape, size, or choices so others don't have an opening to judge you?

Maybe you're telling the scouts about your decision to stay away from "junk food" because you don't want them to feel bad about the lost sales opportunity. If that's the case, don't. A kind, polite refusal will not be questioned by these enterprising kids. They've got cookies to sell; they're busy enticing the next potential customer.

Children listen to what you tell them

Both parents and health experts feel strongly about not telling Girl Scouts your dietary reasons for abstaining from cookies. That's because research indicates that when kids hear adults, even strangers, talk about weight and diets, it can negatively impact their ideas about their own bodies.

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Parent coach Oona Hanson writes for Parents about how toxic diet talk during Girl Scout cookie season can increase kids' risk of developing an eating disorder. Statistics gathered by the National Eating Disorders Association show that, second to opioid addiction, eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental health disorder.

A stray comment about your diet isn't going to "make someone anorexic." The damage is cumulative, the result of years of conditioning to view certain foods as "bad" and certain bodies as ideal. Little Daisies and Brownies can be as young as five years old when they start selling Girl Scout cookies. When a kindergartener stands out on the street for hours and hears person after person say some version of, "These cookies make you fat, and fat is bad, therefore you are bad if you eat these cookies," is it all that surprising that they start to believe it?

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What to do as a parent of a Girl Scout (or any kid)

For parents of Girl Scouts, there are great resources for how to sell the cookies and deal with the public. Troop leaders and volunteers go through training, and during troop meetings, the scouts practice engaging with the public in a safe and effective way. Selling cookies is empowering for these kids; it teaches them math, social, and business skills, and most importantly, it's just a fun project.

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However, as a society, we are not fabulous at dealing with the murky topic of "health," if the debate over the new American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines around "obesity" are any indication. As Hanson outlines in her Parents article, there are some anti-diet messages you can front-load into your family's lexicon about food and bodies to help combat any messages they may get elsewhere.

Arm your scout with some phrases to lob back at people who try to disparage Girl Scout cookies. They can point out, for example, that anyone who doesn't want the sweets can still support Girl Scouts of the USA by donating the cost of a box of cookies to the troop's charity of choice. My kid's troop is supporting Meals on Wheels this year, so anyone who doesn't want a $6 box of Thin Mints can give $6 to Meals on Wheels instead.

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You can also teach your scout to chant, "Food has no inherent moral virtue!" It might not increase sales, but it would still be pretty cool.

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