American children are precociously spoiled. A large percentage of the growing generation has comically high expectations, and strong demands of the world. Yet, there is no evidence to show a rise in the number of exceptional people with the discipline to actualize these lofty visions. Entitlement abounds. The youth wants the most, the best, the fastest, forever. In “Spoiled Rotten,” Elizabeth Kolbert writes for The New Yorker, “With the exception of the imperial offspring of the Ming dynasty and the dauphins of pre-Revolutionary France, contemporary American kids may represent the most indulged young people in the history of the world.”
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.
This hasn’t always been the case, and the change isn’t just the result of rising materialism. Yes, children today are plagued by an unprecedented amount of stuff. Parents buy their children toys and goods until there isn’t space left in their homes. The glut of items expands as children age. Trophies, dioramas, play-sets, video games, and whatnot litter the floor and nooks of American homes. Photographs, awards, ribbons and banners cover nearly every exposed surface. American children don’t stick to their bedrooms, they dominate the living rooms, and kitchens. Their identities define a home. Any person from the outside looking in sees a house built and run for children.
It’s a specific attitude fueling kids in America to reach new levels of entitlement. It’s a combined mental effort between parent and child to cultivate overwhelmingly kid-centric culture. Kolbert writes of American children:
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. “Parents want their kids’ approval, a reversal of the past ideal of children striving for their parents’ approval,” Jean Twenge and W. Keith Campbell, both professors of psychology, have written. In many middle-class families, children have one, two, sometimes three adults at their beck and call. This is a social experiment on a grand scale, and a growing number of adults fear that it isn’t working out so well: according to one poll, commissioned by Time and CNN, two-thirds of American parents think that their children are spoiled.
This trend in adolescent entitlement has inspired a wave of parenting books and literature all aimed at taking back parental. The Price of Privilege, The Narcissism Epidemic, Mean Moms Rule, and A Nation of Wimps are examples of popular, yet aggressive, titles on the market. Generally, by the time parents read these books, it’s too late. Their children have been raised in a certain way, and have trained their parents to be subservient to their authority. These titles act as a pillow for parents out of control, looking for ways to get their angelic kids back—as if that was something had, but then lost.
Too often, this bravado American children carry is inspired by the climate parents carefully craft to protect their children. Sally Koslow, a former editor-in-chief of McCall’s, personally experienced her son’s transformation into “adultescence” when he moved back into her apartment after four years of college and two years on the West Coast.
“Our offspring have simply leveraged our braggadocio, good intentions, and overinvestment,” Koslow writes in her new book, Slouching Toward Adulthood: Observations from the Not-So-Empty Nest (Viking). They inhabit “a broad savannah of entitlement that we’ve watered, landscaped, and hired gardeners to maintain.”
This nurtured savannah is the result of parents being beyond careful with their children because they anticipate the precise details of their parenting will have a direct impact on the trajectory of their children’s successes and failures. Madeline Levine is a psychologist who specializes in treating young adults. She told The New Yorker:
“Never before have parents been so (mistakenly) convinced that their every move has a ripple effect into their child’s future success,” she writes. Paradoxically, Levine maintains, by working so hard to help our kids we end up holding them back.
“Most parents today were brought up in a culture that put a strong emphasis on being special,” she observes. “Being special takes hard work and can’t be trusted to children. Hence the exhausting cycle of constantly monitoring their work and performance, which in turn makes children feel less competent and confident, so that they need even more oversight.”
Humans are unique in that we are “altricial”—compared to other apes, humans are immature at birth. This accounts for a “prolonged juvenile period,” says Melvin Konner, a psychiatrist and anthropologist at Emory University. This delayed period allows for humans to develop and accumulate experience slowly allowing for the growth of social structures and the acquisition of language. The human mind doesn’t complete maturation until around age 27. It isn’t beyond biology for twenty-somethings to be in the middle of a phase of mental development. It’s the level of disregard for discipline that’s unprecedented.
The unambitious, socially defunct, and undisciplined have been conditioned to get what they want with little effort of their own. Perhaps, the preceding generations are at fault, but nurture can only direct a person to a point. The American youth has authority, standing, and opportunity. To whom will we make demands 30 years from now? Will anyone answer at all?