I’ve just finished “Spoiling Childhood: How Well Meaning Parents Give Their Children Too Much, But Not What They Need” by Diane Ehrensaft.
This book caught my eye at the library one day; I am not a big reader of child psyhcology or self help books by any stretch but this one looked intriguiging. Basically the author is a child/family therapist and the book is written based on her observations as such in the last 10 to 15 years. While I think that every generation believes that the current one is totally screwed up and doomed this author made some valid points that as a parent I could identify with.
The question that the book attempts to demystify is how in recent history, middle class children have become “over-valued”. By that she asserts that as soon as a woman pees on a stick and gets the news that a baby is on the way; a whole circus erupts which generally involves consuming a whole lot of stuff ( think Babies R Us) before the baby is even close to arriving. And once the child is born the buying and clamoring for the perfect everything doesn’t stop. This phenomenon is attributed to the fact that we have way more buying power than our parents did; and that while our generation is what she coins as “inevitable” ie. your parents got married relatvively young and subsequently or inevitably they had a bunch of kids, we wait to develop our careers and with all the hype about infertility and the like we are led to believe that every pregnancy is fully intentionalized miracle of sorts. I personally coin this as the “LBJ” syndrome ( little baby Jesus). This snowballs into every kid is so awesome and deserving of as much crap as we can buy them because we wanted each one SO BADDDLY. So from these beginnings we move into the phase the author describes as “kinderadults”…we treat our progenty like little adults by indulging all their desires and overstimulating them but at the same time over coddle and over nuture them from experiences that we think might put them in harms way. Here is an example…nowadays, parents have to carefully plan and itinerize their kids summer; shuttling them from one paid activity to the next safely ensconced in the oversized SUV. Gone are the days of wandering around your neighborhood, finding other kids to play with and attending the school of hard knocks. However, we have no problem burdening our children with all the graphic details of the Tsunami disaster ( my kids school had a fund raiser !) or other disturbing imagery and ideas as long as its on T.V. You could argue a current news story may have something to do with protecting kids too much from real life and then suffering devastating consequences…could the teen girl from Alabama ( straight A student and “good girl”, everyone who goes missing or is killed in an accident is, by the way if you pay attention to the news) been too sheltered to know that heading the beach with a bunch of drunk local boys in a foreign county that you didn’t know from a whole in the wall be an incredibly stupid idea ???? A stretch you say ? Maybe not. If your whole experience was vacation bible school and cheerleading camp in a priveledged suburban envionment, maybe you wouldn’t think it was a bad idea.
The other interesting observation is how we describe our kids with so much hyperbole..”My kid is the greatest, cutest” whatever, fill in the blanks. The contention is that kids are smart enough at some point to spot the B.S. I mean, go stand in any playground and listen to all the parents tell their kid “Good Job” for some insanely obviously do-able kid thing like sliding down a slide or something. So this action actually backfires into low self esteem because if every kid gets a trophy and is told how great they are, then nobody is. It rings false.
O.K. so what’s the alternative ? The author suggest that we carefully examine why we treat our kids the way we do. Do we think we could have been better people, greater successes if only our parents had given us every opportunuity or more attention? Are we just trying to shut them up because we don’t have the stamina to not take the path of least resistance ? Do we actually intend to create a generation of people who equate happiness with a trip to the mall to buy more stuff ? Thought provoking at the least. It made me think about some of the things I probably can improve upon as a parent and made me feel better about not trying to keep up with the ultra child-centered set, which based on personal experience particularily when my kids got into school is pervasive and nauseating. Thanks for hanging with the rant.