American Kids Are Spoiled. Well, some of them are.

I just finished reading “Spoiled Rotten” by Elizabeth Kolbert from The New Yorker.  Like I figured from reading a review, I was going to be pissed off by the end.  Or maybe just after the first page.  Nope, it took two paragraphs.

The article starts with a cute anecdote about a child from the Matsigenka tribe from the Peruvian Amazon.  The six-year-old asks to go leaf-gathering with another family and makes herself useful with all sorts of tasks like catching dinner than cooking it WITHOUT BEING ASKED!  A resourceful little tike, and yes, the author is right.  I would never imagine Tornado E doing that.

But here’s the problem.  I’m a disciple of Desmond Morris.  I read an article (perhaps in one of his books) where he criticized anthropologists and sociologists comparing out-of-touch, hidden-away tribes, pockets of living human archeology with that of the civilization.  When he was being kind, he said it was like comparing apples to oranges.  When he wasn’t kind, being sort of euro-centric, he said those tribes didn’t evolve and were left in the dust and therefore weren’t a good representation of humans, much less our ancestors.

So when I read about comparing a child from a tribe in South America of about 12,000 people with “average” children from Los Angeles, I get a little steamed because it’s lazy, unethical, illogical comparisons.  If the author wanted to make a real comparison of “spoiled” kids in America, then she should have gained evidence among Americans.  Because I’m sure we would find a completely different view.

Are there spoiled kids in America?  Sure, there are.  We obsess about the children of famous and rich people and what they wear and what they play with and where they go.  I grew up with spoiled, rich brats.  I know several adults that cater to their children.  But I also know a lot of unspoiled children.  I have seen a lot of unspoiled children.

I’ve never met a six-year-old who caught crustaceans, cleaned them, cooked them, served them to the adults, and then cleaned the dinner up.  But while I worked for the Girl Scouts, I met several six-year-olds who acted as translators for their parents, who didn’t speak a word of English.  These girls helped with the child raising and chores around the house.  I know a six–year-old who is surrounded with dolls and toys, and she is the sweetest, most kind kid I have ever met.  Let’s not forget that America is filled with children who live below the poverty line.  I wonder if they are spoiled?

I also take offense to the comparison of French children versus American children.  I’m horrified by any mother who decides to let her infant cry for five minutes before picking up the baby.  (Just like I’m horrified at the on-the-pedestal tribe who uses poisonous leaves to discourage laziness.)  And I would be hard pressed to believe a three-year-old was baking cupcakes by herself.  Honestly, cupcakes?  At three?  We’re suppose to believe that all French children sit perfectly still and quite through a three-course meal at a restaurant and all American children are throwing food by the time appetizers arrive.  I don’t know who those American kids are, but they are not mine.  Tornado E, as a toddler, was forced into fine dining quite often because our friends couldn’t understand why a toddler shouldn’t be in a nice restaurant, but that kid could sit there for an hour or so, playing with toys and not throwing a single piece of food.  In fact, each of my boys threw one piece of food at home and that was dealt with swiftly.

The article mentions how we are lucky to have a long childhood to prepare far the rigors of our modern world.  It mentioned how as society became more modern, evolved, complicated, childhood stretched out to allow for more learning and coping skills.  But the article never used this reasoning when comparing the South American tribe.  I totally agree that there is a need for a longer childhood, but it is the only thing that I agreed with the article.

The problem with this article is that it makes HUGE assumptions.  It assumes that all American kids are parented with permissive style parenting with helicopter parenting.  That all American kids are given whatever they want and don’t need to do chores.  While there are permissive parents and helicopter parents, not everyone parents that way.  In fact the examples illustrated in the article as American parenting were all permissive.  No authoritarian, no authoritative, no free-range, no love-and-logic.  The parents just gave into the kids demands.  Even the author mentions how she gave up making her child do chores after he botches them up one time.  Any half-decent parent knows that parenting is lots of exhausted patience as you try to teach the child how to carry groceries and take out the trash.  Often this is the time, you bring the kid out to help you so you can teach him how to do it more efficiently.  But as one reviewer of the article pointed out, parenting is time-consuming, and many people don’t have the time to teach our kids how to catch our dinners, kill them, clean them, and cook them.

As for children who get whatever they want, I want to see how many toys all those children under the poverty level have.  Or take a middle class family like mine, we have tons of toys, but we also have three children, which generates lots of hand-me-down toys as well as gifts.  For every rich kid who goes off to private college and learns nothing, there is another kid who worked (either at a job or grades or a skill) to get to college.  For every kid who refuses to help at home, there’s another kid who is minding little siblings and getting dinner ready.  For every kid who has the latest gadget, there’s another kid just thrilled to go to a used-clothing store to buy a dollar bag full of little toys.

So Ms. Elizabeth Kolbert, next time you want to compare parenting styles with people around the world, you should get a larger sample.  That’s what good investigators do.

(A side note that has no place in this article.  The review I read was “Why Parents ‘Spoil’ Their Kids” by Valerie Isakova on Shine.  I found the comments at the end of the article very amusing as it seemed everyone had to say “kids back in my day….”  Well, seeing that you all are responding to an online article, I would assume most of the commenters were Gen Y {stupidest name ever}, Gen X, or among the late baby boomer crowd.  Which means that the generations above them were complaining about how kids these days are no respectful, have no discipline, have no drive and will ruin America.  Back when milk was cheap and politicians were honest.)

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4 Responses to “American Kids Are Spoiled. Well, some of them are.”

  1. Dame Eleanor Hull Says:

    Perspective is everything. I was just talking to a student who said she wanted to raise her children differently from how she was brought up. She wanted them to be protected and naive. I suppressed my kneejerk, middleclass liberal old-hippie response to this (well, I might have raised my eyebrows), and she went on. She didn’t want her children to have to be thinking that they could be shot and killed for the sake of their nice shoes, if they were wearing nice shoes.
    Yeah. She grew up a lot different from most of the people I know. Not spoiled. And I think even the most free-range, anti-helicopter people could get behind this view of what “protected” means.
    I love my job. I love teaching and learning from students like this one.

  2. Nicole Says:

    I can’t blame you for getting a little riled up about that article. It’s embarrassing to think that all American kids are thought of in such a negative way. There are so many who do chores, have schedules and consistent routines. What a close minded lopsided world we live in.

  3. Elastamom Says:

    You made so many valid points here. I get so frustrated by these articles that imply everyone is a certain way. There’s no way every child in France is sitting down and eating pate on endives with a fork and knife and enjoying it. Sorry, I’m calling bullshit!

  4. Joseph Ting Says:

    Re: Spoiled rotten by Elizabeth Kolbert, The New Yorker, July 2 2012

    Whilst I heartily agree that the children of today are shielded from just or deserved criticism, cushioned from routine disappointment and the stresses of growing up, their abilities overestimated, and their self-esteem artificially boosted, I am not sure that parents are doing so with only the intention of giving their kids the best possible chance at becoming happy successful adults.

    Parents may be convinced that no child of theirs could possibly be mediocre or even average. It could reflect poorly on their child raising practices. One way to boost parental self-esteem is to overlook an underperforming or misbehaving child, to paint a rosier picture of their talents. A child’s amplified achievement bolsters parental esteem and confers bragging rights for having passed on excellent genes and brought up the child well.

    The over-inflation of a child’s capabilities and the tendency to allocate blame to others serves both the parent and child’s sense of superiority and achievement. Parents receive a boost and their children are protected from the challenging reality of a highly competitive world beyond the safe confines of home and school. Furthermore, elite airspace increasingly congested with helicopter moms and dads also incurs risk of inter-parental collision and conflict.


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