Why are American Kids So Spoiled

In 2004, anthropologist Carolina Izquierdo, from the UCLA, spent several months with the Matsigenka, a tribe of about twelve thousand people who live in the Peruvian Amazon.  The tribe hunt monkeys and parrots, grow bananas and yucca, and build houses that they roof with a particular palm tree.  On an expedition into the jungle for leaf gathering, a member of another family, Yanira, asked to accompany the anthropologist and another family. Twice daily Yanira swept the sand off sleeping mats, stacked the leaves for transport, and for dinner she fished for crustaceans which she cooked and served to others.  Carolina recalled that Yanira asked for nothing.  But the true reason that Yanira's behavior made such an impact on the was that at the time of the trip Yanira was just six years old. Carolina later became involved in a study in the US involving 32 middle class families from the Los Angeles area.  Carolina and another anthropologist, Elinor Ochs, were highly interested in how parents in different cultures taught their children to assume adult responsibilities.  In the observed families, none of the children routinely performed household chores without being told to and usually had to be begged to do simple tasked.  Some still even refused.  One encounter between a father and an 8 year old boy became somewhat typical.  The 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 an article submitted to Ethos, the journal of the Society of Psychological Anthropology, they describe Yanira’s conduct during the trip down the river and a child's exchange with his dad about tying his shoelaces. “Juxtaposition of these developmental stories begs for an account of responsibility in childhood,” they wrote. Why do Matsigenka children “help their families at home more than L.A. children?” And “Why do L.A. adult family members help their children at home more than do Matsigenka?”
In the US so little is expected of kids that even adolescents may not know how to operate the many labor-saving devices their homes are filled with. Their incompetence results in less and being asked of them (which leaves them more time for video games). Referring to the Los Angeles families, Ochs and Izquierdo wrote, “Many parents remarked that it takes more effort to get children to collaborate than to do the tasks themselves.” The cycle of wanting a child's admiration and approval is a complete 180 degree turn from just a generation ago when children were expected to gain their parent's approval and admiration. US parents at the end of the day want to be liked and get worn out trying to change bad behavior and simply end up letting it happen because its simpler in the here and now.

Leave a comment

All comments are moderated before being published