“Take out the garbage. I’ve asked you five times. Do it now!”
When I spoke these words to my 9-year-old this afternoon, he rolled his eyes, paused his Super Mario game and stomped off to do the chore I’d been asking him to do since morning. If left to his own devices, my guess is that my son would be playing video games, hanging out with his friends, eating junk food and watching TV all day, every day.
Here’s the thing — he’s a a pretty good kid for the most part. He’s kindhearted, creative and funny. But during moments like these (where he reacts to a request to do a chore as if I’ve asked him to give me one of his kidneys), I have to pause and ask myself, “Are we raising a spoiled kid who expects the planets to orbit around him?” The thing is, I don’t think this attitude is the exception in our country — it’s the norm.
So just why are American kids becoming so spoiled? According to a recent article in the New Yorker, author Elizabeth Kolbert says,”With the exception of the offspring of the Ming Dynasty and the Dauphins of pre-revolutionary France, contemporary American children represent some of the most indulged young people in history.” (Amen. Have to agree with her there.) In contrast to our way of child rearing, Kolbert describes a tribe in the Amazon where the children pitch in without being asked, never talk back to their parents, and work hard to be useful to others. The French, as well, raise their children to be more self-reliant and able to handle frustration, according to the recent book by Pamela Druckerman, Bringing up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting. Druckerman said she noticed that the French focus on teaching their kids patience — parents there are not constantly hovering over their children, or trying to keep them entertained. And guess what? The kids there, according to her, are better-behaved and seem content to play on their own without constantly bothering their parents or asking, “What can I do now? I’m bored.”
So how are we getting it so wrong in this country? It seems to me that over the years, the power has gradually shifted from parent to child. For a Gen Xer like myself, this is a hard pill to swallow. When we were kids, parents were in charge, period. Becoming an adult was seen as something desirable, our time to shine and take charge. But somehow over the years, kids have been given more and more of the power until now it seems that they’re the ones in control, not us. In her article, Kolbert says that this dynamic results in a prolonged “Adultescence” where kids behave irresponsibly and immaturely well into adulthood, supported by their parents. (And many never leave their parents’ house. Why would they?)
The answer, according to the article, is to teach kids a sense of responsibility, to not be a helicopter or “snow plow parent” — who clears the way for their child to make sure they don’t suffer any disappointment or difficulty — and to not “over function” for our kids.
Truth be told, I don’t think American kids are any different than other children the world over; rather, I think human nature is such that we always want more. Instead of making it easy for our kids to get everything they want, we need to let them experience failure and disappointment from time to time — the natural consequences for their actions. That’s real life and it’s hard, but it’s a lesson everyone needs to learn. If we (and I’m including myself here) keep doing too much for our kids instead of holding them accountable for their actions, teaching them how to be patient and to work for what they want, I’m afraid the spoiling of this generation will continue.
What do you think? Are American kids more spoiled than other children? What’s the best way to teach kids to be responsible and mature?
Elisabeth Wilkins is the editor of Empowering Parents and the mother of one son. Her work has appeared in national and international publications.