Baby Steps

Thursday, August 4th, 2011
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Just say no. Sound simple? Studies show new problems arising due to the overindulgence of children. The affluence of the 90′s found parents with larger amounts of disposable income and these same parents have established a habit of not being able to say “no” to their children. In a Newsweek article called The Power of No (September, 2004), the authors wrote about a survey done of grade-school children. These children, when they craved something, actually expected to ask their parents nine times before they give in. What does that say about the meaning of the word “no”?

Today’s children want more mainly because there’s more to want. Electronics rank high on the “I want” list, as do designer clothes and accessories. Experts say kids who are given too much too soon grow up to be adults who have difficulty coping with disappointments that may come their way. They have a distorted sense of entitlement that gets in the way of success both in the workplace and in relationships – they may actually be more vulnerable to future anxiety and depression. “The risk of overindulgence is self-centeredness and self-absorption, and that’s a mental health risk,” says Walter Damon, director of the Stanford University Center on Adolescence.

Mary Pipher, author of Reviving Ophelia, says children who have everything they want are “set-up to be narcissistic, spoiled, not inclined to work hard, and with impulse-control problems.”

Baby boomers grew up in homes where many things were denied. Their parents were hard working, frugal, saved money, were big on self-sacrifice and spent on necessities rather than extravagances. As a result, when the baby boomers became parents, they swore not to deny their children the way they were denied things as kids. As a result, most of their children feel a sense of entitlement – confusing love with permissiveness – and not understanding the need to work for things or the value of what they have.

So how do parents prevent this situation? It actually starts with understanding your main role. Be the parent. Many adults want to be their child’s friend, their prime entertainment coordinator, or their personal banker. Stop and think about the values you learned as a child and decide which of those you want your child to learn and internalize.

And, start saying “no”. Say no to inappropriate behaviors, say no to excessive spending, and mean what you say. Start teaching children to be of service to others and that life has meaning beyond one’s own immediate existence. A teenager snuck her father’s Volvo station wagon out of the garage while he was at work and went joy riding. In her attempt to see how fast the car would go, she went “airborne”, struck a tree and totaled the car. While most of the older generation would have lost their licenses until they were an adult and could sign for a new one themselves, this entitled teen was given her own car within three months of the accident. Seems she was rewarded rather than punished for her misbehavior (and near death).

Teach your child the value of money. Hand-me-downs were a common occurrence in most baby boomer families. Now, there are children who only wear designer clothes – no label, no purchase. And, perfectly usable items are thrown out simply because they are no longer in fashion this season no matter what the price. In the Newsweek article, a mother told a story about how she had bought a beautiful and very expensive dress for her 3 year-old daughter to wear to a party. After a very negative experience she said that not only did the little girl get dirty, but no one really noticed the dress. It was her behavior that got noticed. Unfortunately, the mother had spent lots of money of what the child wore, and little time on teaching the child to behave.

Children need limits on their behavior because they feel more secure living within a certain structure. They also need to learn the value of money. A young girl wanted to buy a stuffed toy on a trip. Her mother knew it would only be added to a shelf of like toys and it was also a bit pricey. When the girl asked her mother if she should buy it, the mother said, “Well, you earn $4 an hour for babysitting. This costs $16. Is it worth four hours of your time with Tommy?” The girl thought back to the last time she had watched Tommy when he had cried for about an hour when his Mom left. The girl put the toy back.

Spend time with your children. Create memories by doing things together, working on a project, or doing chores together. Let them know how hard you work for what you have. Ask them to help with the household chores. Even very young children can help clean up after themselves.

When adults are asked to remember a play activity they did as a child, most remember time that was spent outside either alone, playing with family or playing with other children. Children today spend too much time indoors – the result of television, computers and video games. Help your children find ways to enjoy the outdoors whether it’s getting some exercise, or simply enjoying nature. Go to the beach as a family, lay on the grass and watch the shapes clouds make, go hiking or camping, picnic. Teach children there are things they can do that don’t cost money and are pleasurable.

And most of all, be the person you want your child to grow up to be. Children look to their parents to be role models, so evaluate your spending, your priorities, and your values. Children need you to teach them how to survive in this world and unless you teach them how to also support themselves, you will be supporting them in the same ways long after they reach adulthood.

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