Raising Lexington: Are American Kids Spoiled?

In our culture of excess are we helping or hindering our kids by giving them everything?


A barrage of articles about spoiled American children has popped up over the last few weeks and it got me thinking about the topic and if it is true.

Yes, American children have access to a lot of “things” at a younger age and parents have become much more involved in children’s daily lives. But does that mean kids are spoiled? I think it can and the true test of a parent may be managing these “things” while at the same time allowing kids to experience responsibility and consequences.

I will admit to turning my nose up at the many “our way is superior to your way” books about raising children that have become so popular in the past few years. I haven’t read any cover-to-cover, and maybe that isn’t fair, although I am feeling pretty proud of that at this moment. I have, however, read excerpts and many of the articles debating these books' claims on both sides of the argument. I do realize that there are things the American parenting culture could improve on, like childhood nutrition for example. That being said, I in no way think we should abandon all we know about American parenting and start bringing up bebe in the French, Chinese or ancient Greek way.  

So what are American parents to do? I can sum it up in one word that I use around our house so much that my then 3-year-old daughter defined it for a classmate who didn’t know what she was talking about: Moderation.

Think moderation when buying toys, signing your kids up for activities, buying food and walking through Target. Sure, little Mary Sue would love another baby doll to add to her growing collection, but what has she done to earn it? I bet young Tommy would devour the gallon of mint chocolate chip ice cream you got to go along with the chocolate fudge and Rocky Road you already have in the freezer, but at what cost? And let’s not forget that every young child needs a $20 pair of flip flops (this was a hard one for me because they matched mine and were oh-so-cute, but I didn’t cave).

The problem is Spoiled Child Syndrome (yes, it is real and was coined by Bruce McIntosh in 1989) isn’t always as obvious as a 4-year temper tantrum. It can be subtle and manipulative. As subtle as a 10-year-old turning his nose up at dinner because “someone forgot to put silverware out and I can’t eat with my hands." Instead of telling the child to get up and get the silverware for everyone, the parent jumps up and does it for them. And as manipulative as a 6-year-old asking mom to go get their blanket because they don’t want to miss any of their favorite TV show. Meanwhile Mom is making dinner, unloading the dishwasher, paying bills all at the same time!

If Mom and Dad are doing everything for little Mary Sue and Tommy, then why would they do anything for themselves? I am not suggesting we never do anything nice for our children. I am a huge fan of filling other’s buckets ("How Full Is Your Bucket For Kids," by Tom Rath and Mary Reckmeyer) and the kids and I talk about doing nice things for others daily. When it is an occasional ask or want then I am all for it but when it comes their nature, we have a problem.

I get it. It’s hard to say no sometimes. Harder yet when your children are generally well behaved loving kids. But in case you weren’t told ahead of time, our job as a parent is hard.

Maybe it is time to start showing our kids how to give back. It just isn't necessary to have all of those toys, games and clothes when there are so many kids going without. I had my kids clean out our toy closet and asked them to give away the toys and games they had outgrown. They had no problem with the idea, and I even had them join me when I dropped the bin off at a local charity organization. Taking them through Target will need more work but maybe some advanced notice of a 1 toy rule would help.

Or maybe they can bring their own money. Kids nowadays seem to have way more than I did at their age.

Patrick Ball July 03, 2012 at 02:41 PM
You are correct. Fixing it right now.
Jeff Crampton July 03, 2012 at 02:46 PM
I do see instances of children acting spoiled, and I don't excuse them, but I see it less than when I was growing up. (In the SF Bay Area, so maybe it's in part my comparison set.) If you don't spend a lot of time with them, it's easy to miss just how outstanding this generation of kids actually is. As a group, they are respectful to their parents, to other adults and to each other, they do exceptionally well in school, and they are learning to be good citizens and community members. When I was a kid, racial, religious and ethnic taunts were common in the hallways, "smear the queer" was the playground game of choice, and I hid my good grades in order to have friends. As for health, I remember well-used separate outdoor smoking areas for teachers - and for students. And this was in supposedly diverse, enlightened Marin County. We had diversity - different races, creeds, politics, sexual preferences and more. The enlightened part was lacking. Yes, times have changed, and kids have. too. But, near as I can tell, it's mostly for the better. I won't excuse bad behaviour, but today's kids are on the whole better behaved and better educated, and I expect they'll be better members of society. Jeff Crampton
Denise Fernandez July 08, 2012 at 09:11 PM
Very interesting...I also think I tend to be hard on my kids. We were just eating at a restaurant and the waitress complimented us on our child's behavior so it was a huge moment for me to notice the little things they are doing right:). All they really want in my opinion is our time and undivided attention and that does not cost a dime:)
Audra Myerberg July 08, 2012 at 09:17 PM
Thanks for your thoughts Jeff! I would agree that kids have changed for the better overall.
Audra Myerberg July 08, 2012 at 09:19 PM
Agreed Denise! Our love and attention is free. Thanks for reading and sharing.


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