Parenting Lessons: Step 4: Stand Firm Against Spoiling

The Real Dangers of Spoiling
We need to be aware that aside from creating obnoxious kids, there are other dangers to being spoiled. Being spoiled is part of a pattern that may have dangerous consequences, including drug use, abuse of alcohol, academic underachievement, bulimia, cigarette smoking, cheating on tests, lying, being anxious or depressed and skipping school.

But there are other, less obvious dangers associated with being spoiled. Spoiled kids are often unable to cope with life's stresses and frustrations. They're typically unhappy, and do not learn from their mistakes. Kids who have been spoiled rarely look inside themselves; instead, they focus on the exterior. For example, a spoiled kid who lacks self-confidence may use his wealth to "buy" peer acceptance - all he needs to do is wear the right clothes or attend the right country club - rather than work on improving his self-esteem. Spoiled kids also turn to drugs and alcohol -- other outside factors -- to hide low self-confidence and other emotional problems.

A spoiled kid seems incapable of probing his interior, his core, which, of course, is the place from which equilibrium, strength, and happiness emanate. Because a spoiled child's life is often too easy, it lacks the adversity that can help kids develop an inner sense of their capacity to adapt and prevail.

Let me stress that being spoiled is not just a rich kid's disease. Although having money often makes it easier to externalize both problems and cures (buying material goods extravagantly, paying for the best psychologists, schools, and rehab treatments), parents without a lot of money can do the same thing. By not requiring their children to take sufficient responsibility for their actions or giving in easily to their demands, one can spoil children without spending a dime.

The kids I've talked to often made this distinction: spoiled was not necessarily a surfeit of money or material possessions; it was an attitude of not helping, not participating, not chipping in - of doing only what we want to, when we want to. And, perhaps surprisingly, kids even admitted that getting an allowance without having to do chores was related to being spoiled.

How can you as a parent combat these attitudes? Some parents know that if kids spend money that they've earned themselves, they will learn the difference between what they want and what they need. Since kids can be very label-conscious, you can demonstrate the difference between wanting and needing by having your child pay for status brands herself. Alternatively, she can make up the difference in cost between a reasonably priced item and the typically over-priced status item. For example, if a shirt costs $20 at the department store and $40 at Abercrombie and Fitch, your child can contribute $20 for the pricier shirt.

Perhaps the most important finding to come out of my research on the spoiled syndrome was that kids recognize that their parents are often too soft on them. They know that we are letting them get away with more than they should. Yet they also know that in order to be strong, to face the challenges of life, to become the people they want to become, they need our help in building character; in fighting against the atmosphere of indulgence that comes part and parcel with living in the richest society the world has ever known.

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