Are We Raising a Generation of Spoiled Kids?

Posted July 18, 2012 by

Photo of elisabeth

“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 was the editor of Empowering Parents and the mother of an 10-year-old son. Her work has appeared in national and international publications, including Mothering, Motherhood (Singapore), Hausfrau, The Bad Mother Chronicles, and The Japan Times. Elisabeth holds a Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Southern Maine.

Popular on Empowering Parents

View Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Resenta Report

    I’m raising two grandsons and though we’ve come a long way, there is more work to be done. One of the biggest things I did recently was take them bike shopping and forwarded them we may not buy a bike. We didn’t buy bikes because they hadn’t taken care of their last bikes anyway. Luckily I have a Dad that also talked with them about taking care of their things – he hid the roller blades and played dumb when the one couldn’t find them and immediately started blaming the other.

    I’m going to try the foul box with the three questions – I have one that can’t seem to answer without a yell or pitch in his voice and we have been talking about it, but you’re right – consequence

    By the way both boys came with ADHD and oppositional disorder as well as possible effects from fetal drug use.

  2. Iype Report

    Basic human nature is same everywhere but the environment – including cultural – makes all the difference. Values instilled by parents at home play a very important role in shaping the behavioural pattern of a child. Parents need to be educated to bring up a generation of fine human beings

  3. Barbara Report

    I have the most disrespectful 20 year old son. At this point there is nothing I can say or do to have him even answer a question nicely, let alone, cut the grass when I ask him to. I have no leverage and really don’t know what kind of diservice I have done him to deserve this treatment.

  4. danielle Report

    In my case, the power struggles are the results of generations past. “When i am a parent, I am going to do things differently.” And each generation we do. My Mom and her peers gave us kids free rein.. She grew up in a strict household filled with rules and punishments. When she raised my brother and i she set few rules and handed out limited punishments. It was a generation of limited parenting. And now, my generation is hovering as a consequence.
    This website is very helpful and I am grateful it’s here to parent my family.

  5. Sunny Report

    Dear Struggling Parents,
    If your 7,8,9 year old is talking back, being disrespectful, rolling their eyes, that behavior started many years earlier and it simply getting worse and will only continue unless each infraction has a consequence and the child learns that none of those behaviors will be tolerated. Talking, pleading, arguing and nagging DO NOT WORK. Their action must have a negative and immediate reaction or consequence or they will never put two and two together. I am a teacher, homeschool mom and
    love and logic parenting facilitator and a single parent of a wonderful, helpful, loving and respectful 13 son.
    Here are some suggestions and I hope they help:

    Each action of disrespect earns them a 20 minute time in the “foul box” ..a term I stole from hockey. The foul box is the the restroom. The child must stay in there for 20 minutes for their foul and while they are there they will use pencil and small notebook to write down three things :
    1. what did I do to earn a foul
    2. what should I have done instead
    3. what will I do next time

    Time Out or a foul box is cooling off and time for self reflection….I started this when my son was 6 and until he was about 9. Now, at 13 he takes simple verbal reprimands to change his behavior.

    Morning chores: get dress, make their bed, eat breakfast,
    brush their teeth and watch TV or play games when and only if they finish their morning breakfast with cartoons…bad way to start…let them earn their TV

    After school: snack , 30 minute break then homework and after school chores : take out the trash, unload the dishwasher, feed or walk pets ,etc.. and when those are all done they get their game, TV ,etc.. once again they earn their free time

    If you will hold them accountable to themselves and the family and let them learn what responsibility looks like and feels like it will become a part them and the struggles will end. Good luck

  6. EllenM Report

    I totally agree. I have a 7 year girl and a 10 year old boy. The back talk and freshness from my daughter is unbelievable. If I had spoken to my mother like that when I was younger, I would have gotten the back of my mother’s hand. She seems to want to fight my husband and I on everything we say. Not just what we ask her to do. She as me how does something go together and when I start to answer her, she will snap back no or grab it out of my hand and say, no you have to do this. I have been working hard on staying calm and telling her that it’s not acceptable to talk to me or anyone that way and that when she can speak to me as I deserve she can come back and talk to me. It works sometimes and other times she goes off and never comes back aobut that topic. The hard thing is that my son is pretty good. Very rearly answers back and 99% of the time does what we ask the 1st time. My in-laws watch them for us during the summer days so we can work, and I catch them often saying that Luke is the good one and Alison the not so good one. I have tried asking them not to refer to her that way. I think that having an older brother who is “good at everything” has playing into the issue or her back talk. I sense that she feels she just can’t win and will never to the “good one” in our family so why try. We are starting to put in place so we’ll see.

  7. Meagan Report

    Truth be told, I don’t think that the child’s response is any different than years past.
    The thing is that now the adults who used to be those kids are on the other side, like our parents were, and have to be the authority in the house.
    Tips to make it better:
    Routine: The kid gets the game once the chores are done, otherwise, no game. Period. First work, then play.
    Reminders: Some kids genuinely forget. People forget, it’s a human thing. Have reminders. I made a chore folder for my younger daughter because she does forget, heck I forget. I made it kind of fun and cute like “Hug Kitty” or “check for bunnies in the backyard” alongside “make your bed” “feed the frogs” (yes we have frogs) and “clean up computer area.” It helps us both.

    But as for kids rolling their eyes and whatever. That’s when mom has to remember: your job is to be the parent. And your kid is not going to like everything you tell him to do. When he works for someone else, he will be told what to do, and this is your way of prepping him for real life. Simple as that.

  8. MrWhiskey282 Report

    Yes I view a lot of my peers theses days to be immature narks who wouldn’t know hard work if it hit them right between the eyes. I would not say i am spoiled cause i work for the good amount of my stuff.

  9. rockmanblog Report

    It’s always refreshing to read more pieces about building strong children through limits and clearer roles… rather than catering and accommodating. Below is a blog I wrote which reflects your sentiment… it’s in the words of he teens themselves.

    why won’t you set more limits with us? is it because you think that if you give us what we want, we’re more likely to listen to you? is it because you’re afraid that if you say no to us and we defy you or throw some sort of tantrum, you’ll end up feeling embarrassed or looking like you have no control? is it because you’re too tired to argue with us so you’d rather just give in and save yourself the aggravation? is it because you think that by saying no or setting limits, our self-esteem will be harmed or we’ll think you’re just mean and controlling? is it because you think giving us what we want is more loving than giving us what we need? is it because you feel bad for us and you want us to just smile and be happy? even though we’ll never tell you, we do get confused when we have too much power and freedom. we’re just not mature enough to make the right choices all the time. we also wonder how much you actually care if you just let us do what we please without worrying about what we’re doing with our time. and if you give us freedoms we’re not ready for, we’re likely to feel out of control and become reckless. what we need you to understand is that despite all our claims that we’re ready to do everything on our own, we’re not. and despite all of our accusations that you’re too controlling, we do need to feel safe and looked out for. because of our age and lack of life experience, when we’re not given limits or boundaries, we don’t have the self-control or awareness to always make healthy choices. and when we’re given too much power too soon, we often get confused and disrespectful, thinking that we have rights we actually haven’t yet earned. yeah, we need to be given the space to make decisions, but we also need to feel the consequences of our decisions when our decisions end up being the wrong ones.

  10. BigDaddy Report

    It’s not limited to American kids, trust me!

    We’re in New Zealand and I can absolutely relate to your generally good kid changing attitude completely when asked to do something. I’m a stepdad of 8 and it’s a relatively big challenge when the kids are not your own and you’re still trying to get them to accept you as the head of the house as well.
    Our 15yo son is an amazing kid. Kind-hearted, friendly to everyone and helpful to his 5 younger siblings, but man-o-man, it’s a struggle to get him to do anything around here. Only thing that seems to work with him is to let him earn internet time (gaming) by doing chores. No chores, no internet.

    One thing we’ve done is put away the TV receiver. So we use the TV only to play DVDs, which we only do as a family activity a couple of nights per week. There was a lot of protest at first, but I believe it’s one of the best things we’ve done. Boredom is a good incentive for creativity and the kids now happily entertain themselves after school, not even thinking about TV anymore.

    • Elisabeth Wilkins Report

      Big Daddy,
      Thanks for your comment. I love that you use your television only to play DVDs — that’s something we’ve been thinking about doing, too. When it comes to getting kids to help out without being asked, I’m not sure what the answer is, but I like the idea of having my son earn internet time by doing chores! Thanks again for weighing in.



Join our NEW Total Transformation® Learning Center!

Practical, affordable parenting help starting at $14.95/month BECOME A MEMBER TODAY!

Empowering Parents is the leading online resource for child behavior help


Parent Coaching Sessions

7.5 Million

Global Visitors

10+ Years

Helping Families