A new word for spoiling  

Posted by Denis Haack in

Joan Acocella reviews some books on parenting in “The Child Trap,” which appeared in the November 17, 2008 issue of The New Yorker. (You can read her piece here.) She begins by pointing out a simple fact—it’s not called “spoiling” anymore:


We’ve all been there—that is, in the living room of friends who invited us to dinner without mentioning that this would include a full-evening performance by their four-year-old. He sings, he dances, he eats all the hors d’ oeuvres. When you try to speak to his parents, he interrupts. Why should they talk to you, about things he’s not interested in, when you could all be discussing how his hamster died? His parents seem to agree; they ask him to share his feelings about that event. You yawn. Who cares? Dinner is finally served, and the child is sent off to some unfortunate person in the kitchen. The house shakes with his screams. Dinner over, he returns, his sword point sharpened. His parents again ask him how he feels. It’s ten o’clock. Is he tired? No! he says. You, on the other hand, find yourself exhausted, and you make for the door, swearing never to have kids or, if you already did, never to visit your grandchildren. You’ll just send checks.


This used to be known as “spoiling.” Now it is called “overparenting”—or “helicopter parenting” or “hothouse parenting” or “death-grip parenting.” The term has changed because the pattern has changed. It still includes spoiling—no rules, many toys—but two other, complicating factors have been added. One is anxiety. Will the child be permanently affected by the fate of the hamster? Did he touch the corpse, and get a germ? The other new element—at odds, it seems, with such solicitude—is achievement pressure. The heck with the child’s feelings. He has a nursery-school interview tomorrow. Will he be accepted? If not, I how will he ever get into a good college?...


Overparented children typically face not just a heavy academic schedule but also a strenuous program of extracurricular activities—tennis lessons, Mandarin classes, ballet.


It’s interesting how closely today’s Christians mirror cultural values and practices when it comes to parenting. In fact their anxiety is actually heightened, since on top of everything else they must also protect their children from the dangers of an increasingly post-Christian society.


It’s also interesting how St Augustine and Katherina von Bora—to name just two out of the myriad who could be named—did so well without having any of these childhood advantages. Must have been a fluke.


This entry was posted at Monday, May 18, 2009 and is filed under . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .


Lord have mercy. I know people just like that. (And I hope it's not me.)

May 19, 2009 at 7:43 AM

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