American kids are spoiled. That's the conclusion of a recent spate of books, scholarly research and even opinion polls published in the United States – and is the focus of an intriguing New Yorker article that charts this new terrain of anxiety. [Read Spoiled Rotten here]
"With the exception of the imperial offspring of the Ming dynasty and the dauphins of pre-Revolutionary France, contemporary American kids may represent the most indulged young people in the history of the world," writes Elizabeth Kolbert Yes, there's the stuff – "clothes, toys, cameras, skis, computers, televisions, cell phones, PlayStations, iPods" – but more so a wilful idleness. This is the kid who just won't tie his shoelaces, can't be bothered to get up and get herself a spoon, and needs to be coaxed and cajoled for hours into taking a bath.
'Those Americans!' we might sniff in condescension. We prefer to think we are sensible Asian parents, a la Amy Chua's Tiger Moms, unlikely to tolerate such uppity behaviour. Sure, we may buy them way too much stuff. But isn't it the prerogative of all upwardly mobile parents to give their kids more than they received as a child? But, hey, we wring a high price for those goodies by pushing our kids relentlessly to succeed, riding them like racehorses through the right schools, tuition classes, best colleges, and finally, the fancy job. No mollycoddling our spawn unlike loosey-goosey Americans who tolerate deadbeat children who get crap grades, fool around and do drugs.
Or so goes the stereotype. The reality, however, is that the affluent 'helicopter parent' in the United States is a lot like Minoo Auntie next door. Kolbert cites “A Nation of Wimps: The High Cost of Invasive Parenting” by Hara Estroff Marano who argues:
High-powered parents worry that the economic opportunities for their children are shrinking. They see a degree from a top-tier school as one of the few ways to give their kids a jump on the competition. In order to secure this advantage, they will do pretty much anything, which means not just taking care of all the cooking and cleaning but also helping their children with math homework, hiring them S.A.T. tutors, and, if necessary, suing their high school...
The products of all this hovering, meanwhile, worry that they may not be able to manage college in the absence of household help. According to research conducted by sociologists at Boston College, today’s incoming freshmen are less likely to be concerned about the rigors of higher education than “about how they will handle the logistics of everyday life.”
Sound familiar? If anything, Indian parents are often far worse in these matters. All family life in a middle class household revolves around the child's academic needs. I've lost count of the number of times that friends and relatives have politely refused dinner invitations with the excuse, "My son is in the 12th" – as though a decent board exam result requires parents (usually mother) hovering in suspended animation in the background, ready to serve the little genius' slightest need for an entire year. After all, how can our beta be expected to make his own tea, answer the doorbell, or tolerate a house guest when he's mugging for that Physics test.
But it doesn't end there.
Indians are the ultimate helicopter parents, constantly hovering over our children throughout their life. When their 23-year old daughter took her first job, my cousins dutifully found her a flat, vetted her room-mates, paid the security deposit, and fully furnished the space from the pressure cooker to the bedsheets. All she had to do was move in. A friend nearly spent as much time as her daughter in the UK last year – but only one of them was doing a graduate degree in mathematics.
Then again, most of us keep our child tied to the pallu until they meet Mr/Ms Right – and wait patiently for our turn to tend to their children. Surely, we didn't invest so much of ourselves in our kids just to see them chuck it all away to change diapers? And finally, when we're too old to help, they don't even need to take care of us.
While Americans worry about their children being too spoiled, we Indians can think of no greater life achievement than to raise a laadla beta. Modern-day Indian parenting is a peculiar combination of high and low expectations. Saat khoon maaf as long as Bunty comes first class first. The result are children who feel no responsibility except to succeed. And we call that good parenting.