Saturday, July 6, 2013

Do We Spoil Our Kids?

     I just read an article Spoiled Rotten: Why Do Kids Rule the Roost? an essay about how we as parents are not asking enough of our children -- we don't require them to do chores; we buy them too many things; we keep enabling their dependence until they're well into their 20s and beyond.

     I might have dismissed the piece as a typical rant from a crotchety conservative complaining about how our kids have it too easy and the world is going to hell in a handbasket.

     Except the reason I saw the article was because a young friend of mine posted it on his Facebook page. He's no conservative. He's in his mid-30s, and happens to be the principal of a high school in New Jersey.

     Plus, the article was published in the liberal magazine The New Yorker, authored by a liberal woman known mostly for reporting on the evils of carbon emissions and their effects on global warming, and who has taken President Obama to task for being too easy on regulating coal-burning electric companies and SUV-producing automobile companies.

     The writer, Elizabeth Kolbert, contrasts a family living in the Peruvian Amazon with middle-class families living in Los Angeles. The kids in Peru help cook, help clean up, and in general make themselves useful to everyday family endeavors. Even six-year-olds are beginning to learn adult responsibilities.

     In L.A. the parents beg their children to do simple chores or take basic hygiene measures, and the kids either refuse to do the job, or just ignore the parents -- and the end result is that the parents end up waiting on the kids.

     Kolbert concludes, "With the exception of the imperial offspring of the Ming dynasty and the dauphins of pre-Revolutionary France, contemporary American kids may represent the most indulged young people in the history of the world."

     Why is it, she asks, that Peruvian children help their families more than American children do? And why do American parents help their children at home more than the Peruvian parents do?

      And why is it that so many American kids, after four years of college and a couple of years either working or going to graduate school, end up moving back home, then sleeping late, eating mom's cooking, and making only feeble attempts to find a new job?

     Some of the blame can be laid on a poor economy and the difficulty in finding a job . . . and the pressure on younger children not to help out the family, but to do their homework, engage in extracurricular activities and get into a good college . . . so they can get a good job and don't end up back in their parents basement when they're in their 20s.

     But I wonder how much the world that Elizabeth Kolbert describes squares with your view of your own children, and maybe your grandchildren.

     I look at my own daughter (college class of 2005) and her friends, and I can't think of one of them who moved back home. They are all working, getting married, carrying on with their lives. I look at my son (college class of 2008) or B's son (college class of 2009), and I see many more instances of kids having difficulties landing a job, finding an apartment, and in general launching their lives. This, no doubt, is a result of the Great Recession and its aftereffects.

    But as for Kolbert's description of kids who act entitled to every latest toy, who will not help at home, who will not even help themselves ... it seems to me she's presenting a cartoonish version of the real day-to-day ebb and flow of teaching kids about adult responsibilities and relationships. Sure, kids are reluctant helpers. But they do learn, eventually, don't they?

     But then I wonder:  my friend the high-school principal. How come he found the article so relevant he posted it on his Facebook page?



Anonymous said...

Young parents are different today. With both working the time they spend with their kids seems to be for entertainment...they have relinquished much of the training aspect to day care and schools. Spend some time in a school and you will see the difference.

Sorry, can't help myself...this so bothers me....When referring to a "person" the word is spelled "principal" not principle.

Tom said...

Oh, I am soooo embarrassed, and I stand corrected. I learned that one in high school!

June said...

In the olden days, a few centuries ago, I understand, there was hardly any concept of "childhood" as a time when small humans were cossetted. In the times when families lived where they grew their food, every single body did something to support the family. Now that hardly anybody in this country lives that way, it isn't necessary (although certainly to be desired) anymore for young humans to be responsible for anything but their own amusement.

Dr. Kathy McCoy said...

I know many young people like your kids and B's kids. But I also know teenagers and young adults who are so indulged I wonder if they will ever become independent. Case in point: the daughter of a close family friend is a very spoiled only child who is 23, has never worked and goes to community college only occasionally. She spends her days surfing the Internet, playing video games, texting friends and lying around the house. Even when asked, she does no housework -- not even rinsing her dishes. She has no respect for either of her divorced parents. By choice, she has no relationship with her father and seems to see her mother's role as server. Once, when I was visiting, she came into the room, interrupting our conversation with a single word barked command: "Artichokes!" Her mother immediately jumped up, saying "Oh, you want some artichokes. O.K.!" I was stunned. Obviously, the mother enables this behavior.

When I was working in college admissions, we used to see parents who were managing their kids' lives -- even from a distance -- and the kids expected and seemed to need such helicoptering. And so many of the kids -- indulged at home with their own rooms and all manner of services -- really suffered while adjusting to the sharing component of dorm life. (Whereas those of us who grew up sharing a bedroom with siblings and one bathroom with the whole family thought dorm living was grand!).

Another difference that the school principal might have noted is that so often these days, if there is a problem at school, some parents assume everyone but their kid is wrong and defend them against a teacher or principal without asking any questions. When we were growing up, that was almost unheard of. If a teacher had a complaint about a kid, parents assumed this was legitimate and, at the very least, would question the child about it and do a remediation plan or punish them instead of blindly flying to their defense.

I do think it's wrong to characterize ALL young people as over-indulged. It could very well be that most don't fit that characterization at all. But some do and it makes me worry for their futures.

Joanne Noragon said...

I have custody of three grandchildren, 11 to 17, raised for thirteen years by parent(s) with no expectations, boundaries, standards. A fourth, out of high school,living with her father, spends her day on video games. Although these children are unfailingly cheerful, they didn't know how to get up in the morning, let alone make a bed. The two youngest are learning life, there is hope. The oldest is just marking time and cheerfully doing what is asked of him...nothing more. In a year he'll be emancipated and back with his sister, playing video games. I will not count myself a failure unless I lose the two little ones, too.

I raised two daughters; the first is a successful business woman. The mother of these children resented what I expected of her and raised her children to be her best friends. They all did nothing, supported by a father who earned big dollars. Then his world fell apart, as did the marriage, and grandma gets to sort the results.

I believe modern parents are like me two daughters. One raises her children with expectation, one raised hers with none. I think to myself, Well, it will be their world to run when I am gone, and I know who will be running it and who will be whining about their misfortunes.

Anonymous said...

Sorry but I'm a 42 year old father of 2 a son and daughter and from the age of 5 my wife and I started them both on a strict chore routine.Now at 20 and 19 they are both out of the house and working, my son works for Catapillar and my daughter is in college and working towards her goal of becoming a Radiologist, so while we did give them pretty much what they wanted we didn't consider it spoiling but rather rewarding them for their work.the moral of the story is.......Work them hard and reward them harder......

Olga said...

I have seen some examples of over indulged children, but most of what I see is responsible parenting. The spoiled rich-kid thing is out there, but it is also overplayed on "reality" tv.

Janette said...

Until the mid 1900's children stayed home until marriage. I don't mind adult children coming home. When my kids come to stay for a bit, we simply trade off the housework. I do the same at their house.
I do feel bad that beginning jobs are being sucked up by some of my friends who have been laid off. How can the next generation get started?

Linda Myers said...

I don't spoil my kids. I do have a 36-year-old son who has lived with his dad for most of the last 20 years. He should be graduating from nursing school next June and then moving out, but you never know. He has it pretty good right where he is.

DJan said...

My son was kicked from pillar to post by my unfortunate alliances and marriages when he was young. He dropped out of high school and finally got a GEd and joined the Army. It was the best thing that he ever did, and it made a man out of him, since I was a pretty terrible mother. I still feel guilty, although he died ten years ago, and he was happy. :-}

Douglas said...

I had chores (which I seldom did and only when reminded repeatedly) when I was a child. My son didn't have chores but he also had no allowance (neither did I). My son is in his forties, works 6 days a week, 10 hours a day, and has two wonderful and talented daughters whom he "spoils" rotten. Some will do the least required and some will do more than what is required. I have never figured out a way to identify either type.

Barb said...

No secret that I have a 24 year old son who has lived with me on an off, mainly due to the economy and who I am assisting financially (we are starting a busienss together). Howver, he does most of the cooking, dog walking and chroes around the house when he is not in school. My daughter who was equally independent roomed with a young woman who had never even done her own luandry or managed her own allowance/finances....something I saw at the time as unbelievable.

Try New Things said...

I did spoil my children to some degree, but as they grew to be teens and beyond, I progressively removed my support in different ways. They are 21 and 19 now and they do live their own lives. They are still at University and I expect them to graduate without debt and without my help and they are doing it for the most part...although I send 'little gifts' every once in a while to help them through. And when they are home, they do their own laundry and cook for themselves and keep their areas clean. It is working even though I started late to encourage independence.

Banjo Ruz said...

I agree with Olga that the spoiled kids issue is overplayed. I taught kids for forty years at a so-called "elite school" and the vast majority were gracious and anxious to help. But few chore expectations at home called for the teachers to often teach the kids how to properly use a broom and how to properly sponge off a lunch table. But rare was the student who put up any resistance to pitching in. And, yes, parents seem to have become way too protective and hovering, especially in this environment of fear and angst that the media promotes.

But the aberrant individuals are the ones who we seem to focus on and give the most "airtime" to. I thing, all in all, that our kids are just great!

Dick Klade said...

We didn't assign specific chores to our son, but asked him to help in various ways. He did, and he helped more as he grew older. We encouraged him to get part-time jobs as a teenager to learn about work before he was forced to gain the experience later in life. We gave him a small allowance. We insisted that he pay for at least part of some items he desired to learn about the value of money and material goods. That regimen worked for us. It might not work at all for others. As your post and several comments point out, there really is no "right way" to raise kids. said...

I think the author has a point. However, my grandchildren have all turned out pretty well considering the times in which they grew up and the way some of their friends have evolved. My granddaughters came of age in a high school dominated by Asian origin kids, who are mannerly, good students and will make fine citizens. My grandsons are growing up in San Diego in a largely Hispanic community, but their parents keep them so busy, they don't have time to become spoiled. The New yorker has some interesting articles. I also think parents are the key when it comes to healthy kids. Dianne

Anonymous said...

The kids I know fall into both categories--the incredibly privileged children of two professionals, and the kids of parents with more ordinary jobs who must work at part-time jobs for some spending money and to put away money for school.

In general, the kids who must work for their spending money (even teen babysitters around here get $10/hour!) seem to be more serious about life. The wealthier kids (mostly nice kids) aren't used to having to do anything for themselves, or buy things they want. They just ask, and Mom and Dad provide. And their parents don't expect the kids to do anything but get good grades and belong to the right activities so they can get into "top" colleges.

A friend complained that her husband won't ever say no to anything their kids want, because he thinks as long as they are good students and don't get arrested, they should get anything they want, and they don't even need to do their own laundry!

That's not, in my opinion, very good for their character! We made our kids take responsibility for themselves as they grew, and now, as college graduates struggling in this job market, they are mostly responsible for themselves.