A friend of mine shared this article from The New Yorker on Facebook yesterday, “Why Are American Kids So Spoiled“.
At first glance, I scoffed a bit.
Not MY American Kids. They are 3 and 5 and they have chores. They have responsibilities. Yeah, they have a lot of toys, but it’s not like we even bought half of them.
Then I read the article:
A member of another family, Yanira, asked if she could come along. Izquierdo and the others spent five days on the river. Although Yanira had no clear role in the group, she quickly found ways to make herself useful. Twice a day, she swept the sand off the sleeping mats, and she helped stack the kapashi leaves for transport back to the village. In the evening, she fished for crustaceans, which she cleaned, boiled, and served to the others. Calm and self-possessed, Yanira “asked for nothing,” Izquierdo later recalled. The girl’s behavior made a strong impression on the anthropologist because at the time of the trip Yanira was just six years old.
Um…yeah. My kids could likely sweep sand from beds. They could probably stack leaves no problem. Could they fish, clean and boil crustaceans though?
Does this mean MY American kids are spoiled?
Further down in the article you read about a 3 year old French girl who is baking cupcakes on her own:
While Druckerman and Martine are talking, in Martine’s suburban home, the daughter, now three, is baking cupcakes by herself. Bean is roughly the same age, “but it wouldn’t have occurred to me to let her do a complicated task like this all on her own,” Druckerman observes. “I’d be supervising, and she’d be resisting my supervision.”
MY American kids would not be baking cupcakes on their own at the age of 3. In fact, the thought of my kids in the kitchen using the oven/mixer/etc on their own at the age of 3 sounds kind of catastrophic. Honestly, if they wanted to bake cupcakes, I wouldn’t want to miss out on the opportunity to be in there with them. Not just to supervise, but to enjoy that time with them doing something constructive.
Does this mean my American kids are spoiled?
Then we read the author’s take on the “typical” American home:
The cycle in American households seems mostly to run in the opposite direction. So little is expected of kids that even adolescents may not know how to operate the many labor-saving devices their homes are filled with. Their incompetence begets exasperation, which results in still less being asked of them (which leaves them more time for video games). Referring to the Los Angeles families, Ochs and Izquierdo wrote, “Many parents remarked that it takes more effort to get children to collaborate than to do the tasks themselves.”
I knew how to operate every labor saving device in my household by the age of 8 or 9. My kids will likely learn even earlier.
Could I fish and use my machete to cut the weeds down in our backyard by that age though? No, probably not. In fact, I’m 29 years old and those skills still elude me 😉
I think the generalizations in this articles are a bit over the top. I’m willing to bet there are spoiled children in every culture. Children learn or don’t learn the skills they need to survive based on where they live and what’s expected of them in society. My kids have no need to learn how to use a machete right now. It’s not a survival skill they’ll need unless they choose to one day go on a safari somewhere.
My children don’t need to learn how to bake cupcakes on their own by the age of 3. It’s not something we need to focus on right now and truth be told I enjoy that time with them baking, I’m not ready to give that up in order for them to become more independent.
My children do not behave like the American children profiled in that article. If I ask them to do something, they might whine…but a quick reminder of the consequences is all it takes. Yes, they rely on me for a lot of things. Yes, I am not in a hurry for them to grow up.
Absolutely I indulge them more than a mother in a 3rd world country might indulge her own children. We’re preparing our children for different futures.
I’m not sure I’d say my children are spoiled because they don’t have the skills to survive in a 3rd world country by the age of 6.
Do I think American kids are spoiled? Of course there are spoiled American kids. Do I think all kids in America are spoiled if they can’t properly use a machete and bake their own cupcakes by the age of 3 though? Absolutely not.
Do I think MY American kids are spoiled?
In comparison to children from other countries, definitely. In comparison to other children in America, not really.
What do you think? Did the article rub you the wrong way? Or do you agree with it? Are YOUR American kids spoiled?
Plain Graces says
Don’t worry- I wouldn’t have let my three year old bake either! This must be a hot topic- I got an earful the other day on how spoiled my children are. According to my sister-in-law, I feed my children too well- not enough PB&J’s or Ramen noodles on my menus AND my neighbor thinks we have way too many conveniences like a wii and air conditioning…
I think it all depends on your perspective, but I have a few people I know that their children are “SPOILED” rotten… LOL
Oh boy, your SIL and neighbor wouldn’t like us at all, LOL.
No Ramen Noodles and although my kids do eat PBJ’s, they don’t get them near as much as they would like!
It would be negligence/child abuse to NOT have AC with kids in Texas, so definitely not spoiling them there either! LOL
And we have a Wii, Playstation and an XBox. But that’s more about my husband being spoiled than my kids 😉
Thanks for the comment!
I reposted the article on FB after reading it in your feed. 🙂 I liked it and feel like a lot of it rings true to my experience. Kids with no responsibility (like kindergartners who are in the classroom with no idea about picking up after themselves because, per the mom, she just cleans up after them because it’s “easier”) and who can’t even quietly wait 10 minutes without the aid of an iPod touch or DS. From a material perspective, I feel like my kids and many American children have way too many toys and “things.” We try to continually donate unused items, but they often pile up and I still hear “I’m bored”…it’s kind of ridiculous when I compare my mom’s upbringing with 5 kids. Toys don’t make a happy childhood and giving your kids life skills will serve them better in the long run. I have gotten flack for the fact that even my youngest (3) was responsible for a large portion of his own lunch…I guess people thought that was too much or maybe that I was shirking my parental duty? But I am happy that my kids know they are not the center of the universe and are expected to pull their weight in our household and family. Responsibility looks different for every family…I have no need for my kids to catch their own fish for dinner, but they definitely help prep and cook our meals. I don’t think kids are automatically spoiled if they don’t have a lot of chores or have lots of material things, I just think it’s easier to instill the values that are important to my family by making them responsible at a young age and taking the emphasis away from possessions. Hey, we love our iPads, but everything in moderation. 😉 Whatever works for parents to produce happy, kind, contributing citizens. There are lots of “right” ways.
There will always be others who point fingers. My kids are here and that is that. Pay no mind to the wagging fingers.
Good point about the machete. I was banned from weed eating our yard by my husband. Oh, how it broke my heart. My 3yod knows how to run most of our kitchen appliances. My biggest problem is getting her to stop. Seriously, if one of my kids forgot to close the trash can and trash blew across the yard, I’d haul her out of bed to come pick it up. It would only take once to remember to close it next time. Consequences teach lessons pretty fast.