The Little Prince(s)

It started with the shocking revelation in The New Yorker that – and this will come as a real surprise if you’ve never flown on the same plane as the toddler who incessantly kicked the back of my seat for four hours – parents in the U.S. are spoiling their children, resulting in a generation of young adults who incessantly kick the back of other seats on airplanes, as well as being otherwise completely self-absorbed, permanent adolescents who can’t tie their own shoes.

Not all of them of course. But enough for all the other countries to notice and whisper about us at parties

And for good reason.

In the article, the author contrasted indigenous South Americans (the Matsigenka) – who teach their children to assume adult responsibilities (6-year-olds already know how to cook and clean) – with a group of Angelenos who teach their children that a parent’s primary role is to worship their offspring.

The result? “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.”

Which is a nice way of saying: what the hell are you parents doing?

And, with unintentional irony, even the author doesn’t see what she’s doing:

Not long ago, in the hope that our sons might become a little more Matsigenka, my husband and I gave them a new job: unloading the grocery bags from the car.

Wow. Carrying grocery bags into the house. Well, that’s certainly an essential life skill. And the kid still screws it up.

One evening when I came home from the store, it was raining. Carrying two or three bags, the youngest, Aaron, who is thirteen, tried to jump over a puddle. There was a loud crash.

So what does mom do? Tell him so sad – go clean up the mess, salvage what you can, and next time carry only one bag at a time or you pay for anything you break?

Nope – she cleans it up and decides to add a “more vigorous” household task. Hmmm. Vacuuming, perhaps? No. Mopping? No. Laundry? No. KP? No.

She (in all seriousness) assigned him the daunting chore of … taking out the trash.

After I’d retrieved what food could be salvaged from a Molotov cocktail of broken glass and mango juice, I decided that Aaron needed another, more vigorous lesson in responsibility. Now, in addition to unloading groceries, he would also have the task of taking out the garbage.

Wow. Another essential life skill.

And what happens then? He screws that one up too:

On one of his first forays, he neglected to close the lid on the pail tightly enough, and it attracted a bear.

So what does mom do this time? Tell him so sad – go clean up the mess, and next time, don’t forget to close the damn lid properly or so help me I’ll feed you to the bear myself?

Nope – she cleans it up and calls it quits:

The next morning, as I was gathering up the used tissues, ant-filled raisin boxes, and slimy Saran Wrap scattered across the yard, I decided that I didn’t have time to let my kids help out around the house.”

This is a woman who can get published in The New Yorker yet she cleans up after her able-bodied son and can’t figure out what’s wrong with this picture??? She just answered her own question: “Why do kids rule the roost?” Three thousands words later – she still hasn’t figured it out.

But that didn’t stop another parent from jumping into the fray – this time to suggest in “The Benefits Of Spoiling Kids In America” that raising children to be helpless narcissists is actually a good thing. It’s a good thing because what’s more important: raising a child to be a competent, capable, responsible, self-sufficient, thoughtful and considerate human being? Or helping make sure they get into a good school?

Why – the latter of course! “And to whom is college admission granted? To those who do their chores? Or to those who fill their after-school with so many ‘enrichment’ activity that there is no time to make dinner? To those who unquestionably obey, or those who argue and challenge? And when kids are under such pressure (parents, too, what with a lousy economy and a more demanding workplace and a world that seems scarier) who wants to add to rare moments of family time with orders and obligations?”

Because nothing says lovin’ like keeping your children away from the oven. And every other household appliance.

Yet another writer tackles the subject, answering the age-old question, why do parents “spoil” their kids, by agreeing that spoiling is bad – but ultimately it’s not their fault. It’s our culture, “the demands of the American workplace.” We just work too many hours so don’t have enough time in the day to teach our children how to be fully-functional people: “We don’t discipline our kids because it takes time, and we often quite literally don’t have the time.”

It has nothing to do with being weak-kneed, lily-livered, spineless wusses afraid to say “no” to their charming little tyrants – or those ego-centric parents whose offspring are perfect and can do no wrong. (No they aren’t and yes they can but here‘s how to change that.

Because after all, anything else might indicate that maybe we have to do things differently, you know – perhaps act like grownups. Because kids aren’t grownups. They’re kids. And the only things kids are concerned about are their own wants and needs. And the only way that ever changes is if we do the hard things – you know – teach them to care about others and (eventually) to care for themselves. And that it’s not all about them.

And it ain’t easy. And it means saying no. And it means sometimes they hate you.

And gosh that’s hard. And it takes time.

Maybe I should just take out the trash myself.


Posted on July 7, 2012, in Commentary, Humor, Parenting. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. You said everything I was thinking when I read that article. To add to it, many farm kids in the U.S. get up about 4, help in the barn till it’s time to go to school, come home and work in the barn again, work in the fields or in the barn the whole weekend, and all summer work wherever they’re needed. Those kids usually don’t get in trouble, they’re too tired. And farm couples usually don’t have time or energy to ask themselves if their souls are fulfilled, or if they’re “happy”…they fall into bed at night and don’t have a minute to think about happiness. Not that it’s a good thing, but there’s a cohesion you rarely see in typical marriages when couples and their kids work their tails off together doing something physical for the benefit of the family.

  2. Good points all – and I was amazed at the number of commentators who tend to overlook the obvious in all this.

  3. I have six kids; they are all still young (oldest is 7) and they can help out some, but BOY I can’t wait until they’re old enough to be cleaning out the rain gutters and painting the house!! I can’t believe that 13-year-old messed up with bringing in the groceries and taking out the trash. My 7- and 6- and 5-year-olds do those chores and don’t mess it up. Heck, even my 3- and 2-year olds can bring in groceries, as long as no glass is involved. Yes, I’m bragging. 😛

    • Sounds like you’ve got your hands full! I know kids make mistakes and screw up, that’s part of learning – but I was astounded at the mom’s response. One of the basic rules for living is: you make a mess – you clean it up.

  4. Job well done WI Wit and as always a very pleasant read. I am going to leave well enough alone here and just say thank GAWD Mrs. Yon and I are too old to have or to raise anymore kids. Love em one and all but you can’t live with them or with out them!.

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