Spoiled Down to the Apple Pie Core?

Thursday, June 28, 2012

There’s a lot of talk these days about parenting. The styles of it, the perils of it, the overall state of it. Go into any bookstore — wait … this is 2012. Log on to your Kindle or Nook Store and scroll through the pages of parenting titles and you’ll see what I mean. As interesting (sometimes mildly so) as some of the theories and platforms may read, I’m more intrigued by the cultural piece, the anthropological take, the global angle of parenthood.

Knowing me all too well, my husband flagged this great article, “Why Are American Kids So Spoiled?”, in the current New Yorker. I’ve since forwarded it to many others parents, including my mother-in-law — who was about to send it to me, too.

The article starts off telling the story of an anthropologist out of the University of California, Los Angeles, who spent months living among the Matsigenka Indians, a “tribe of about twelve thousand people who live in the Peruvian Amazon.” Out on a five-day expedition down a river gathering leaves, the anthropologist observes a “calm and self-possessed” girl carrying her weight and more on this trip. She swept the sleeping mats twice a day, help stack the leaves, fished, and cooked. Oh, and you should know that this girl was just six years old.

Cut to another anthropological study the article highlights. This one is in L.A., observing middle-class families and how they lived, loved and parent. The question on the table: How do parents in different cultures train young people to assume adult responsibilities? Without spoiling (pun! pun!) the article for you, I will just say, look to the shoelaces for answers. (Nebulous, right?)

Oh, and this quote… I have to share this quote from the piece. Then I’ll zip it and let you read.

“With the exception of the imperial offspring of the Ming dynasty and the dauphins of pre-Revolutionary France, contemporary American kids may represent the most indulged young people in the history of the world.”

Would definitely like to hear your thoughts on the piece, though. What do you think? Are we raising kids who could rival offspring of the Ming dynasty? Leave a comment below or head over to MMM’s Facebook page to chop it up.

  • 1

    LOVE this article. My favorite quote:
    “Most parents today were brought up in a culture that put a strong emphasis on being special,” she observes. “Being special takes hard work and can’t be trusted to children. Hence the exhausting cycle of constantly monitoring their work and performance, which in turn makes children feel less competent and confident, so that they need even more oversight.”

    • 1.1
      Ms. Mary Mack says:

      Exactly. That’s why David McCullough Jr.’s “You’re Not Special” graduation speech really resonated and made the internet rounds.

      You know what else I was nodding–and chuckling–at in this piece? The Snowplow Parents, “who try to clear every obstacle from their children’s paths.”

      Great piece. Thanks for the comment, Colleen.

  • 2
    Amy says:

    After reading this article and doing some reading lately on positive discipline lately, I’ve come to believe this entitlement mindset and kids misbehavior (back talk, etc.) are often linked. Kids want and need to feel significant and meaningful, but the way to do this is not by telling them how wonderful they are and doing everything for them. The way to feel significant is to actually do something that contributes to the family–helping make a meal, work on a garden, and even take out the trash. And get this– for NO allowance or reward. The ‘reward’ is that you are a contributing member of your family. In large families I’ve seen who have to do thus out of necessity the kids are usually well-behaved and far from spoiled. Maybe that’s why past generations didn’t have so much problem in this regard–all families were large so everyone had a role to play and contribute. Just my two cents.

    • 2.1
      Ms. Mary Mack says:

      I’ll take those two cents, Amy. :-) You’re quite right. I think there is a link between the entitlement mindset and the misbehavior. And all of this goes back to the Imbalance of Family Power that we talked about in the “Beyond Time-Out” post. I say, more articles and real talk like this and less “The French are Better. The Tiger Parent Rules, etc.”

  • 3
    Kristin says:

    I don’t know. I read this when it first came out, and I felt like I was reading something that could have come out in the late 80’s. Wasn’t that when it was all about growing the ME generation? And wouldn’t that ME generation be the one criticizing the current spoiled brats?

    While I don’t doubt that kids today are some of the “luckiest” in many senses, I can’t help but think that all this navel gazing is focused on a percentage of American kids in the middle to upper classes. The same parents who have time to go nuts on on-line forums. And to me, that’s a form of being spoiled or lucky.

    And having lived in Spain, Germany, and parts of Central America – I can’t say that those cultures are any less indulgent. It all depends on class, frankly.

    I will say (and here comes one of my pet peeves!), that many parents tend to jump to easy ways out of conflict by using technology over creativity. iPads and TV instead of “Eye Spy” and reading aloud. DVDs in the cars instead of singing songs.

    Lastly, I am currently rethinking my own indulgences with my preschoolers. I hear more whining and pouting and sass from them than I ever could have imagined. And I know full well that *I* am the one training them. And that’s what I think articles like this are good for – not criticizing or condemning, but challenging readers to think and recognize that they are not necessarily the other or the exception. The subject is Me.

    • 3.1
      Ms. Mary Mack says:

      This is a thoughtful comment, Kristin. Articles like these indeed do a great service– if you allow it. Sometimes, especially moms/parents, are quick to jump on the defensive. “I’m being judged. I’m being criticized. I’m being singled out as a bad parent.” The challenge is: Read this, gather up the intel and see how you can apply and improve.

      And there’s some truth to what you said about generations. Our parents think we’re spoiled, and their parents thought that they “had it easy.” (For the most part. Not everyone’s case.) However, I think this generation of, specifically, North American kids is beyond “lucky.” There is an entitlement, a belief that they deserve things just because they are here, that is particularly troubling. That entitled mindset (as Amy called it in the comment above) has infiltrating nearly every aspect of The Family. It’s wise for us (the parents, the adults in the situation) to step back and look at the imbalance, and what we can ALL do to get things back in check.

    • 3.2
      mumsyjr says:

      “I can’t help but think that all this navel gazing is focused on a percentage of American kids in the middle to upper classes” That’s just what I thought: that the whole issue is very class-based, at least in the US (I’ve never lived anywhere else). I realize this is totally anecdotal but friends I’ve had who grew up in working and lower-middles class families would talk about the chores they had growing up, while the slightly higher brackets focused on what toys they had growing up. My mother comes from a working-class background and my dad from a definitely upper-middle to wealthy background. Their attitudes towards work and money and responsibility are like night and day: my dad would definitely have been something of an “adultescent”, my mother left home at 17 and supported herself basically from there on out. This was back in the 60s and early 70s. I suspect available resources play as big a role in how much children are indulged as any values and beliefs regarding child rearing.