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If there is one word that is associated with indulgent child rearing, it is spoiled. We've all seen kids who are spoiled. There's a greediness about them. They throw tantrums in toy stores when their parents won't buy them what they want. They always seem to want more and expect to get their own way. They have trouble sharing. The needs of family, friends, and the wider world recede like the earth in the rearview mirror of a starship.
We see the spoiled child as tainted and devalued. He has been overindulged and over-praised. He has not had to earn what he has: it has been given to him. An essential part of what we talk about when we talk about character is missing in him. He lacks integrity, fortitude, and a moral center. And it's not just adults who notice bratty behavior. One 17-year-old girl I interviewed said: "About half the kids I know are really spoiled and they know it. They can get away with anything. It doesn't matter what they do, their parents are like, 'Oh, it's okay, honey.'"
What exactly does it mean to be spoiled? Here are some examples: Spoiled kids expect to get away with everything. They expect special favors from friends and teachers (an extension on an assignment, for example). They get an allowance without having to do chores. They don't have to obey rules at home, such as having to be home at a certain hour. And in general, they get too much leniency from their parents.
While America has changed a lot over the past year, we still live in relative affluence. The sense of entitlement so many of our kids developed before the economy began to weaken will not simply fade away just because the household income may have decreased. How many of us have watched our kids ripping into their presents on Christmas or Hanukah and then just tossing them aside? The getting, not the having, is what matters to them.
"Enough is enough!" we want to say to our kids. But how many of us, as parents, live our lives that way? For example, a friend of mine took her kids to the Washington monument. When she grew tired of waiting in the long line, she used a connection she had to get to the front of it. The next week she happened to be at her son's school, and she saw him cut to the front of a line of kids waiting for the water fountain. She was immediately stricken by guilt at the part she had played in moderating this kind of behavior.