In a recent essay for The New Yorker, writer Elizabeth Kolbert draws on recent studies and parenting books to make the argument that kids today, particularly in the U.S., may just represent the most spoiled and overly-indulged children in history.
The majority of kids today don’t do household chores, they mouth off, refuse to tie their own shoes and generally terrorize adults at home and school (talk to a teacher about their students’ attitudes — I dare you.)
The only kids who may have been a tad more spoiled, suggests Kolbert, would have been the imperial offspring of the Ming dynasty and the dauphins of pre-Revolutionary France. The comparison may not be entirely fair, however. It’s likely that even the adored dauphins of pre-Revolutionary France would have known it wasn’t wise to talk back to Dad after a long day ruling the realm.
So who’s to blame for this state of affairs? Well, unfortunately it sounds like parents are kids’ biggest problem. Kolbert cites research by anthropologists at the University of California who compared how a tribe known as the Matsigenka in the Peruvian Amazon raised children to assume the mantle of adulthood versus how the average American family does.
The greatest difference between the Matsigenka and the North American family? The Matsigenka didn’t ask children to take on chores or responsibilities as much as they made it clear that doing so was simply a part of life. Matsigenka children didn’t suddenly get chores when they turned 10 or 11, chores and survival skills were part of their everyday training just as Mommy and Me classes and Gymboree are for North American toddlers. And by asking kids to do things Matsigenka parents encourage competence, which Kolbert argues also encourages autonomy. That means Matsigenka kids won’t move back in with Mom and Dad at 30 and complain that there’s no cable.
Kolbert, also a mother, sympathizes with parents who find it takes more energy to corral their kids into taking out the garbage then it does to simply do it oneself, however. But that doesn’t mean she thinks it’s a good idea. In fact, her essay suggests that when parents take the easy way out they’re teaching kids more about the weaknesses associated with adulthood then they are revealing its strength.
To read Kolbert’s essay, click here.
Watch: Seven tips on regaining control of your kids