The rod of correction imparts wisdom, but a child left to himself disgraces his mother. – Proverbs 29:15
Despite the fact that millions of children around the globe grow up in acute poverty, most children in our society have far more than they need. We are raising a whole generation of children who can only be called spoiled. We parents are often quick to blame the materialism of society at large, or the steady diet of commercials our children see daily, but in actual fact the problem begins long before our children are exposed to any of these forces. In my experience, pampered children are the product of pampered parents – parents who insist on always getting their own way, and whose lives are structured around the illusion that instant gratification brings happiness.
Children are spoiled not only by an overabundance of food, toys, and clothing, but by giving in to their whims. This is bad enough when they are still in the playpen, but as they grow older, the problem gets much worse. Children who feel relatively certain that they will get their way are bound to put up a good fight when their wishes are frustrated or denied, and their demands can quickly define their entire relationship with their parents. How many harried parents spend all of their energy simply trying to keep up with their children’s demands? And how many more give in to their children just to keep them quiet?
Children are also pampered when they are given too many choices. Of course children need to learn to make decisions, but those who constantly offer them an array of choices – whether between foods, flavors, drinks, or activities – do them a grave disservice. Children who face three different brands of cereal at the breakfast table are no happier than those whose food is set before them. Too much choice breeds indecision, finicky eating behaviors, and ungratefulness. In fact, children crave limits. When their boundaries are clearly defined, they thrive.
It is also possible to spoil children by over-stimulating them. Though children should be exposed to a variety of activities wide enough to keep their attention and to encourage their imagination, we do them a disservice if we feel obliged to offer them a constant diet of new thrills and experiences. They must learn that in real life, there are many things they simply cannot do or have.
If given too much reign, children will become little tyrants at home and at school, and as they grow older, they will go to any length to get what they want. All too soon they will be impulsive, demanding teenagers, and what was once plain discontent is now unmanageable rebellion.
How, then, can we raise our children without pampering them? From the Book of Proverbs to the journals of modern medicine, the wisdom is the same: discipline your child. Set boundaries, say “no” as often or more often than you say “yes,” and do not feel sorry for your children when they throw a tantrum and turn away with sullen disappointment. Even if the going is at first tough, well-disciplined children will end up as appreciative, considerate, and self-assured adults – whereas those who get their way will be insecure, selfish, and dishonest.
Paul compares God to an earthly parent, and writes that God disciplines and chastises those whom he loves (Heb. 12:6). If we really desire to love our children as God loves us, we will do the same.
From Why Children Matter by Johann Christoph Arnold.