America: Home of the spoiled brat

An interesting question is asked by blogger The Literate Pen: “When did our world become so unsafe that we have to regulate everything when it comes to our children.”

The Pen illuminates myriad examples of how life has changed – particularly when it comes to parenting – over the past 40 years. It’s a well-written, interesting read that looks back barely more than a generation, yet in some respects seems as far removed as the days of antebellum balls and dueling.

Some of The Literate Pen’s reminisces are downright funny:

I was raised in the late 1960’s and the 1970’s. My parents drove Buick automobiles, BIG Buick coupes with no seatbelts in them until about 1974. Six kids could ride comfortably in them and you could even stand up in the back seat while it was barreling down the highway and hang over the front or ride in the front seat itself if you wanted to. The airbag existed but it was an experimental product and I never knew anybody that had one. People smoked everywhere, in cars, offices, their homes…even in airplanes. I remember Dad and Mom taking us to California when I was thirteen and well over half of the plane was a smoking section (like you could really separate the non-smokers from the smoke in a pressure sealed airplane).

My toys had small parts and were painted with lead based paint. We played on swing sets that you could fly twenty feet through the air and we rode bicycles in bare feet without helmets. Electrical outlets were in plain view and uncovered. Somehow all of us, my brother, our friends and I survived and our parents were praised for having successfully raised kids.

However, the bigger part of his post highlights the dramatic changes that have taken place in approaches toward raising children.

My parents encouraged us to play outdoors, many times until after dark. This was back in the days before the ozone layer was damaged and before the sun caused skin cancer. Neighborhood Watch had nothing to do with prevention of criminal activity on our block – it meant that every parent in the neighborhood was watching out for all of us and if we got out of line, they all had equal punishment rights. We played with reckless abandon and we felt safe doing it. We were usually indoors only when it was raining or very cold; otherwise we were expected to be outside.

Today’s parent, usually the mother, by contrast, is often uncomfortable if their child gets out of their eyesight or earshot for even a moment.

Thanks to media hysteria, many mothers fear that predators lurk around every corner, waiting to snatch their precious progeny the first time they take their eyes off them.

Unfortunately, though I don’t have hard statistics at hand to back up this claim, it’s likely the number of child abductions hasn’t changed much over the decades.

Years ago, while doing research on capital punishment, I remember reading the last execution in New Hampshire came in 1939. A 35-year-old man was hanged for kidnapping, sexually assaulting and killing a 10-year-old boy.

What has changed is that every time a child is taken, it makes national news, scaring the bejesus out of many parents across the nation, no matter where the crime took place.

According to the US Department of Justice, there are on average a little more than 100 actual kidnappings annually. These are crimes that involve someone who the child does not know or is a slight acquaintance, rather than a family member involved in family dispute, for example.

Given that there are tens of millions of children under the age of 18 in the US, the odds of this happening to any one child are incredibly remote.

Yet, we now have a society of mothers who fear that their children cannot even play in the front yard without being the likely targets of predators.

Certainly, one understands the desire to protect one’s children, but short of locking them in a room all day and night, it’s not possible to eliminate each and every threat.

By hovering over them and teaching them to dread, rather than be aware of, every stranger, we’re raising a generation of fearful, fretful youngsters who see the world as the enemy, rather than an environment to co-exist in.

The Literate Pen also points out that many parents today have largely fallen down on the job when it comes to teaching their kids about dollars and cents.

We knew the value of money too. Probably not that well, but definitely better than now. I was happy when I had enough money to buy myself a cassette. We hunted for coke bottles to exchange for dimes when we wanted some candy. We had some toys, a few favorites, and we played with them until they basically wore out. We didn’t have Nintendo DS’s with fifteen games, an iPod, a cell phone, a laptop, and DVDs to keep us entertained. What do you suppose that would cost in allowance? At my allowance rate, a long, long time. My parents didn’t just dole out money and it wasn’t that they couldn’t afford to – they just weren’t brought up that way and they didn’t see any reason to change that. Of course, there were special occasions like the fair each year and other treats but they weren’t every day and often not every week either. We learned to appreciate the special treat when it came our way.

Unfortunately, I’ve seen firsthand kids who, after they’ve opened their birthday presents, promptly look up and ask “OK, where’s the next one?”

Of course, when birthday parties are $500 extravaganzas designed more to impress other parents than for the benefit of the child, it’s hardly any wonder children are spoiled.

“I don’t remember ever attending a birthday party of the magnitude that I see today,” the Literate Pen recalls. “I remember the occasional pizza party at Shakey’s and a skating party now and then at Joel’s Roller Rink but not the kind of parties kids have today. You can drop $300-$400 for a party now at the drop of a hat BEFORE presents.

“When my friends and I were growing up, we were happy if our party had balloons,” the Pen adds. “Our parents weren’t concerned about impressing each other; they were concerned about celebrating our birthday, and for us, that meant family, friends, cake, a few bags of chips, soda, and ice cream.”

Is everything worse today? Of course not. But there are some marked difference between now and, say 35 years ago, and they’re not for the better. There’s little doubt the average child today is more consumer-oriented, more privileged and, in many cases, more spoiled.

None of which would be possible without the able assistance of parents.

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