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Why you should be a mean parent

Our kids are among the most indulged young people in history. We may be setting them up for failure as adults if we fail to give them 4 essential life skills.

By Donna_Freedman Jan 8, 2013 12:17PM

Logo: Boy in bed (MM Productions/Jupiterimages)Are your kids prepared for life? Quite a few of our children aren't. Citing 8-year-olds who won't tie their own shoes and 20-somethings who stay up all night and sleep until noon, Elizabeth Kolbert suggests that we are raising "the most indulged young people in the history of the world."


(Well, except maybe for "the imperial offspring of the Ming dynasty and the dauphins of pre-Revolutionary France.")

"It's not just that they've been given unprecedented amounts of stuff -- clothes, toys, cameras, skis, computers, televisions, cell phones, PlayStations, iPods. They've also been granted unprecedented authority," Kolbert writes in The New Yorker.

Specifically: These days parents want their kids' approval, whereas children used to seek their parents' approbation. That means Mom and Dad don't want to lay down the law. Kolbert cited a video study of Los Angeles families that recorded:

"No child routinely performed household chores without being instructed to. Often, the kids had to be begged to attempt the simplest tasks; often, they still refused. In one fairly typical encounter, a father asked his eight-year-old son five times to please go take a bath or a shower. After the fifth plea went unheeded, the father picked the boy up and carried him into the bathroom. A few minutes later, the kid, still unwashed, wandered into another room to play a video game.

"In another representative encounter, an eight-year-old girl sat down at the dining table. Finding that no silverware had been laid out for her, she demanded, 'How am I supposed to eat?' Although the girl clearly knew where the silverware was kept, her father got up to get it for her."
Here's a question: Will Daddy Dearest be around 20 years from now, still rushing to make things right for his pampered princess?

And another question: What are we doing to our children?

Giving them everything, and giving in to them on everything, is a horrible idea  -- and not just because it's producing a bumper crop of spoiled brats. We need to look at the bigger picture: A kid who can't do the simplest things for himself is a kid who's being set up to fail.

How will our children fare once they're out of the house? That is, if they ever bother to leave. Why should they? There’s food in the fridge, high-speed Internet and probably someone to pick up after them.

A few essential life skills

A successful parent is one who will ultimately become superfluous. Note: I am not saying that we shouldn't matter to our kids. I'm saying is that from the time they're toddlers they should be helping out around the home, i.e., to learn take care of themselves.
Offhand I can think of four essential life skills for kids, all of which will save them money:

1. Laundry.
During my first year of college I found a young woman crying in the laundry room -- actually sobbing out loud -- because she didn't know how to do a load of wash. If your kids leave the nest without knowing how to launder their own clothes, you have failed as a parent. Don't let them become those people who pay other people to wash their clothes, especially if their budgets are already precarious.

2. Basic cooking.
Not everyone likes to do this. But eating most or all of your meals out is a budget torpedo. More than one-fourth of the men and women surveyed by the Bosch appliances said they don't cook because they don't know how. Do your own children a favor and teach them a few basic techniques.

3. Cleaning.
Having a tidy place to come home to is good for your mental health as well as your social life. After a tough day at work, few would choose to walk into a pigsty that smells of pizza boxes and dirty socks. It isn't much fun for friends you invite over, either. Wellness is also an issue: Clutter can become what my old boss called "a tripping hazard," and mold and mildew may trigger allergies. As little as 20 minutes of cleaning three times a week can make a huge difference. Or your kid could pay $30 to $50 an hour for a cleaning service.

The cost of not knowing

4. Money management.
Not knowing the other three skills cost money. Not knowing how to handle money can cost your young person years and years of his life. Young adults who graduate with student loans and/or consumer debt need to get a handle on their finances, but they don't know what they don't know. Parents: Talk to your kids about basics such as living below your means, or planning for short-term emergencies while setting long-range goals.

Do more than talk, though. Model responsible financial behavior. Don't joke about maxing out your credit cards. Pay your bills on time, while your kid is watching. Explain all the things your salary covers (mortgage, insurance, car repairs) versus the ones your child can see.

It's unlikely that an 8-year-old would choose a college fund over a theme-park vacation, and it's darned unlikely he'll understand why you're saving for retirement. Tell him anyway.

Oh, and don't worry so much about being seen as mean, or unfair. Your job is to prepare your child for independence, not to jump every time he makes a demand.

We're not doing our kids any favors by carrying them around on chips. Let their feet touch the ground. Often. Preferably in shoes they've tied themselves.

More on MSN Money:

Jan 8, 2013 10:09PM
How about teaching your kids to work?  All the rest of these issues are ok but unless they learn to work they will get nowhere.   My daughter went out to mend barbed wire fence with her grandfather when she was 7.  She put on the gloves and twisted the wire.  That little girl now is chief geologist of a large Copper mine.   She told me "Pop, I am so glad that when I was a kid you and Mom taught me how to work".
Jan 8, 2013 9:55PM
Please add to that List RESPECT OF OTHERS!
Jan 8, 2013 9:48PM

I had four children three boys and one daughter, they kept there room cleaned at all time, was home for dinner every night at 5:00pm we sat down as a family every night and ate. My boys new how to clean cook do their wash and did very well with it, I made sure my sons could take care of them self before they went on there own, my daughter the same way she know how to clean cook bake do here laundry as well. You as a parent should always be teaching your children so when they do get on there own they will know what to do for them self. Start them at a young age by picking up there toys and so on, as they get older you just add on to this to make them a better man and woman out in this world to do for them self as they should do, If you don't do this then as a parents you are lazy and don't give a dam about your children. Have respect for them teach them respect and you will see how proud you will be of them I know I am very proud of my four children. My children worked for what they wanted we did not have that kind of money to get the kind of shoes so I told them if you want to pay for those kind of shoes get a job so that is what they did. Now it is funny after they see really see what things coast and see why mom and dad wont pay for high priced things now they will not as well....Be there for them stand by them show them how to do and what to do you as a parent should how it pays off in the long run for you and them. When the become a man and a woman in their life. Good Luck

Jan 8, 2013 9:47PM

These families are in Los Angeles.  Cameras (or at least observers) were there. How people act when they are being recorded/observed and how they are going to act when the camera is not on are two completely different things.  This is particularly true in place like California, where Child Protection Services are very likely to remove a child from one's care for the tiniest of "infractions."


I have never heard the phrase "carrying them around on chips."  What does that mean, by the way?


It is extremely likely that this study is completely skewed. The author doesn't seem to be relating common behaviors, but behaviors that occurred because the family was being watched. The father might have been perfectly willing to send the child to her room or just let her sit, unfed, if he hadn't been being watched. Or, he might have been quite ugly, verbally or physically. Getting the silverware might have been a better option than, shall we say, clobbering the child.


In not a few families who send their children to school unprepared, the maid does the laundry. In other families, the children are so buried under books--studying to get scholarships--that mom and dad wind up doing all the chores.  I probably did let my daughter skip chores too often after she was 11--however, I also did not have to pay for the first 4 years of her schooling because she had a scholarship for books and tuition. She was not allowed to live on campus--I wasn't going to pay for it.  She's old enough now to figure out most things for herself, with the aid of YouTube videos, so I don't regret this at all.


Please learn the term "Hawthorne effect."  It will help you to understand why you shouldn't swallow the results of studies--hook, line, and sinker--simply because they fit with your own prejudices.

Jan 8, 2013 9:09PM

LOL, first it was "Don't spank your kids~!"  now it's "Stop being too lenient on them~!" 

Spare the rod/spoil the child.  Everyone wants my kids to come over to their homes.  They all say the same thing.  "Your kids are the best kids I have ever met".  "I need them to come hang out with my kids".   All 4 of my kids are straight A students, respectful, and loving.  My advice to raising a good kid is simple.... Discipline them early and you won't have to later, BUT for the discipline you give them, give them 10 times the love and understanding.  Simple

Jan 8, 2013 9:01PM
I don't mess around when it comes to kids. I am only going to tell them once and all hell will break loose. I also do not give them any of that fancy crap. They want it, they cab go mow lawns or shovel snow and earn the money themselves. Children are better for it. We are not there to be their friends (they have those at school), but to give them the tools to be a productive member of society.
Jan 8, 2013 8:58PM
I was a Marine and disciplinarian and my children still hate me but they have never been in any kind of trouble.Children are idealists,parents are realists.My children are now sucessful senior citizens.
Jan 8, 2013 8:49PM

I think this article missed one point too, sometimes it is the child that is the problem. My two daughters I good money skills and know how to take care of chores, but my son is another matter. I did very little different when it came to giving them chores and show them what they needed to know on money.

I think sometimes these things mentioned depend on how well the child want to be responsible as well.

Jan 8, 2013 8:25PM
Amen! Thank you so much for this story! It is absolutely correct! I am a high school teacher and a single-parent  of a 15 year old. It really doesn't help us teachers out there when these kids come into our classrooms and they expect us teachers to just give them the answers. I have been shocked these last 5 years that I have been teaching. They ave no curiosity and no desire to find any answers themselves! And they have the internet at their fingertips! It's very hard for teachers to do their JOBS of preparing these guys for the real world when we have parents bullying us into giving their child the passing grades!
Jan 8, 2013 8:19PM
Most parents dont money management
Jan 8, 2013 8:02PM
Good article! I have three sons 22, 27 & 28, they had chores and then some, we lived on a farm. It really is important to teach them, give them the tools they will need. Ultimately it will be up to them to use them. We are who we are through our own choices, not merely products of our parents. If that were the case who would we be?  All you can do is the best you can and be consistent, and pray a lot !!!!  There is no formula :)
Jan 8, 2013 7:51PM
Jan 8, 2013 7:47PM
I spoiled my kids and it was stupid of me.  I had such a rotten childhood that I wanted my kids to have much better, so I waited on them hand and foot.  My ex-husband, however, was much stricter with them, so I hope it balanced out.  In the end, they were able to cope while away at college and I was surprised at the good things they picked up from me like cleaning up after themselves and earning a buck.  One thing that is a little disturbing is that I was a street-wise kid having grown up in a big city whereas my kids are far more naive.  That's a little scary.  There are so many things parents need to do in this day and age to make their kids self-reliant and be able to protect themselves.  It's a really scary world out there these days.
Jan 8, 2013 7:46PM
The nut never falls far from the tree!!!

Jan 8, 2013 7:46PM
I agree with the basic thoughts behind this article.  However, I have to point out something missed.  We have had "studies" of all sorts.  You can find whatever you want in some "study" somewhere. But, I think this article should point out the damage done to children by psychiatrists and other "social" workers, including DHR.  Parents are afraid to disciplne their children now.  I can't tell you how many times I've heard parents say they are "afraid" to discipline their kids because of DHR.  And, so many psychiatrists believe children never do wrong.  It is always "something in their childhood!"  Psychiatriasts and DHR destroy children.  And the FDA destroys all of us with their "ask your doctor" ads.  I've heard parents say they want their children to be 'Independent" and make their own choices at two years old!!! What nonsense!!!!
Jan 8, 2013 7:42PM

I think young people are just catching on to the scam a little quicker.  They tell you to work hard and study so that one day you'll get a good job and have a great life.  Funny thing is though most of them probably see their parents working like slaves, and their lives don't seem all that great.  Truth is the working world is a scam and a lie they tell good little boys and girls to keep them in line and ensure a new set of worker drones later on to do their work and pay the taxes.


How many middle-aged workers do you know who are truly happy and fullfilled with their life and jobs?  Yeah, not many if you're being honest.  Boy those lazy ****s on disability sure do look happy to me when they're playing their xbox all night and getting set to watch the big game while I have to record it to watch later because I have to work.  They look at working people as suckers because in truth that's what we are.  We pay for everything and get nothing but derision and hatred in return.  "Work harder" they tell you.  "Work harder and one day you'll get your just reward.  Your reward isn't in this lfie but in the next where they'll be plenty of mansions and free time for everyone."  Isn't that what the church and state have been force feedng us and other poor people in third world nations for years?


**** Off!  It's all a lie.  I wish I would have understood this sooner.

Jan 8, 2013 7:41PM

But if we try to discipline and take our children to task for not doing their chores or trying to make them responsible young adults, we are labeled as being abusive and uncaring. 

There is no winning here. 

Jan 8, 2013 7:34PM

I've learned that a lot of the stuff they tell you about working hard and doing the right thing and good things will happen to you is just a load of bunk in many cases.  I know a lot of selfish, lazy people who never had any intention of doing the right thing and getting a job of living responsibly.  They are now on full disability and getting $5000 a month for doing nothing.  If you act stupid, immoral, and crazy enough eventually they'll assume you're crazy and just write you a check to get rid of you.


But the people like myself and many other "responsible" people who got an education and a job are essentially handed a 30 + year sentence of hard labor for out efforts.  If you work hard they'll just keep piling it on because afterall, someone has to do the work and pay for everything.


So be wary of being too good or too responsible because many times it does not matter anyway.

Jan 8, 2013 7:28PM
The author of this article is dead right...we're raising our children to be narcissistic, helpless spoiled brats.  In other words, we're raising them to be lifelong Democrat voters.
Jan 8, 2013 7:16PM
I'm seeing these spoiled brats in the workplace, and it's not pretty. They have no social skills whatsoever, can't conduct meetings,  are addicted to their gadgets, are selfish to the max in dealing with coworkers, can't write e-mails/correpsondence properly...the list goes on and on. And my generation is totally to blame, we raised 2 generations of do-nothings. Glad I'm near retirement.
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Donna Freedman's Frugal Nation blog is for readers who want to live cheaply -- whether due to necessity or a lifestyle choice. It explores living sustainably and making life more meaningful at the same time.


Donna Freedman

Donna Freedman, a writer based in Anchorage, Alaska, writes the Frugal Nation blog for MSN Money. She won regional and national prizes during an 18-year newspaper career and earned a college degree in midlife without taking out student loans. Donna also writes about the frugal life for her own site, Surviving and Thriving.