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According to a poll commisioned by Time and CNN, "two-thirds of American parents think that their children ARE spoiled." Don't we all? Just ask the grandparents, who have previously been the "group" most accused of spoiling.
A recent article in The New Yorker poses the spoiling of Americans as not so much a question of should we or shouldn't we, but more of WHY American children ARE spoiled. The article is an eye-opener for some and an “I told you so” for grandparents, the generation who grew up with Nancy Reagan’s “Just say No.”
There have always been eye-rolling reactions to the stories parents recall and remind their children of. It's always been a kind of cautionary generational tale. And no generation so far is immune.
Technology moves society forward from generation to generation. The generation that developed the wheel was followed by the generation who used the wheel in the world’s first chariot race and subsequently by the generation that used it as a vehicle of the first mobile warfare. Imagine the warning When I was your age, we didn't just use the chariot to cruise for chicks, we actually found a good use for it and killed and pillaged our way through Samaria!"
For Boomers, it was the reminiscences of Depression or pre-WWII days they heard, “When I was your age, I walked 10 miles to school, in the snow, without boots, and never missed a day” or something like that.
As Baby Boomers, we reminded our kids that “When I was your age, no one drove us to school and we worked after school, just to get enough money to buy the Monopoly game or the stylish furry ear muffs we wanted, because we didn’t have enough money for everyone in the family to get everything we wanted.”
What, do you think, our kids are telling theirs?
There’s a TV commercial for the iPhone that is not only a very telling sign of the times, but a little unnerving. 12 year olds, acting as if they were adults, are telling their 5 and 6 year old siblings that “back in the day” they had to wait a whole minute, or 60 seconds, for God’s sake, to download music.
The New Yorker article, Spoiled Rotten by Elizabeth Kolbert, takes "spoiling" to a whole new and revealing level of just how spoiled American children and grandchildren are in the context of the world at large. She details interactions with the Matsigenka, a tribe of about twelve thousand people who live in the Peruvian Amazon. She details the ways of their existance, how they raise their children, and their expectations. “The Matsigenka prize hard work and self-sufficiency. Their daily rituals, their child-rearing practices, and even their folktales reinforce these values, which have an obvious utility for subsistence farmers. Matsigenka stories often feature characters undone by laziness; kids who still don’t get the message are rubbed with an itch-inducing plant.” Imagine that in the U.S. One would be accused of child abuse. But the message is there, loud and clear, couched in the term, accountability.
Koldbert also affirms, “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. It’s not just that they’ve been given unprecedented amounts of stuff—clothes, toys, cameras, skis, computers, televisions, cell phones, PlayStations, iPods. (The market for Burberry Baby and other forms of kiddie “couture” has reportedly been growing by ten per cent a year.) They’ve also been granted unprecedented authority.” OUCH. Bottom line, American kids today are, indeed, spoiled rotten – and not just by grandparents, but by their parents.
When looking at the worldview of parenting, we see parents nurturing their children to learn and grow, but without overprotecting them as Americans seem to do, and without over indulging them. They allow their children to experience frustrations, stress, and rejection, as well as success, thus allowing them to learn to accept and deal with all that life may hold for them.
At the risk of making our kids and grandkids feel special and in an effort to position them to gain entrance into the best colleges, we may also be, in some ways, marginalizing them, by not giving them the responsibilities and learning options to enable them to learn and grow in a whole-worldly way, not just by holding them back by tying their shoes for them when they should learn it for themselves, but by denying them the experiences of stress, frustration, rejection, and more – i.e the privilege of experiencing the world in a real way and as it is.
Teaching one to read, write, and matriculate may be less important than teaching one to face and deal with the reality of life, expectations, and the tools to face and embrace all life’s possibilities, including disappointments.
No one wants to feed their babies to the fire, but over-protecting our children may be just as harmful. As parents and grandparents, we must allow our kids to experience life as it is, the good and the bad. Only by exposing it, and facing it together, and letting them know we’re with them all the way, and facing life head on together, and in community, can they learn to cope with whatever life brings their way.
We, as Americans, do our children and grandchildren no favor by camouflaging or blocking them from all evil or negativity. We must bring to their attention an understanding that there are other people in the world, there are others who face challenges, and like all others, it’s up to them to overcome their own challenges and succeed because of their own talents and ingenuity. That’s life. That’s the lesson that our kids and grandkids have to learn. Like previous generations, kids today must be made aware and learn that no one is going to get them from A to Z without a little muscle, energy, and ingenutiy on their own part.
So, if you’re a grandparent, it’s as much up to you as anyone to use your influence, perspective, wisdom, and unconditional love, to offer your grandchildren access to your experience and heart as insight to their future success.
That’s not spoiling. That’s your gift to them.
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