Sunday, July 1, 2012


A recent article in The New Yorker magazine by Elizabeth Kolbert has recently sparked a debate among American parents. In the piece, Kolbert’s conclusion was that American children were “spoiled rotten.”  She wrote: "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."  She speculates on our various attitudes towards our kids: Do we expect too little?  Want too much approval?

On The Huffington Post, Lisa Belkin defensively responded to the article by Kolbert by writing that she thought spoiling our kids wasn’t bad.  She wrote: “Our kids don’t need to be obedient, they need to get into college.  They're focusing on grades and extracurricular instead of chores. And anyway, we all have so little time together, let's enjoy it instead of enforcing discipline.”

One day, my son asked me, “How come you don’t buy me things for no reason like other kids’ parents do?”  Now, I don’t know which kids he was referring to because the parents of his best friends are friends of ours and we know that they don’t just buy their kids things for no reason.  The “things” my son was referring to were expensive gadgets (smart phones, laptops, iPads, iPods, etcetera).  I responded, “I don’t know who these kids are or their parents nor do I know the reasons they just buy their kids such extravagant gifts.  For all I know they are not involved in their children’s lives and, feeling guilty, try to buy their children’s love.”  I can’t answer for other parents, only myself.  I’ve told my son it is okay to want things, but not to spend your life expecting to just get things.  My wife and I work hard for what we have, which is not a lot by American standards but I, for one, don’t go for American standards.  The American dream has become nothing but an empty commercial for self-centered consumerism.  A person cannot buy the latest product from Apple without the next latest, greatest, newest product from them already being announced while they are in line. 

Since I work for a toy company, I spend a lot of time in toy departments at stores.  It never fails to amaze me the amount of parents who tell their children they aren’t going to buy them anything (Why bring them to the toy department then?).  The child pitches a fit and, I have seen this on numerous occasions, the parent ends up getting the child whatever toy the child is pitching a fit over.  Then the parent looks at me and says, “I don’t know why he / she acts like this.”  Really?  You just rewarded them for their bad behavior and you don’t know why they do it?  I’ve even seen a child, through fits, work from getting a cheap toy to a really expensive one.  When my son was little, we went to Target and had told him that he wasn’t getting anything and that we weren’t going to the toy department.  While in the store, he decided to pitch a fit.  What did I do?  I snatched him up from the cart, stuck him under my arm (he’d gone stiff as a board as he wailed and carried on) and I told my wife, “You keep shopping.  I’m taking him to the car.”  Carrying him under my arm, I was mortified as he continued to wail as we walked through the store.  People stared.  And they stared as we went outside into the parking lot.  When we finally got to the car, I put him in his car seat, looked him directly in the eyes, and firmly told him, “I told you that you weren’t getting anything and that we weren’t going to the see the toys.  You will never get rewarded for misbehavior – ever!”  Indeed, he got punished when he got home.  But he never pitched a fit in a store after that.  Kids need boundaries and rules, not everything their little hearts wish for. 

When Benjamin was older and complaining about how we don’t buy him “stuff,” I sat him down with me and showed him our checkbook.  I pointed out the entries for money that was going out (bills, groceries, gas, and so on) and then showed him the fewer entries for money that was coming in.  I talked to him matter-of-factly about how much his Mom and I made.  Then I explained to him how many hours I would have to work for whatever gadget it was that he was wanting.  His eyes got bigger as what I was saying clicked in his mind. 

I’m with Elizabeth Kolbert.  American children have gotten too spoiled.  They often drive better cars, have nicer cell phones and clothes than their working parents do.  These kids have more and appreciate less.  Years ago, when I worked as a college recruiter and interviewed potential students for college, I would ask them how much they thought they would make upon graduation.  Without fail, most of them would reply, “At least $60,000.”  What kind of a rude awakening do they have in store for them?  They are so ill prepared for the real world.  And have no work ethic.  Too often I notice that parents have to nag their children endlessly to get them to do even the smallest chores around the house.  When I was younger, you did work around the house and were not paid any sort of allowance for what you did because that work was expected of you.  In her article, Kolbert writes about how in the Peruvian Andes, however, six-year-olds routinely make themselves useful by sweeping sand off of sleeping mats and catching and cooking crustaceans for the adults' dinner.

Allison Pugh, a sociologist who has studied family life and the author of Longing and Belonging: Parents, Children and Consumer Culture made a different suggestion to Yahoo! Shine. "The New Yorker piece exemplifies the trend in our culture; we blame children for the symptoms without doing a lot of self examination," she says. "We marvel at the six-year-old [in the Peruvian Andes] who just chipped in. That six-year-old wasn't born chipping in; she was taught."

Sociologist Pugh concluded, “Americans work more hours than anyone else in the universe.  There's a drive for efficiency. It's just more efficient to do chores yourself or outsource them rather than teaching children to contribute. That's a shame, but I don't think it's a children's shame, and it's not just the parents' fault. There are only so many hours in the workday.”

My wife and I decided that whenever we go to the foreign country to adopt our child, we are taking our son with us.  We think it is vitally important that he not only see where his sibling will be coming from, but also to see that, despite our not being wealthy by American standards, we are wealthier than many around the world.  He needs to have his eyes opened.  This world is not about him.  He needs to realize that he is to grow up to be more than a mere consumer, he is to be someone who should make a difference by giving of himself and seeking to help others. 

What I try to offer my son over going out and buying him more “things” is to give him more of myself, of my time.  That’s not easy.  Both my wife and I work, but we also believe strongly of investing ourselves in our son.  He may not have the latest, newest whatever gadget or high-tech toy that is the fad and other kids may have, but he has us.  And, while I don’t expect him to go out and catch my wife and I a lobster dinner, we do expect him to follow our rules and to help out around the house. 

So what do you think?  Are our kids too spoiled? 


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