husband. dad. new york times money columnist.

How Do You Define a Spoiled Child?

What are we talking about when we talk about “spoiled” kids?

It’s a question that more and more of us are worrying about; witness the huge online reaction to the recent New Yorker essay about spoiled children.

So before I start down the road of researching my book about using money as a tool to raise kids who are the opposite of spoiled, I want to ask you what it is exactly that we’re all so afraid of. After all, just about every kid has episodes or phases of lazy, self-centered behavior. When is that normal, and when does it cross the line?

Here are a five things that seem clear to me so far:

1) Money’s not the cause. Sure, it’s a symptom. After all, it’s easier to spoil children if you can afford to give them everything they want. But spoiling happens when we give in, not just when we give.

2) Context matters. Spoiled children don’t know how good they have it. They’re lacking perspective. They don’t know many people who are not like them, and older ones may not want to know them either.

3) Grandparents spoil kids worst of all. Just sayin. Our parents know exactly what kind of challenges their loose rules will create when the kids are back home with us again, but it’s not their problem at that point.

4) The word is not a weapon. Don’t call your kids spoiled to their face, no matter how angry you get. We’re trying to promote confidence here, not shame. And if we can’t quite define it just yet ourselves, how can we expect them to know what we mean if we hurl the word at them?

5) It’s not a synonym for privileged. Plenty of working class people raise spoiled kids, and lots of wealthy people turn out grounded children. Class is not destiny.

Are there any observations that you would add to the list? Which ones, if any, would you remove? And how much does money ultimately matter in spoiling — and unspoiling — our children?

What do you think?

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