We seem to focus on the wrong questions; the “why” questions. And even worse, the questions that analyze generalized, abstract reasons for why mostpeople or why our society does something. One of the latest in the long list of articles about how to be better parents – by being a Tiger Mom or a French Mom – is by Elizabeth Kolbert in the New Yorker, “Why are American Kids So Spoiled?”
Of course Kolbert gives examples of permissive American parents that raise nasty, narcissistic, self-indulgent, entitled, spoiled brats who harass, abuse and bully their parents. And then we can analyze why we parents raise them that way, and the plusses and minuses of raising kids permissively; or not expecting anything until they’ve understood the advantages of the behavior we want and they’re willing to put forth the effort to give it. And then we wring our hands at adults we see who are aging but still spoiled brats. And then we feel overwhelmed and helpless because we think our society is going downhill.
Ah, the false assumption that if we can figure out, objectively and dispassionately, what’s wrong, we can reason our way to the correct plan that will work for all reasonable people.
I think that the question of “Why are American kids so spoiled?” is the wrong question and that pseudo-scientific analysis is the wrong approach to this area of what we ask or demand of our children. In addition, the analytical approach is endless and hasn’t produced answers in more than 60 years.
A better question is about what behavior each of us wants to demand from our kids and grandkids in a real, specific moment. Every moment, we’re training our kids about what behavior is acceptable and what the consequences will be for falling below our standards of behavior – whether that’s disapproval, removal, or something else.
Training is more important than explaining.
- My question is about specific individuals, situations and moments in time – what do we want to say and do with our kids at that moment? It’s not a “why” question. It’s a "what" question focused on the present and future, not on the past.
- What reasons do we want to give to our kids for our standards and demands, when don’t we want give reasons in the moment, and when is their compliance expected whether or not they understand or agree with our reasons?
- What immediate rewards and consequences do we want to have for their behavior?
As opposed to the misbehaving kids, who we’ve all seen, in Kolbert’s examples, I’ve seen many young kids behaving wonderfully in public – toward their parents as well as toward non-family members. Their parents have trained these kids and demanded good behavior from them, and the kids have accepted the standards.
We can usually get civil, polite, helpful behavior from our children and grandchildren if we’re willing to do the training.
We do know what we want and we don’t need the latest research studies to justify it. Also, we don’t need to spend our children’s whole childhood analyzing what’s right or begging them to act decently.