August 31, 2009

Drink the Kool-Aid

Filed under: Kids and Life — jenny @ 7:01 am

Did you ever notice how children’s Tylenol tastes like grape Kool-Aid these days? Or bubble gum, or cherry candy, or something else I would’ve saved my dimes to buy as a kid.

This is more than just when-I-was-a-kid-I-walked-uphill-both-ways grumbling, so bear with me.

I am struggling with how child-focused our culture–at least a segment of our culture–has become.  Child indulgent might be the better term.

I am wondering if this is good for the children so focused upon.

When we were in Presque Isle some of the people we met told how twenty years ago when they were in high school, the term was aborted shortly after school started so the kids could pick potatoes ten hours a day. A successful harvest depended on the kids doing work that I would probably find difficult at this age.

Life didn’t revolve around kids and their needs. The kids’ lives revolved around the necessities of the adult world.

It’s tempting to see the pendulum as having swung. I’m not sure that’s the reality, but let me go with it for a while.

When an adult wants a meal out in 2009, she can eat chicken nuggets or a burger because, darn, it’s nice for the kids to have a play yard to amuse themselves in while she gulps down her fries. Or she may even go out to a place like Full Moon if she’s lucky enough for one to exist in her neck of the woods, and order tagine while her kid eats chicken fingers and plays with the toys scattered in lieu of a multi-color pit of slimy plastic balls.

Still, the kids’ needs–or demands–are driving this night.

Kids don’t pick the potato crop. They don’t even have to take bitter tasting medicine anymore. It all tastes like Kool-Aid, and we know how easily that goes down.

When my daughter had a pre-UTI and we gave her straight cranberry juice (I’m not talking Ocean Spray, but the Knudsons Nothing But variety) you would’ve thought we were requiring her to drink ground glass. And it hit me, this kid hasn’t tasted anything–anything–bad in her life.

First the sweetish breast milk we are all encouraged to administer for months or years–and mind, I loved nursing, stopped with an ache in my heart, but the fact remains…what if I had not loved it so? What if I was working out of the home, and my child and her optimal state of nutrition couldn’t come absolutely first? Wouldn’t the troupes come out to tell me I am not doing What My Child Needs?

Then there are the dumplings and eel sushi and Thai green curry, which my kids–weird, I know–actually like, and which does save me from having to eat Whoppers at every meal out. But I didn’t taste these things until I was a big kid, and then maybe once a year or less. Now we go out to eat semi-regularly–and we take our kids. I try to make them behave nicely so the adults less encumbered around us can have a peaceful meal. Don’t always succeed, but I do try.

Not everyone does. Kids need to stand up on the benches. Kids’ voices are naturally loud. Once upon a time, kids were supposed to be seen and not heard. Or at least given a smart swat on the butt when they stood up on chairs. Am I romanticizing that state of things?

Then of course there are the ubiquitous nuggets and tenders and boxed macaroni until we parents (me anyway) don’t know whether we should make a second meal–at least offer toasted cheese–if one night we cook homemade and the kids happen not to like our explorative stew.

What happens if our kids have to eat a meal they hate? Or go to bed hungry?

Are we lucky to have reached a level of plenty–one that largely isn’t even dependent on income; nuggets are cheap, how many kids don’t have plasma or playstations–so that kids don’t have to suffer even puny harms ?

Or do those puny harms achieve something ?

Will our children grow up lacking precisely because they lack so little?

Don’t get me wrong. I adore my kids. I believe my primary job as parent–after caring for and nurturing them–is to help them find their passions so that their days can be fueled with joy. Help them discover who they are.

And I like administering the frills of a lucky childhood, too. We’re far from rich, but my kids do have, for instance, a firetruck and princess bed to assist in their imaginary games of wailing sirens and being trapped in a tower.

I know that worrying is supposed to be the plight of parenthood and I get the nightmare visions, too. But one key area of worry for me is this very subject. Have kids’ lives become too easy, or too…important at a young age?

Or are these the years we parents have to teach them their worth and importance?

I’d love to hear what you think.


  1. Hey Jenny!
    Interesting observations… I’ve definitely thought of these ideas before but not with the same perspective as you. My question is why are we indulging them? Is it because WE (as a generation) felt deprived or neglected as kids? My guess is that many of our peers may have and so they are now overcompensating with their own children… Another thought for you… Why do so many parents put their kids in every extra-curricular activity they can think of or that their schedule (barely)allows for? When I was a kid, I did ballet and violin (with occassional gymnastics and art lessons). That was pretty much it. Having more down time allowed me to develop creativity, in my opinion. Thank God I wasn’t spread thin like so many kids are today… I pray I don’t succomb and over-extend my own kids down the line! I love the blog…keep up the good work, I love the food for thought!

    Comment by Mandy Patrick — August 31, 2009 @ 9:20 am

  2. It’s funny, because as an adult I view those parts of my childhood that were deprived as good things. Money was tight a lot of the time, and I had a job ever since I was 14. I bought my own clothes and college supplies–I was (and am) grateful that my parents could pay for college. Now truthfully, I have no idea how me and my husband will pay for college–it has ballooned into a huge tumor of an expense–but money is not as tight on a daily basis for my kids as it was for me. I don’t know if they realize sometimes that getting to buy a toy or a book is a privilege. How do I teach them that it is when I buy these frills for myself quite regularly? I love your take, Mandy, thanks for stopping by!

    Comment by jenny — August 31, 2009 @ 9:48 am

  3. I did feel neglected as a kid (had good reason to, though), so maybe I overindulge my little ones a bit. But that’s not what you’re talking about, I believe–it is this cultural pampering epidemic, where parents make their kids stop crying in the grocery store by buying them whatever toy it is they want. (The new economy might stop some of that). Also the new epidemic of Chuck E. Cheese’s and play areas, which didn’t exist even as recently as when I was a kid.

    When my son was young, I would insitute a “warning system” of telling him, about 30 minutes before leaving a play area, that we were going to leave in the set amount of time. Then I would remind him every 10 minutes, then 5. This would give him time to adjust. I was fairly strict with him, as well, and so when I said it was time to go, he would come good-naturedly, ready to leave. I can’t count the amount of time other parents stared at me, dumbfounded, thinking I had the greatest kid in the world. The truth is, it was good parenting.

    Freud began the obsession with childhood. Labor laws, child abuse laws, etc, came into play after his day, which are all very good things. However the dark side is the “walk on eggshells” parent who thinks anything they do wrong now will affect the kid’s psychology when he/she is an adult. It results in this crazy pampered world we see, and unfortunately it also results in kids who don’t understand the cause-and-effect of their own actions.

    Comment by sapphiresavvy — August 31, 2009 @ 11:04 am

  4. As a teacher, I see the flip side of our culture’s well-intended but indulgent focus on children.

    1) They are covertly pressured into being worth all the spoiling. The spotlight is always on them. This is tougher than it seems. Also, their expectations of the way life will be after they are 21 are WAY too high.
    2) They feel they are not needed. Kids who still have chores and jobs feel essential to the family. The spoiled ones know, deep down, they are not contributing.

    Kids who are allowed to figure things out on their own (a distinct minority) have more creativity and confidence.
    Many kids don’t even play outdoors anymore. I asked one class of my college students if any of them had ever climbed a tree. Only 5 out of 36 raised their hands. Parents are afraid to let their children make mistakes or get hurt, not realizing they are depriving their kids of the chance to learn the hard lessons that turn us into adults. Much can be learned by climbing trees.

    Don’t even get me started on the topic of fast food . . .

    Comment by Sara — August 31, 2009 @ 11:23 am

  5. love this… so true!

    Comment by Christina Buckley — August 31, 2009 @ 6:37 pm

  6. Wow, the comments on my blog are always much better than the blog posts themselves! These are wise words indeed.

    I wonder if we are all sort of indulged now, or have been up until recently, compared to where things stood in the seventies, gas crisis and all. It seems like people have more now, more money, more education, more insight–Freud indeed–and so we parents have the luxury of questioning and re-questioning our choices and decisions.

    Will all this examination and consideration actually produce better, healthier kids? Or should we just follow Sapphiresavvy’s method, get those kids up and ready when we call, and then as Sara suggests, have them go climb a tree.

    Comment by jenny — August 31, 2009 @ 9:08 pm

  7. Hey Jenny, nice post…definitely an important subject…here’s my 2 cents…

    I do think kids are being pampered and indulged to the point of ego confusion…the world really does revolve around me! Even good kids can be confused by all the mixed messages sent by well intentioned(mostly) adults. My kids are 10, 5 and 3 and I am shocked at what behaviors their peers and their parents display. Plain old disrespect is running rampant and I’m saddened by it. Although I’m sure that I annoy my kids with some of my motherly behaviors, they know I’m doing these things because I love them and they also know that showing contempt for me is wrong and completely inappropriate. I set the rules, they obey them. Although that sounds like I am very strict, it’s actually the opposite, the kids have quite a bit of personal freedom and I trust that they will make good choices. Sometimes they learn that the choices they make have consequences they don’t necessarily want to deal with. It’s my job to help them get over it, move on and make a better choice better next time. Consequences…they work, more than my yelling or indulging, for sure.

    Also, you mention restaurants. This kid-friendly era of a kid meal option at EVERY conceivable type of eating establishment is ridiculous! As a child, my father loved to dine out…mostly for steak and lobster. Thirty years ago, steak houses did not have a child’s menu (mostly because they didn’t want us there! lol), and guess who learned to love filet mignon at an early age?! And (gasp!) salad! My kids love to go out to eat and they know that going is a privilege. I have had numerous people(mostly older people) come to our table and comment on how well behaved my kids are and how nice it is to see kids who can go out to eat at a restaurant. I’m proud of them…they could act just as unruly as their counterparts, but they choose not to because they know it’s inappropriate. My explanation for restaurant behavior is not about us or how it might make us look, but about the other people around us, who came to have a nice meal. They are well behaved not because I *want* them to be, but because it’s the right thing to do. There are other people to consider and if you don’t, you can’t go. Period. The end. If you want to act like a maniac during dinner…I have a picnic table in the front yard you can sit at! lol

    In the end, I think we are all going to suffer this ME generation. Our kids are going to be kinda pissed at us for dropping the ball. I can only hope that those of us who are working against this phenomena win out and have something to smile at, as well as having families we can praise for good public behavior when we’re old.

    Comment by Cooksonmom — August 31, 2009 @ 10:19 pm

  8. Hey Jenn:
    Great topic; was just thinking this yesterday when I felt that I HAD to bring Beth to the lake for a swim before I had to see clients that evening and she had a meltdown because the snow cone my neighbor bought for her melted on her new bag that she made at vacation bible school, not thank you from her lips stating mom I understand that you made time for me to go to the beach in you work clothes mind you so that I could take a swim with my neighborhood friends. But then again she is only six.
    My theory on it is that Indulgent parents believe that their purpose is to give their children a steady stream of fun and happy experiences, believing that painful emotions will destroy their children’s self esteem and that is where I beleive the reality check has to come in to place. Thanks for the email; keep me in the loop.

    Comment by Anne Nedelka — September 1, 2009 @ 2:12 pm

  9. Wow, do I ever agree with this comment. One of the great failures of the past two decades will be, I believe, the self esteem movement. Not that self esteem isn’t important, but the idea that we can develop it (even though we can to a certain extent) has led to facile attempts to do so, or gotten twisted along the way. So there’s a confusion–only good experiences will produce happy, confident children, when the opposite is true. Self esteem comes from a feeling of inner strength and that is bred through discipline and authentic encouragement–not every child gets a trophy, but, I believe you can learn to kick better, and maybe win a trophy next season, honey.

    I could go on and on. Thanks, Anne…

    Comment by jenny — September 1, 2009 @ 5:37 pm

  10. ——————————————————————————–

    Tonight we were watching “Scooby Doo and the Headless Horseman of Halloween.” In it, Shaggy bobs for apples, gets one, and then…OMG he EATS IT. I was actually started to see someone eating an apple at a Halloween party, when so many other treats would be available. Then I realized, in the 70s, somebody probably WOULD eat an apple–they hadn’t been conditioned against it yet. I mean, apples are pretty darned sweet!

    It’s a question of what kids are introduced to.

    (I also took my kids out tonight and was pleased to see Zia raiding my fruit cup. LOL)

    PS You must’ve read my mind. I was going to write a blog about the “princess attitude” decried by some–but I don’t think it’s a princess attitude, but rather, today’s “Diva” attitude that has changed the thoughts of some kids.

    Comment by sapphiresavvy — September 1, 2009 @ 8:18 pm

  11. Concerning eating out in restaurants, I do sometimes think the whole dilemma is forced upon us. On our last vacation, we had planned on eating at a family friendly place that did not take reservations; naturally, the wait was an hour by the time we got there. We proceeded to a lovely restaurant where we were seated before we had the chance to realize that we had made a mistake. It was extremely quiet, most of the clientele consisted of couples, and the food choices were exotic, even for me. We ended up leaving, primarily because I was concerned my three year old would ruin everyone else’s romantic dinner (not necessarily by misbehaving, but because she is three and likes to chatter). It does seem sometimes that restaurants fall into two schools: the chicken tender kids menu variety, or the you better get a babysitter before setting foot in here variety.

    Comment by Susan — September 9, 2009 @ 9:38 pm

  12. I totally agree, and that’s why there’s a need for places like Full Moon in Boston, where a) the kids can eat tenders if they’re shirking sushi these days b) parents can eat something, uh, different and c) nobody cares if they step on your kids when said kids are eating said tenders on the floor. Only problem is there isn’t one here!

    Or should we not even be taking our kids out to eat in the first place? Going out to eat was a twice a year treat for me as a kid, maybe a couple more than that. Are we better off now or then?

    Comment by jenny — September 9, 2009 @ 9:46 pm

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