Monday, October 28, 2013

Spare the Rod, Spoil the Child?


I love my girls and would give my life for them in a heart beat.  But man can they drive me nuts!  Of course, I am sure most parents feel this way.  Last week was particularly hard because I was on my own with them, but some of their behaviour that was most difficult for me to take involved doing and saying things they often do, even when Adam is home.  What really disgusts me is when they complain about their life being so hard.  Like this really makes me mad.

A few months back I went on my big Random Act of Kindness kick to try and get them to understand just how fortunate they are and to practice a little gratitude.  Unfortunately, this hasn't done much in terms of getting them to: (1) realize how good they have it, or (2) understand that they will not and should not get everything they ask for.

Several times last week, Big A lay on her floor right after waking and moaned that she was too weak and hungry because I had not yet made her breakfast, to be able to make her bed and get dressed (which is what she has to do before breakfast according to house rules).  I WAS SEETHING.  Maybe she's just trying to press my buttons, but this type of behaviour makes me absolutely furious.

In addition, Little A went ballistic when I pulled out the very expensive, almost-knew winter jacket that was Big A's (purchased by my generous in-laws).  She refused to wear it.  We had several mornings of screaming fights over it until I found another hand-me-down jacket in Big A's closet (the next size up) that Little A decided was acceptable.  And, on a fairly regular basis, both complain about having to walk the 10 minute walk to school and back every day.  You would think it was 10 miles!  Little A also refuses to carry her backpack after about a block, so I end up carrying it for her just so we can get to school on time (instead of her sitting down on the sidewalk and having a full-blown meltdown).  We have seen a dramatic improvement in her behaviour the past two months - meltdowns are far less common - but she still has this oblivious, narcissistic attitude about wanting and thinking she should get everything she asks for.

Is it just their developmental stage?  Is it our parenting? Most of my friends complain that their kids behave the same way, so are they just being typical kids or are kids today more spoiled and have a greater sense of entitlement than past generations?  I don't really know.  I am sure every generation of parents complains about similar things, but my parents have confirmed that we really did behave differently.  We accepted rules without question (bedtime was bedtime, dinner was what was served or you went to bed hungry, brushing teeth, taking baths, cleaning your room, turning off the television when asked, etc.) were non-negotiable.

Dr Perri Klass had this to say in an article for the New York Times:

I can’t tell you whether children today are more spoiled or whether more of them are spoiled. There are real differences in child-rearing over time, some reflecting the culture’s larger trajectories of affluence and technology. But then there are also the recurring bouts of self-examination and self-criticism that reflect adult engagement with parenthood. Whatever the generation, responding to the wants and needs of children while trying to teach the lessons that will fortify their characters is a tricky assignment. We get it wrong some of the time, no matter what we do.

Interestingly, this is what Rabbi Shmuley, Oprah's buddy, has to say about how and why we spoil our children and what to do about it:

Children today are more spoiled than ever before, Rabbi Shmuley says. He says they have a greater sense of entitlement, help less around the home and are less communicative with parents than previous generations. Rabbi Shmuley explains the reasons why and offers solutions to help parents raise less-spoiled and better-behaved children.

Why Children Are Spoiled:

  • Wealth: America has become a wealthy country, and now, with more disposable income than ever before, Rabbi Shmuley says parents can hire nannies, cleaners and gardeners. "Necessity is the mother of invention, and there is less of a necessity for kids to contribute to families," he says.
  • Overindulgence: Parents want to give their kids all the things they didn't have when they grew up, Rabbi Shmuley says. "They mistakenly believe that those things they lacked were things like $100 pairs of sneakers," he says.
  • Workaholic society: Rabbi Shmuley says many workaholic parents feel guilty and end up giving their children gifts instead of giving them their time.
  • Bad marriages: Not all parents get enough love from their spouse, so the child becomes their principal source of affection, Rabbi Shmuley says. "They spoil the child in order to buy their love—love upon which they have become unnaturally dependent."
  • Exhaustion: When parents work hard and stay up way too late, they lack the energy to really discipline their kids and find it easier to give in to their children's wants, he says.
  • Friendship over parenting: Some parents want to be best friends with their children. They create a false sense of equality with their kids when what they really need is a parent, Rabbi Shmuley says. "Equality means that they have no right to boss their children around."

How to Stop Spoiling Your Children:
  • Be the parent. Choose parenting over being your child's best friend and don't be afraid to assert your authority.
  • Enforce bedtime. Create proper and inviolable bedtimes for your children.
  • Start a chores list. Have each child complete three household chores a week.
  • Give an allowance. Besides the allowance, make your children earn money they want by doing extra chores for you or by getting a part-time job.
  • Have family meetings. Meet as a family at least twice a week and identify and discuss what is functioning in the home and what has become dysfunctional.
  • Talk to your kids. Talk with them individually, and always discuss the kind of character they should want to develop in life.
  • Have family dinner. At least four times a week, at a minimum, sit at the table and eat a meal as a family. Make sure the children set the table and clean up, too.
  • Reduce the hired help. Have your children take on some of the work of a housekeeper or gardener.
  • Go to church or synagogue. Get some sort of spiritual input into the family members' lives. "Give your children a life of the spirit to counteract the culture's rampant materialism," he says.
Today's Shmuleyism
"By spoiling our children, they become brats and we do them the disservice of removing the natural cuteness that makes them adorable and lovable to the world. But by giving our children discipline and purposefulness, we protect their innocence and bring out their natural light, which makes for a brighter, more wholesome world."

If anything, we (mostly me) may be guilty of his last 2 reasons (exhaustion and falling into the 'friend' rather than 'parent' role).  As for the solutions he suggests, we do most of those things except the family meetings...and admittedly we have made great strides lately in terms of getting them to do things like clear the table after eating and unpack their lunch bags when they get home from school.  But they still do - in my opinion - have far too many expectations regarding us doing things for them. 

So, yes, I am sure if this generation IS more spoiled than past generations, our parenting has something to do with it.  That being said, when I've discussed this with my brother and his wife in the past, they've pointed out that our more permissive, democratic style of parenting may be to blame, but that it does have some benefits over the more authoritarian style of our parents' generation.  Our children are more likely to question authority and be critical thinkers, perhaps?  This is where the whole Tiger Mom debate comes in I guess.  I have to tell you though, I often wish my kids were more scared of me, 'cause they ain't scared of me AT ALL!

But I think we are doing pretty well in this house about setting limits overall and we are definitely constantly working on it.  The message of how privileged they are, however, has not gotten through to them.  They really don't get it. 

The last few days I've been doing some research to try and find some sort of video to show them about how many children live (in poverty, without half the material items or comforts they have), but have been unsuccessful finding one suitable for kids their age.  I spoke briefly with a parent on the school's council last year about getting the kids involved in some sort of social justice issue to educate them about inequality, but nothing ever happened.  I think I'm going to have to revisit this idea.  In the meantime, however, I am going to keep looking for a video or perhaps a book, because they really need to SEE it with their eyes.  Describing the way too many people in this world live to them (without food security, shelter, etc.) is not enough, they need to see visuals.  I'll keep searching and if I find anything useful, I'll share it here.

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