5 Dangerous Myths About Spoiled Children, Debunked

Raising a monster takes hard work. Giving your child love, affection, and even material objects is unlikely to spoil them.

Originally Published: 
A mom and dad kiss their toddler's cheeks.

Americans both loathe and adore spoiled children. As much as we disdain foot-stomping brats, we seem to have an endless appetite for movies and television shows about affluent and entitled kids. Unfortunately, that tension has warped the way parents understand childhood and created a real fear that reasonable parenting and love might produce a spoiled kid. This is likely not true. Entitlement is a thing that must be cultivated and modeled by parents.

Here are five myths about what makes a spoiled kid that parents ought to ignore.

Myth #1: Babies Can Get Too Much Affection

There is no such thing as spoiling a baby. But for some reason, the idea persists: If parents are too attentive to an infant, the kid will have them wrapped around their tiny finger.

It’s telling that those most likely to shame a parent for giving a baby too much attention are people who lived through the hard-scrabble years of the early 20th Century where hardness meant survival. But the myth should have died at the turn of the Millennium. The idea that a baby can be conditioned to be demanding — or worse, develop some duplicitous plan to rule their parents — is completely ridiculous.

Babies need their parents to be attentive, particularly in the first few months, because humans are born helpless. But more than that, the contact, cooing, and closeness a child has in the earliest months help them develop physically and cognitively.

Children thrive when they’re supported. They develop best when their needs are met promptly and with love. Children will not somehow be stronger adults because they were withheld attention or comfort in their babyhood. And they won’t become spoiled brats if they were indulged.

Without contact, support, and attention, a baby will focus on survival to the detriment of progress.

Myth #2: Harsh Discipline Will Keep a Child From Becoming Spoiled

Interestingly, the Christian Bible doesn’t say anything about “spoiling.” Still, the idea that “sparing the rod” will spoil a child is couched in Christian ideology, likely connected to a passage in Proverbs that reads, in part: “He that spareth his rod hateth his son.”

The problem is that corporal punishment, like spanking, has been linked to antisocial behavior and very poor outcomes for adults. If the opposite of spoilage is generosity of spirit — the ability to empathize with and help others — harsh punishment is a great way to foster just the opposite.

This is not to say that children don’t need boundaries based on a family’s values. They do. But they also need assurance that they’re loved and supported. Being physically hurt by someone larger and stronger is not a way to build love and trust. And without love and trust, it’s difficult to build empathy and emotional intelligence, which are crucial for raising children who don’t feel entitled.

Myth #3: Children Become Spoiled by Receiving Too Many Material Possessions

One of the biggest influences on a child is their parent’s behavior. Children who are spoiled and entitled often have parents who are spoiled and entitled. Do those parents necessarily think they’re spoiled and entitled? Probably not. But when mom and dad are materialistic and seek out pleasure and comfort as their prime pursuit, the behavior is likely going to rub off on the kid.

But the influence works for good qualities too. When parents value selflessness, generosity, empathy, and charity, it’s likely they will pass those qualities to their kid. And those qualities will be passed down regardless of whether or not they’ve given their child everything they’ve ever asked for.

Myth #4: Children Become Spoiled Because of Too Much Positive Reinforcement

There’s an idea that Gen Y and the Millennials are somehow spoiled because they grew up in a world where nobody lost and everyone got a trophy for participation. Shockingly, the Boomers who level these kinds of judgments were called spoiled themselves, for casting off the yoke of their parent’s generation in favor of free love and rock n’ roll. And it goes back like that: Every older generation thinking the latest has been spoiled.

The fact is that positive reinforcement and self-esteem are good for a child. True, positive reinforcement shouldn’t be used to shield a child from adversity, but there is a middle ground. Praising a kid should be less about who they are — special, smart, handsome, pretty — and more about what they do. Parents can continue to heap positive reinforcement onto a child, but they’ll give their kid better tools if they say something like, “I really liked the way you stuck in there even though you were tired,” instead of “you’re a great soccer player!”

Myth #5: Spoiled Children Are the Exclusive Result of Bad Parenting

The saying goes that it takes a village to raise a child. But most American kids don’t have a village at their back. Looking at the arc of human history, it’s clear that raising children in secluded, single-family homes is a pretty untested parenting method. And it’s the parenting method chosen by most because we live in a culture that prizes autonomy over all. So if spoiling is a result of bad parenting, it’s only because parents are largely on their own.

Cultures that are more collectivist in their living and child rearing, particularly small-band hunter-gatherers around the globe, don’t have a problem with “spoiling.” That’s despite their extraordinary permissive, zero-discipline parenting. Children who are raised in a collectivist band, understand that they are a small part of the whole and must contribute in kind for everyone to thrive. That is the exact opposite of being an entitled, spoiled child.

In the end, we can’t exclusively blame parents for raising spoiled children. The culture they’re raised in, that prides the collection of wealth and power to signify self-worth, carries with it a lot of the blame.

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