Is Your Child Spoiled Rotten?
Experts tell parents how to decode the spoiled child.
When Junior and his mother walk into the doctor's waiting room,
there are two seats available: a big chair for grown-ups and a stool for kids.
Junior takes the adult seat, and starts to throw a tantrum after Mom asks him
to move. With resignation, she squats onto the little seat.
This scenario is not so uncommon, says Barton Schmitt, MD, a
pediatrician at the Children's Hospital in Denver. In his office, he sees kids
wield power over their parents at least a couple of times a week. Sometimes
it's a preschooler who's emptying out his mother's purse, taking out all of her
credit cards. Another day it's a tot who's stretching out her father's glasses.
In each instance, the kid gets his way, even after some parental protest.
Some people may call these children spoiled.
Schmitt suspects that about 5% of kids are spoiled in that they
lack discipline, are manipulative, and are generally bothersome. His estimate,
however, may be far too generous, if one author's research proves accurate.
In 2000, Dan Kindlon, author of Too Much of a Good
Thing, interviewed more than 1,000 parents, and roughly 650 teenagers, and
found that 60% of parents thought their kids were spoiled, and 15% of teens
thought they, themselves, fit the bill.
Kindlon did not ask his subjects what they thought the term
"spoiled" meant, but he believes that they would all have different
answers -- as did many of the child-development experts interviewed by
"A spoiled child has the 'I want, I want, I want'
syndrome," says Charles L. Thompson, PhD, professor of educational
psychology and counseling at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. "His
philosophy of life would sort of be 'Life is not good unless I'm getting my own
The word "spoiled" has many different meanings in
different cultures, says Lane Tanner, MD, associate director, division of
developmental and behavioral pediatrics at the Children's Hospital and Research
Center in Oakland, Calif.
"Very often a grandparent will shake her head with a grin,
and say 'My daughter is spoiling that baby so bad,' and that's praise,"
A spoiled kid is someone who sits inside on a cold day --
sipping hot chocolate and watching TV -- while her dad shovels snow in the
driveway, says Kindlon. He notes that such children often feel entitled not to
have to contribute to responsibilities. They also usually have parents that
emotionally indulge them -- for example, excusing them from chores because they
already have a tough school schedule.
"What's spoiled for one parent may not be for another,"
says George Cohen, MD, a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics'
committee on the psychosocial aspects of child and family health. "Many
parents think what their kid is doing is okay. Others are much
Whatever one's primary definition of spoiled is, arguably,
there are children who could use a bit more discipline. They usually find it
hard to share, wait their turn, appreciate what they have, and accept that they
cannot always get their way.
Life, for these kids, is often difficult, says Schmitt.
"They are constantly in a tug of war with their environment," he
explains. "They keep smashing into walls because they are living in a world
that's different from the real world."