Tag Archives: spoiled children

The Myth of the Spoiled Child


I really thought I would be too busy gardening this summer to read.  I am so excited that I have, in fact, read 2 books in the past 2 weeks.  Yay!

A friend of mine told me, “I loathe the word ‘spoiled’ when it applies to anything other than rotten food.”  After reading The Myth of the Spoiled Child by Alfie Kohn, I fully agree with her.

I should state that I was introduced to this book via FAIR.org.  I should also state that the link I just provided isn’t the one that I read.  What I read was a chapter excerpt which prompted me to get the book from the library.

In the interest of social change, Kohn argues that there are many misconceptions about how children are being raised today.  He argues convincingly that they are not, in fact, more spoiled, entitled, rude, etc. than the children raised years ago.  He also uses the book as a platform to argue for unconditional parenting–a topic explored in depth in one of his previous books called… Unconditional Parenting.

Since I am also interested in and committed to positive change, here are some parts of the book that I found intriguing:

– Every generation for thousands of years has complained about the generation that will succeed it–even the ancient Greeks!  A well-worn tune, apparently.

– Most of the complaints about children’s behavior is anecdotal and not research-based.

– Many children are still not being heard, cooperated with or listened to about things that matter to them either at home or at school.


– Listen to children.

– Promote skepticism, media literacy and help children learn how to question authority.

– Encourage solutions for positive change by engaging in projects that reject a status quo that is not helping children reach their potential.

– Parent by “working with” your children, instead of “doing to.”

One section, in particular, stood out for me as both a teacher and a parent.  It was about “deep modeling” as opposed to simply modeling behavior.  Kohn asserts that modeling a certain behavior, while useful, can be made even more effective by taking it a step further by “deep modeling.” He uses the example of an instructor who tries to solve a problem, makes mistakes, corrects them, and works toward a solution.  He suggests that students will learn in the process to feel less anxious about making mistakes themselves and will also be more aware of the process behind problem solving, that it takes work, errors, revisions and so on.  I found this compelling because I have always questioned myself when I don’t have a ready explanation for Philip for why we aren’t going to do something that he wants or when I make a mistake while writing on the dry erase board in the classroom.  In the former, I chide myself for being a confusing parent.  In the latter, I feel as if my students have concluded that I’m an idiot with no grasp of the subject matter.  Reading this section, however, was quite reassuring for me.  It also gave me some ideas for more collaborative work in the classroom.

This weekend, we celebrated part of Philip’s birthday in Chicago.  One of his gifts was a trip to the Adler Planetarium.  While we were in the Planet Explorers exhibit, Philip was busy building a robot jetpack with PVC pipes and I was enjoying the show.  Nearby, there is a magnetic cogs station.  At this site, you take wooden magnetic cogs of different colors and sizes and try to get them to interact and spin on a magnetic board.  I watched casually as a young boy worked diligently to align and interlock nearly all the cogs in the station.  While he was designing his master work, his father visited.  He told the boy that the design wouldn’t work because there was too much weight.  The father tried to twirl one side with his fingers to illustrate his point and then he started relocating some of the cogs.  The boy protested.  The father persisted.  The boy protested again.  The father persisted.  Eventually, the father walked away and I could tell he was thinking, “Geesh, I was just trying to help.  I was just trying to have a little fun.  My kid is so…(insert your descriptor here).”  The boy continued his work.  A few minutes later, his father returned.  It was almost like watching an instant replay.  The same remarks were made.  The same attempts were made by the man to change the boy’s work and correct it.  The same verbal objections were voiced by the boy.

I don’t know how this all ended up.  My memory tells me that the boy eventually abandoned the project, but that may not have been the case.  More likely, Philip began to show me something about his project and I forgot all about the boy at the station.  But, it did get me to thinking about this book and the importance of having children become thinking, questioning and passionate adults.  Further, I saw that, as parents, we have to resist our urges and see things from our child’s perspective and not just our own.  It isn’t easy.  It takes time.  But, I believe it is worth the effort.

In one of my favorite movies, Contact, with Jodie Foster, there’s an exchange between her character and Dr. Drumlin (her adversary and former boss).  He tells her something to the effect, “It’s a cruel world out there” (suggesting that he knows how to navigate it and his lying to get on the ship was justified) and she says, “I’m sorry.  I thought the world is what we make of it.”  I love that line and I fully agree with her sentiment.

I think the world is what we make of it and it is also one that our children make.  Thankfully, there are a lot of people trying to make the world a better place.  I am grateful that Alfie Kohn, despite all of the challenges he has seen in education and parenting, is still trying to do just that.  I hope more people are inspired, as I am, to keep trying.