A Family-Values Crisis: The Overindulged Child One Expert, at Least, Has Something Practical to Say about More Responsibility, Less Talk of 'Self-Esteem,' and Higher Expectations

Article excerpt

IT'S Saturday. Your spouse has to be away, and you have spent a good part of the day with your young children. Now you need to get some of your own work done, and you plan to give them a quick lunch before they play with friends. But they have other ideas; they are clamoring to go to McDonald's. Desperate to stop the badgering, you tell them that McDonald's is closed on weekends. They believe you and eat the lunch you have planned.

*You are called by a neighbor, who reports that she caught your nine-year-old son and three other boys vandalizing her garage roof. You write a check to cover your child's part in the damage and you remind your neighbor that "they are only kids" and will outgrow this kind of behavior.

*You drop your 16-year-old off at the home of a friend. You later find out that no adult was home and that a big party occurred - involving beer, fighting, and destruction of property. Since the boy's parents have no names of those involved, you don't contact them; you don't want any repercussions for your son. You simply tell him to be more careful. Each of these situations was an opportunity to help children grow, but instead the experience worked to their detriment. Adults can't teach the right lessons if we begin with the wrong premises. It's a tragedy that our society, which claims to value its children, is in fact failing them, despite parents' efforts to sacrifice for their children. Nurturing selfishness Unselfish parents sometimes have self-centered children. One reason might be that parents can sacrifice too much, and in the wrong ways. Some are even reluctant to assign household chores, because the young child's world should always be "fun." They believe that every activity - a dentist appointment, toilet training, eating, a day at school - must be made enjoyable, so that the child will not be "stressed." One parent we know recently described her child's life as "a never-ending birthday party." But we think children are not truly happy when nothing is demanded of them and everything is done for their entertainment. If children and teenagers are restless, irresponsible, apathetic, and self-centered, parents might be following too much of the "experts' " advice and not enough intuition. Children will usually deliver the degree of individual competence and social responsibility that adults expect - and our expectations have lessened with each generation. The result is that many virtues once considered normal have been lost - or at least temporarily buried. Parents are now told that a child's "self-esteem" is to be preserved and enhanced at all costs. But in separating self-esteem from any conduct that a child is responsible for, we actually diminish that child's feelings of self-worth. …