Raising Competent Children Is Easier than Raising a Spoiled Brat

A teacher friend of mine recently transferred from a “Title One school to a school for Entitled Ones,” as she puts it. According to her the Title One children were generally appreciative, creative, resourceful and loving, the Entitled Ones (not all of them, of course) were demanding, unappreciative, disrespectful and very difficult to teach.

The Title One children’s parents rarely attended a conference or a parent-education evening. Nonetheless, their children generally showed more initiative and independence. They were more considerate of their peers and their teachers and were generally more respectful.

The parents of the Entitled Ones not only showed up for parent-teacher conferences, but also showed up if a grade was too low or the child had been falsely accused or punished. Sometimes they even showed up with their lawyers.

My friend feels, “There is a trend of young parents to give children material things, to want for them grades that they have not earned, to shelter them from unpleasantness, and to defend them rather than to see behavior realistically and help them face consequences.”

Sarah Hong, an online friend, tells a story about being a nanny for a two-year-old girl. She writes: “She just could not comprehend why she couldn’t do some things or why I wouldn’t allow something. She did not know how to play by herself or amuse herself. Her parents let her do whatever she wanted. She couldn’t understand that other people had feelings and their own opinions. If I answered with “because I don’t like it,” she would say, ‘Yes you do! You DO like it!’ It was very difficult to reason with her. Her parents knew she had a high sense of entitlement but thought it was hilarious. I left after 9 months on the job.”

I am not an sociologist, so I don’t know if this lunacy is a trend. But I do have a sense that Sarah’s and my teacher friend are on to something. A lot has been written lately about our entitled children and our dependent young adults. Between Madeline Levine’s first book “The Price of Privilege” (2006) and her new book that has just been released: Teach Your Children Well: Parenting for Authentic Success: Why Values and Coping Skills Matter More Than Grades, Trophies or ‘Fat Envelopes’  there has been a rising tide of concern about how American parents are spoiling their children.

As headmaster of inner city private schools I experienced plenty of bad parenting, but affluence and parent involvement were not the key variables. Bad parenting mostly came down to one thing: the unwillingness of authority figures to exercise authority.

Sure, money can be a factor. If money is no object it is harder for a parent to say “No.” A rich parent has to go deeper to come up with a response like, “No. Buying that thing is not the best use of our family resources right now. We can afford it, but that’s not the point.”

But having trouble saying “No” has a deeper cause: watching our child struggle, suffer, make mistakes and fail is hard.

In a child’s first few months, of course, all parents want to give their children what they want. It’s physiological: the child cries; we feel their pain and respond. However, soon children start striving for a wider variety of goals—turning themselves over, getting a rattle that is out of reach, moving themselves around the room—and that is when parents need to learn that letting them struggle is good and that running to rescue is often not.

Our first impulse is to make it easy for our children, but soon letting it be hard is better. High self-determination requires high self-discipline, which comes in the context of a challenge.

The harder it is, the harder they have to try, the more mistakes they make, the more they fail, the stronger their brains become and the more capable they will be in a challenging world. Raising children with the disciplines of being good problem solvers, requires discipline on the part of adults.

With the mantra: “All Challenges are Gifts” parents can let their children struggle toward their goals. The result is smart, strong, resilient learners who are able to make something of themselves in a complex. changing world.

It’s not about affluence, it’s about discipline.



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4 thoughts on “Raising Competent Children Is Easier than Raising a Spoiled Brat

  1. As a mother of a 6-month old, I am in awe of the drive that nature has instilled in babies to try, try, and try again. Sure, he gets frustrated and cries, but if I let him be, he’ll eventually figure out how to accomplish his goal.

    These words will be my mantra now: “The harder it is, the harder they have to try, the more mistakes they make, the more they fail, the stronger their brains become and the more capable they will be in a challenging world.” THANK YOU!

  2. I totally agree with you Rick. I often remind my daughter that it’s okay to say “no” to her daughters, and in so doing they are becoming responsible, caring teens.

  3. Thank you all. Your comments inspired today’s post: a poem by Wendel Berry sent to my by my college classmate Andy Cadot.

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