Q. It's the dog days of summer and I'm out of ideas to entertain my kids. For the past week, I feel like all I do is open my wallet and shell out more money to keep them from complaining. They are bored and plugged into electronics all day. My suggestions for things to do seem old fashioned and "lame" to them. There are six weeks left of summer and my children are turning into spoiled brats, but I'm afraid of their reaction if I say no to their requests for new games and expensive activities. I just want them to be happy, but I'm starting to feel like a parenting failure. Is there a way to halt the "gimmes" and get them to appreciate the things I have already done for them?
A. When my children were younger and complained to me that their summer days were boring, I always offered a few exciting suggestions: "You could clean the garage, empty the dishwasher, or go outside and play. You pick." Suddenly, going outside sounded pretty good. Buying our way out of boring summer days is not only expensive, it also will have long-term consequences beyond the hit to our family budgets.
Consumerism is so ingrained in our young people that their materialism no longer seems odd or unusual, and most kids simply expect that their parents will buy them what they want if it means the children will be happy.
Spoiling our children — that is, buying them nearly everything they want, more than they need, at their request or without being asked — is contributing to the attitude of entitlement that our kids often exhibit in other areas of their lives.
Parents cite all sorts of reasons for spoiling children — they want them to "fit in" with their friends, they want to make up for being too busy with work or other obligations, they think making their kids happy is most important, and sometimes, they just don't think it matters. Don't be offended, but in this case spoiling your children frankly reflects lack of creativity and parental authority.
Keep in mind that spoiled kids miss out on the chance to develop attitudes, behaviors and competencies around working, saving, making plans, and setting and achieving their goals. If we give children everything they want, they'll keep wanting more and more because the "wanting" is part of the process of looking forward. It's the trigger for making goals that must be accomplished through personal effort.
We need to remember that saying "no" to our children often is in their best interests. If we're committed to doing what is best for them — what's right and will reap the most reward in the future — we must say "no." Often. And mean it.
But there's more to stopping the cycle of spoiling our children than just saying "no." We need to regroup on the issues of money and materialism, and summer is a great time to do this. Call a family meeting and say, "We want to change the way we make decisions about buying and owning stuff. We aren't going to keep spending your way out of being bored. We want you to enjoy the challenge of getting things for yourself. You deserve the satisfaction that comes with setting a goal for yourself and saving to achieve your desires."
This skill isn't just important in consumer habits, but in all facets of their lives. So it's a big one that we must teach if we want our kids to be genuinely happy.
The term "spoiled brat" used to be among the worst insults that could be hurled at a child. These days, it's a phrase emblazoned on T-shirts and worn with an odd sense of pride.
If you're feeling like the National Bank of Mom and Dad, and not a parent whose hard work and provision are appreciated by your children, perhaps it's time to step away from the credit card and remind the kids that all the stuff in the world can't replace the happiness that comes from not needing any of it.
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