Spoiled Rotten or Just Right

Are American kids spoiled?

That’s a big question and experts weigh in on both sides. Those who agree, say our children are the most priveledged and indulged in the history of the world and have high levels of entitlement and irresponsibility to match. Those against argue that despite our children’s immense privilege, they demonstrate enviable generational traits like empathy and tolerance and that it is ‘traditional mentalities’ that pinpoint each subsequent generation as more spoiled than the previous.

No matter which side the experts come down on, parents do not want their children to be spoiled. None of the character traits of spoiled children are desirable – selfish, ungrateful, controlling, easily bored, temperamental, to name a few. Parents are smart to want more than a spoiled disposition for their children as research demonstrates that spoiled children are less happy and satisfies, even as adults. Despite not wanting spoiled children, a poll commissioned by CNN and Time found that two thirds of parents think their children are spoiled. So, what is a parent to do?

Well, we waded through opinions and sorted through facts to present both sides of the argument. We also include a progressive and a development take on the subject so you can decide for yourself.

Yes, American Kids Are Spoiled.

The argument in favor of American kids being spoiled give two main reasons. The first that youth today are the most materialistically privileged children in the history of the world. The second, that our child centered parenting style has some faults, which contribute to spoiled children.

There is little denying that our children today have access to and consume more material possessions than any other generation. The culture they are growing up in promotes consumption and materialism. Our children are indoctrinated into this culture before they have the capacity to understand it or have perspective. An illuminating and sobering statistic is that only 3.1% of the world’s children live in the US, but the US consumes more than 40% of the world’s toys. From toys children move on to consume unprecedented levels of electronics, gadgets, sporting goods, clothing, and just about everything else. Experts say this culture of consumption promotes spoiled traits such as ungratefulness, lack of appreciation, selfishness, entitlement, lack of perspective and more.

The second reason supporting the argument points to our child centered parenting style. Although benefits such as nurturing, understanding, and empathy come out of this style, it can quickly veer into indulgence that creates spoiled character traits. This indulgence shows up in many ways, including:
– Protecting our children from challenges and/or hardships, which creates children who have a limited ability to deal with life’s frustrations and difficulties.
– Expecting little from our children in terms of day-to-day responsibilities, like helping with household chores or work within our communities. This instills a sense of irresponsibility. It encourages incompetency, selfishness and entitlement.
– Expecting our children to be special and teaching them that they are special. This promotes narcissism.
– Paying so much attention to how our children feel that we sideline other values like responsibility to others, facing up to our actions and taking responsibility for them.

No, American Kids Are Not Spoiled.

“The Myth of the Spoiled Child” is a book by Alfie Kohn that debunks the theory that American children are more spoiled than previous generations. It is probably the most well known argument against the theory. Kohn, focuses on debunking commonly held assumptions such as:
– Parents today are too permissive and don’t set limits. Kohn argues there is no evidence to support that permissive parenting is the dominant style today. He describes parents today as emphasizing collaboration (more than control), and love and reason (more than power), which is not the same as being permissive.
– Parents do too much for their children leaving them unprepared. Again Kohn argues the evidence is thin. He goes further saying that being highly involved enough may do more harm.
– Kohn argues that hardship doesn’t necessarily create a backbone. He says that prior experience with success is more likely associated with further success than is failure. So is it so bad we hand out a trophy to each kid? Maybe not, depending on the context.
– Kohn argues that contrary to popular belief, self-discipline is overrated and he puts forth the idea of reflective rebelliousness. He says that children learn to make good decisions by making decisions and seeing how they pan out rather than by following directions.
– Kohn does not like the idea of praising children, which he feels sets children up to value themselves and their actions only when others value them. He prefers the idea of independently minded children.

Another interesting argument debunking the idea that American children are spoiled examines our species and society from an anthropological angle. It says that a defining characteristic of Homo sapiens is our prolonged juvenile period. We grow up slowly in order to acquire language, build complicated social structures and learn about our complicated world. These traits are what define us as humans. Our world is rapidly growing more and more complicated and so our juvenile period is increasing. Skills that were once prioritized and associated with adulthood are being replaced with more pertinent skills. For example, being able to do household chores, like laundry, is being overshadowed by the importance of, say, social media.

Spoiled Is Not Even The Question.

There are other experts who argue that the word “spoiled” is an antiquated term that should be replaced with the more specific terms, “overindulged” and “overprotected”. These terms reflect the two avenues that generally cause “spoiled” children. Parents who have a hard time saying no and/or setting limits tend to create “overindulged” children. Parents who can’t step back and let their children experience the ups and downs of life tend to create “overprotected” children. Parents who see their own parenting style reflected in these terms can take constructive steps to pull back and change the areas that they are going overboard in.

What Experts CAN Agree On.

The overwhelming majority of child development experts believe that it is not possible to spoil an infant. In fact, research shows that parents who respond quicker to their infants needs, including when infants cry, produce infants that are happier and more independent by their first birthday. This is because meeting an infants need to be held, comforted, fed, and changed helps them feel secure. This security also enables them to more easily explore their boundaries and deal with challenges and eventual limits. Experts are reluctant to pinpoint when the issue of being “overprotected” or “overindulged” starts, but many agree that setting developmentally appropriate limits during toddlerhood can be helpful. Of course a parent must recognize that a toddler’s job is to explore and push boundaries so setting limits must incorporate that developmental drive. For example, if your child wants to climb everything in site, teach them to climb when it is safe and appropriate, but limit climbing at other times.

Mistaken Labels.

As we think about our children or judge others children it is important to make room for different temperaments and children with special needs.

Children have different inborn temperaments, which influences their behavior. A child with an easy-going temperament has a very different reaction to being told “No” than a child that is high-strung, with big reactions. Parents must work with, not against, a child’s temperament. Having a child with a more “spirited” temperament does not mean that they should get their way more; it just takes more work and effort to direct them. (Parent Think has an upcoming article on “spirited children”.)

Where Do You Stand?

So, after reading the arguments in favor and against “Are American Kids Spoiled” where do you stand?If you feel like you are on the right track then stay the course. If you feel your children are “overprotected” and/or “overindulged” then fine tuning your interactions with your kids is the way to bring about change.

Research shows that parents who have clear expectations and set limits consistently while maintaining a nurturing and respectful relationship with their children, have children who are happier, livelier, more emotionally regulated, resilient, socially adept and flexible than kids from either authoritarian or permissive homes.

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