I picked up a new book, The Opposite of Spoiled, at the library last week. If you are raising children in the Western, materialistic world, you should read it. Ron Lieber is the “Your Money” columnist at the The New York Times, which is an impressive credential. But credentials don’t mean anything to me unless an author is talking some sense, and Mr. Lieber does just that.

The book discusses all the ways children in our culture are affected by money– family finances, their own personal finances, and what they see going on in their community and social network. If we think they don’t notice our parental arguments about money or how expensive their friends’ homes are, we’re dullards. They notice. Kids notice everything. And the more we can teach them about finances before they’re adults with their own big-time money problems, the better.

This is the general topic of the book, but a small chapter on spoiled children really caught my attention. Lieber points out many parents fear this one character trait more than any other in their children, because it’s our own fault. Children can’t spoil themselves; they need well-meaning but clueless adults to do that to them. And most of us are mature enough to see the terrible consequences of a spoiled child growing into a spoiled adult.

It’s ugly, folks.



Most parents don’t set out to destroy their children’s future, and so some of our kids are becoming spoiled simply because we think we’re doing exactly the good and kind things. Lieber gives these four qualifications of a spoiled child (p. 10). He says they don’t have to be present all at one time, but these are things they have in common:

  1. They have few chores or responsibilities.
  2. There aren’t many rules that govern their behavior or schedules.
  3. Parents and others lavish them with time and assistance.
  4. They have a lot of material possessions.

Let me rephrase:

  • They think life should be easy and fun. For them. Everyone else can work.
  • They think they get to do whatever they want, whenever they want.
  • They think adults exist to entertain them and fix their problems.
  • They have no concept of self-denial.

In short, spoiled children are taught, in small bits each day, to think only of themselves and their own comfort in any given situation.

My blood is running cold at the thought of this; is yours?

Me, me, me. Gimme, gimme, gimme. Now, now, now. 

The solution, as I see it, is simple. Chores teach them to help out and consider the needs of others. Rules and schedules give them boundaries that help them consider the needs of others. Adults are not their servants; they need to teach them to think of the needs of others and to fix their own problems whenever possible. Telling them no teaches them that life will continue if they don’t have everything they desire, which will in turn help them to consider the needs of others.

Parents– we can spoil our kids, or we can help them grown up into thoughtful, mature adults.

Thoughts? What would you like to add to the conversation? I can’t wait to see what you all have to say about this!

Jesus said: I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:11-13)

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11 Comments on How to Tell If Your Kid Is Spoiled (and what to do about it!)

  1. memyselfandkids.com
    May 18, 2015 at 5:48 pm (3 years ago)

    Generally, I don’t think my kids are spoiled. They have but not like crazy. One issue is we need to give them more chores.

  2. Susie Finkbeiner
    May 18, 2015 at 9:12 pm (3 years ago)

    I just bought a new chore chart in anticipation of summer. We’ve always had them help out around the house, but never anything really structured. This summer I’m bringing the heat (doesn’t that sound like a movie tagline with Arnold Schwarzenhoppersoninski…his name is too hard). I’ve got a steep deadline and need the help. I can’t wait to get it started. It’s a relief. They’re excited too because they’re earning money to spend on others for Christmas.

    Thanks for this, Jessie!

  3. Jessie Clemence
    May 18, 2015 at 9:23 pm (3 years ago)

    You’re welcome! Our kids do structured and unstructured chores. The unstructured ones are the times when I’m trying to do three things PLUS write and they’re sitting on their butts. No more butt-sitting!

  4. Vincent Henderson
    May 18, 2015 at 9:51 pm (3 years ago)

    Spouses fight about money? Seriously? I’ll have to tell Michelle that and we’ll have to fight (about money for the first time) so we can be NORMAL. Beyond that…. every friend Kaitlyn has SOMEHOW…. has very rich parents…. in houses double or triple the cost of our own…. Nicks friends all seem to live in trailer parks. Very odd how that works. We take them (Nick and Kaitlyn)downtown about 8 times a year to feed and clothe the homeless….. (which they kind of like)… which helps their eyes to see wider… and (them to) not become too uppity 🙂 Seriously? Spouses fight over money? In real life? Not just on Tv? Is that Biblical?

  5. David
    May 19, 2015 at 2:59 am (3 years ago)

    Well, here goes for another entry in the longest blog comment competition….

    Compared to the way things were when we were growing up our kids have been spoilt, but there is also a huge difference between our first who was born in 1980 and John who was born in 1999. John has some chores, but as the only child left at home sometimes we find it easier to do stuff ourselves. Like cutting the grass. I like it done a certain way, whereas John just wants to get it done. And washing cars – I enjoy spending an afternoon cleaning cars, pottering around, chatting with the neighbours, etc., whereas John would rush through the job just to get it finished.

    We do still have rules, and to be honest apart from the state of his bedroom there isn’t a problem. I think church and youth group have been a big bonus there.

    As for running around after John … well we do not run constantly over to fetch him from school when he has stayed late to do activities (four nights out of five) and cannot come home on the school bus. He is expected to walk (25 mins) to the station and get the train home (one stop), but we have gone soft in our old age and collect him from our station. Not driving over to the school saves a one-hour round trip.

    Regarding time. Having got an early flight home from Dublin yesterday I chilled and watched a movie with John while Marilyn was out (monthly pizza night with four of her friends) and left the work stuff I was going to do in the office. Haven’t done that for a while and I should do it more often. The thing is, I remember that we had far more time to do things with our older children (like walks in the country, swimming and the like) than we have had with our younger children. Perhaps that is why their eyes remain glued to electronic devices?

  6. Jessie Clemence
    May 19, 2015 at 9:25 am (3 years ago)

    I have a hard time passing off certain chores to our kids, too. I like my kitchen to look exactly a certain way at the end of the day and they just aren’t interested in my level of cuckoo-bird crazy. 🙂

  7. Gabrielle
    May 19, 2015 at 8:20 pm (3 years ago)

    Very interesting. My kids bought their Kindles with their own money, but quite frankly it was all birthday and Christmas money, not money they earned. And we have been blessed with many hand me downs from friends, which means I rarely have to buy them clothes, but it also means we have a den FULL of too many toys. We have chores, but not many as they have long school days and busy weekends. I have really backed off assisting them with simple tasks so much, and have them help me more with random requests around the house. (Unload groceries from the car, etc.) At first they balked and gave me attitude, but they are used to it now. We do support charities and missions and I always try to talk about why they need help and how blessed we are. It’s a balance for me.

  8. Jessie Clemence
    May 20, 2015 at 3:55 pm (3 years ago)

    Now that’s a good point– a lot of us have a LOT of things because we live in a land of plenty. And maybe we didn’t even buy the things in the first place. I wonder how that affects the situation.

  9. Denise Stark
    May 25, 2015 at 3:11 pm (3 years ago)

    I feel compelled to join the conversation. My children are grown, married, and starting families of their own. Do I think we did it right? I see evidence that we did it by the way they are as adults and the kinds of parents they are becoming. I do know we didn’t have many problems with the “gimmies”, or the lack of individual responsibilities. All three of them contributed to the success of building a home…the place of comfort, love, and the place we could “hang our hats”.
    I see evidence, however, of unaccountable teenagers in my work place. Middle school. Zero personal responsibility…it’s someone else’s fault. Put that excuse with the parent who doesn’t think their child would ever do anything wrong, because, heaven forbid, they have excellent parenting skills. These same parents work real hard to buy their kids everything their kids want, because, by golly they have good kids! The “I’m never home, I better make it up to them” attitude possbily nets these teenagers the latest in technololgy, fashion, and freedom from parental guidence.
    Gratification is NOW. “I want it now, I deserve it now, everyone else has it now” without the reward of hard work that precedes it, without the benefit of self satisfaction of a job well done,
    Consequence, co-operation, personal responsibilty; vocabulary and ideals missing from our homes. We need to teach that for every action, there is a conseguence. Good nets good, and poor choices of action will result in negative consequences.

  10. Jessie Clemence
    May 25, 2015 at 5:14 pm (3 years ago)

    Amen, Denise! You do have lovely children, by the way. At least the one I know… 🙂

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