Spoiled Children, A Good Thing?

In Christian RealTalk, Tough Questions by Antwuan Malone

I came across an article the other day by Lisa Belkin on Huffingpost.com that tried to explain away America’s parenting trend of spoiling our children. Apparently, a splash of books have come out shouting from the mountaintops about how indulgent the next generation has become. Authors are tackling the subject more and more frequently with titles like The Price of Privilege, The Narcissism Epidemic, Mean Moms Rule, and A Nation of Wimps flying off the shelves left and right. Elizabeth Kolbert posted an article recently in the New Yorker naming the currently dominant parental style in America as “Spoiled Rotten.”

In the Huffington post, Lisa attempts to spell out the positives of raising “spoiled” children. As a fellow contrarian of common thought, I commend her for finding the positives. Truthfully, nearly everything has an advantageous aspect, a “silver lining” if you will. But despite her best efforts, her article still left a bitter taste in my mouth.

I’m a dad, for those who don’t know. And when it comes to the way things are run in my house, some might say I’m “bad cop.” I suppose I’m fine with that for the moment. I, like many parents, want to raise my kids to be contributions to society, independent, and people of high Christian character. I am often left floundering, wondering if the way I raise my kids really helps or hurts them. So articles like this tend to grab my attention.

Amazon Vs. California

Parenting is most often the combined result of personal experience (meaning we either raise the way we were raised, or the opposite of the way we were raised) and cultural/social influences. Cultural influences are contextual. Poor families tend to raise their children different than rich families, not because of some sliding scale of morality. But merely because the context of the culture demands different things.

In the experiment Elizabeth speaks about in her piece, this is clearly the case. Her experiment included watching the behavior of a 6-year child from the Matsigenka tribe in the Peruvian Amazon and contrasting it to the behavior of a kids in Los Angeles.  The Peruvian girl swept the sand off sleeping mats twice a day, stacked leaves for roof repair, and helped wash, boil and serve crustaceans to others. Young Californians of the same age under surveillance only did chores when asked (several times, mind you). As Kolbert reports, “no child routinely performed household chores without being instructed to. Often, the kids had to be begged to attempt the simplest tasks; often, they still refused. In one typical encounter, a father asked his eight-year-old son five times to please go take a bath or a shower. After the fifth plea went unheeded, the father picked the boy up and carried him to the bathroom. A few minutes later, the kid, still unwashed, wandered into another room to play a videogame.”

(Yeah. As most of you know, that’s a beatdown in the house I grew up in. Just saying.)

Most notable was the boy that could not get his feet into his tied shoes. After several attempts, he picks up the shoe and demands his parent untie it. When the parent insists he ask nicer, the boy does so in word only. After twenty minutes of  negotiating the parent finally gives in. Once the boy has his shoe back on, he ceremoniously asks the parent to re-tie them. Of course, the parent was fed up and told him to do it himself, at which the kid barely flinched and said, ” I was just asking.”

Two extreme examples for sure. But, as Belkin rightly points out, the Los Angeles culture does not require their kids to fight for survival like the girl in the Amazon jungle. Or, if it does, survival means something entirely different in the two cultures. Belkin offers, “Isn’t each child in this story doing exactly what is demanded by his or her culture? And isn’t that what parents are supposed to raise children to do?”

And there lies the question of the day. What exactly are parents supposed to raise their children to do?

Good Parents

What makes a good parent? How do you know if you’ve raised your children right? What is the end goal of parenting?

These are questions each of us may have different answers to. How we answer these questions determine which battles we choose to fight with our kids. It seems for many, the value of chores and accountability pales in comparison to the value of ensuring our kids have every advantage to win in the American Dream system. Top tier college entry and degrees are end goals of many a parent, which in themselves offer a fine first step down the path to social survival. Then it’s get married, have kids and rinse and repeat. In light of this, chores and arguing with kids about tying shoes or taking a shower doesn’t seem all that important. After all, he’ll tie his shoes and take a shower eventually, right?

Belkin asks in her article, “to whom is college admission granted? To those who do their chores? Or to those who fill their after-school with so many “enrichment” activities that there is no time to make dinner? To those who unquestionably obey, or to those who argue and challenge?”

I used to think that all parents wanted the same things — for our children to be ready for life, for them to add to society instead of taking away from it, and for them to act with integrity and love for their neighbor — but I”m afraid I was naive. The truth is, most parents want this single thing. We want our children to survive. Survival is the name of the parenting game in America, and no one survives by majoring on the minors of chores lists. Do they?

I’m not here to tell you how to raise your kids. My opinion on the matter, however, is that the Christian parent cannot see the end result of successful parenting as survival. Love must be the goal.

Christian parents should raise their children to be lovers of God and lovers of other people. And that sort of love manifests itself in several ways. On one hand, God expects us to respect and obey him. And yet, Jesus has called us friends (not servants) and has invited us to share with Him our deepest thoughts and fears about the bleak realities of life and the brutally honest feelings we sometimes have about life. God wanted to walk the garden with Adam in the Garden of Eden, not simply to give him more chores, but to share in a relational bond.

It’s no secret that God requires an attitude of surrender rather than survival, that we consider his will over ours. In Romans 12:2, Paul says “do not conform to the patterns of the world…” Those patterns of the world are drawn with crayons marked Ego and Survival. When we reject survival as the core engine that drives us and embrace surrender, God is free to mold us even more into his likeness. He’s free to move us from “glory to glory” as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3:18 and he transforms us into his image. So if the image of God is love, and he’s making us like him, means we too become beacons of love.

The Christian parent’s job is to instill practices and habits that make their children ready for such a surrender to God. To show and teach a pattern of personal responsibility and accountability to a loving God who created them for his unique purposes.

It is this general theme of obedience and selflessness that is the core model for chores and obedience in a Christian home. And these ideas are much more urgent than college entry or creating social advantages in America’s Civilized Jungle. To raise a child who considers only how he feels, does what he wants, and expects the world to revolve around his comfort wishes, is to further the idea that we are our own gods in our own little worlds. It’s hard enough to combat that sort of thing anyway.

It makes sense to me that the world would find the way of “spoiling kids” agreeable, or at least acceptable. It’s hard work trying to hold our kids responsible. But for Christian parents, I think it must be different. We aren’t raising our kids to survive. We’re raising them to love — God first, then others. That just might mean demoting extracurricular activities and tapping the brakes on our constant angling for , popularity, influence or collegiate advantage.

Ask yourself. What do I want my kid to be when they grow up. Examples of Love, of Examples of survival. Hopefully, you choose the former.

What do you think about current day parenting? Are kids’ spoiled?  Why do you think that is?

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Antwuan Malone is a Ministry Director at ELEVATE Young Adult Ministry (elevateministry.net) where empowers young adults toward Christian leadership. He is passionate about seeing young adults take their place in church history by drawing near enough to God to hear his call on their life, and courageously living in obedience to that call.