I am not a fan of spoiled children.
However, 17 years into parenthood, I understand how spoiling a child happens — much better now than back in the years when I would have been an absolute perfect parent, if I had just had any children. Ah, I knew so much more back then. These days, I realize that loving your children inspires you to do crazy things and go to absurd lengths to make sure their lives are the best they can be.
The question now is: have we gone too far? Did we cross the Rubicon somewhere along the way? Instead of creating wiser children with greater insights and perspective, have we created spoiled, entitled children who don’t appreciate the value of the work required to allow for all the bounty of their lives or have the spirit of service such opportunity obliges?
Some of the advice I’m about to give may seem harsh. Some of it is appropriate for children of all ages. Other bits may most appropriate for kids ages 10 and up. At any rate, I’d like you to learn from my mistakes:
1. Do not buy your child a smartphone. If they must have a phone for safety reasons (because landlines are few and far between), buy them a no-frills flip phone. Not giving your child a smartphone will help you and your family avoid so many problems.
2. Regardless of what type of phone your child has, check it regularly. Children’s brains aren’t fully developed. They make stupid decisions sometimes. They also don’t want you to know just how poor their decision making ability is. Checking their phones is illuminating.
3. Enact a no-technology-in-the-bedroom policy. Trust me on this one. They can have their computers in the den or at the dining room table, but don’t let them cocoon themselves in their rooms with their computers.
4. Limit their computer/television time to no more than two hours a day.
5. Don’t chaperone every school trip or Scout trip your child takes. Really. They need to spread their wings and learn how to negotiate the world without you.
6. If you miss a game or school performance, your child will be fine.
7. Make them go outside.
8. Play board games and cards with them.
9. Learn something new together — jiu jitsu, SCUBA, ballroom dancing, golfing. Find something that you’d both be willing to learn and do it together.
10. Create opportunities for your children to visit with old people.
11. Make your children load and unload the dishwasher or wash the dishes.
12. Find other chores for your children to do in the house. They need to understand early that operating a house doesn’t just happen. You’re not doing them a favor by teaching them otherwise.
13. Teach your children to cook. If you can’t cook, ask a friend who can or take a class together — or find a class for them to take. Everybody needs to know how to cook the basics.
14. Let your children prepare the occasional meal. They should also have to clean up their own mess in the kitchen.
15. Teach your children to wash, dry and fold clothes.
16. Teach your children to set a proper table.
17. Sit down at a table together for a home-cooked meal at least three times a week.
To be clear, my children have smartphones. I wish they didn’t. They don’t wash the dishes every day, but they do on most days. They know how to cook and could cook a meal for the family if necessary — with a little luck, it wouldn’t be chicken nuggets and mac n’ cheese.
Following these rules doesn’t ensure perfect children, but it does teach children something about what’s required to navigate the world beyond their parents.
I am not a fan of spoiled children.