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Parents: 5 Ways Not To Raise A Spoiled Brat


In Manhattan the other day, Buff and I ran into our friend Tiffany just as she was wrapping up a meeting with Stephen, the adult son of a mutual friend. The young man didn’t stick around, but instead greeted us with a “hi-bye” wave as he jumped into the brand new Toyota Prius he received for graduation.

We listened intently as Tiffany detailed the lunch conversation she’d had with Stephen, who was frustrated because, despite his bright, shiny degree, he couldn’t find a job. Not one, single job. Tiffany offered some suggestions, none of which piqued the interest of the young grad; not in his field, not enough money, not enough prestige.  I felt sorry for Stephen, not because he couldn’t find a job, but because he couldn’t find a clue. Then I got a little pissed at his entitled attitude.

But was it his fault? I recalled a phone call I had with his mother, Sarah, a few months earlier as she was pounding the pavement and making contacts for her son. Yes, I know how that sounds!

Sarah, too, was frustrated by the lack of jobs and wondered aloud about why some people (like reality stars) were enjoying fame and fortune while her educated son was back at home in the room he grew up in. Really?

All right listen parents! Unless you want your kids living with you for the rest of your natural life, you’d better get a big, hairy clue and when you’re done with it, pass it along to your youngsters who are also in dire need. I’m no expert but I came up with five things parents need to do to NOT raise entitled brats.

1. STOP HOVERING! Good God, let ‘em breathe! Of course I’m speaking figuratively – and by breathe I mean let them out of your sight every now and again. I’ll never forget how stunned I was listening to two women talk at the start of the school year about whether they were going to let their kids walk the half-mile home or pick them up everyday. I’m talking 11 and 12 year olds walking on the sidewalk and crossing no major streets. There was very little potential for harm, barring some freak accident, yet the upside would have been huge. Being on their own, for even that short walk, entrusting them with a bit of responsibility would have primed the pump for the bigger stuff down the line. Learn to be a safety net instead of a safety harness.

2. DON’T GIVE THEM EVERYTHING: When I turned 18, I was dying for my working class parents to give me a car for my birthday. Of course they did not; we simply couldn’t afford it. At the time I thought it cruel that they didn’t do everything in their power to raise the money so they could buy me a set of wheels. It wasn’t until I watched Stephen drive off in his brand new Prius that I realized which of us really got shortchanged.

See, while at college I worked in a clothing store for minimum wage. It took me the better part of six months to earn the down payment for a 1977 Toyota Corolla and then I had to pay 189 bucks a month for a year to pay it off. The interior was worn, the leather seats had a few rips and the sun had damaged the dashboard but you know something? I treated that car like GOLD! It may have been old but it was clean inside and out and I was always on time with maintenance.  Because that car represented the fruits of my labor and I knew if I didn’t care for it, it would be a long time before I could afford another one. My parents whether intentional or not, taught me the value of hard work and of a dollar. I’d be willing to bet Stephen doesn’t have the same connection with his Prius that I had with my Corolla.

3. MAKE SURE YOUR KIDS KNOW THEY ARE NOT THE CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE: When you first bring that adorable little baby home from the hospital, it’s hard to imagine that something so small could be so controlling. But it’s true and they’ll run your house and your life with a balled up baby fist if you let them. Buff and I made a real effort then – and still do now – to make sure Casey and Cole know they are a PART of a family unit. We like to view our arrangement as a benevolent dictatorship; we, the king and queen, are kind to the loyal subjects but they must always remember it is still a dictatorship and what we say goes. As they get older we allow them to have more say on some issues, especially as they pertain to them. But the fact remains, if anyone’s runnin’ the show around here, it’s us, not them.

4. TEACH THEM LIFE IS NOT LINEAR: The part of the conversation with Tiffany that really pissed me off was when she talked about how Stephen thought so many jobs were beneath him. He couldn’t possibly get a job at Starbucks because it would take away from his ‘job’ of looking for a job – and you can see the kind of success he was having there.

I always remember hearing a pastor once say, “You can’t steer a still ship.” In other words, get going! Go in any direction because at least you’re moving. If it’s the wrong direction, you can change it up, but to sit and do nothing will get you nowhere.  Stephen needs to know that there are universal skills that he could learn at Starbucks then take to his “real” job when he gets it. Oh and by the way, doesn’t he know who’s buying coffee early in the morning on their way to catch their train?

5. LET THEM FAIL: This lesson is the hardest of all and yet I think one of the most important. It’s heartbreaking to watch your kid struggle and suffer and it’s our nature as parents and protectors to want to swoop in and “make it all better”. But that doesn’t make it better, it makes it worse by inadvertently teaching your child that you will always be there to smooth problems over and make them right. Letting your kids fail teaches in the most tangible way, what works and what doesn’t. They learn responsibility, how to plan better and what to do next time to avoid the same outcome. And guess what? They’ll survive. Wait. I’ll go you one better. I’ll bet they actually THRIVE with failure as a teacher.

So take these words of common sense from your Good Enough Mother. The truly sad thing is the people who would benefit most from seeing this, Stephen and his parents to name a few, wouldn’t even recognize themselves in this piece. The rest of you, prescient enough to make a change if need be, consider this a public service announcement. Do yourself and the world a favor. Don’t raise a brat.

But what about you? Do you agree with the advice laid out here? What would you add to the list? And what’s been your experience with kids who “have it all”?

Start commenting everyone…





  1. Jen

    June 7, 2011 at 9:49 am

    So true about letting them fail. Due to my job choice (journalism) I had to move to a very small town right after graduation and work for next to nothing. I ran up about $10,000 in credit card debt during two years. But I looked at my debt, changed my spending habits and lived lean and paid it all off in 5 years without damaging my credit. A hard thing to deal with but I had a crash course in finances and have changed my spending habits for the better. If my parents had coddled me or bailed me out, I wouldn’t have learned a thing.

  2. Mike McGinley

    June 7, 2011 at 12:13 pm

    Rene, I love this piece of advice.

    While I’ve been fortunate enough that my parents have always treated me well, I worked part-time in a grocery store through high school and college, working as many hours a week as I could to pay my own way and contribute my part. In college, I did four unpaid internships, landed my job at a newspaper without any help from my parents and eventually moved on to the current marketing role I have now, with no help from any family member but myself. Point being: I’m lucky that my parents always have my back financially and emotionally, but I doubt they would had I not shown some sort of motivation from an early age. I tried to never think bagging groceries or working the obituary shift was beneath me, rather I tried to view these times as situations that would help somewhat build my character and prepare me for other jobs done the road. It’s not to say that every now and then I didn’t complain, because I did, but I think those times helped me build character, too.

    Hats off to you on a great post!

  3. Alicia Webster

    June 14, 2011 at 8:44 am

    I agreed with everything that you said. I had to laugh when you used the term “benevolent dictatorship” because that is the term that my husband uses. Unfortunately for us, while we were enjoying the tyranny, there was some sort of mutiny and now the savages are running the ship. We are trying hard to restore order, but it would would have been easier had we not ceded our thrones to begin with. I also laughed about the car discussion, because my husband and I have discussed this in the past. When I was in high school (1984-1987), our school parking lot was filled with clunkers (and most didn’t belong to the teachers). I can’t recall any parent buying his or her kid a new car. It just wasn’t done, or at least not in my little town. So you’d see these sad old cars with no hub caps, covered in primer, seats with springs poking through, etc. but nobody cared. The kids at my school were overjoyed just to be driving something, and they didn’t care what it was. The one lone exception was the poor kid who had an old hearse to drive. Few parents had new cars either. I think the thinking was, “If I can’t afford a new car for myself, then Junior sure as heck isn’t getting one. “

  4. Elisa Malinovitz

    June 14, 2011 at 8:59 am

    Ohhhh how I’d like to share this article with someone who really needs to take it to heart. When the damage is done, it’s really difficult to repair, and the one who truly suffers is the adult child. Thrust into a world s/he has no tools to deal with. I too paid for my own cars…the first was an old Chevy Vega. Burned oil like it was, well gas. But I kept up the maintenance, paid for a new altinator, th insurance, the gas, everything. Of course once my father saw how responsible I was he couldn’t help but chip in and reupholster the interior for me…but I didn’t ask him to and was extremely grateful for the gift. And yes, the true gift may have been that he didn’t sacrifice and buy it for me.

  5. Dano

    July 11, 2012 at 1:33 pm

    Love it!

    The potential downside, though, is that even with the tough love, sometimes they still grow up with their heads in their butts.

    I look forward to seeing how my currently slacker young adult kid handles his kids, and I wonder how Stephen will handle his kids, too.

    It’s the circle of life, I guess. I figure there were some cavepeople parents a million years ago wondering why they shared their berries and womp rat meat with their annoying kid who didn’t want to go hunt and gather with them. :\

  6. Dave M

    July 11, 2012 at 2:05 pm

    I can relate here. I don’t coddle my kids, far less now than before. My wife spoiled the kids but they never seem to miss that attitude now that she’s gone. They miss her more than they miss the “stuff”. But even then, they saw what I went through to make us survive.
    When I left a job doing insurance videos for a living to go back into journalism I had to pay for a wife in school and a newborn. I delivered newspapers at 2am, worked full time, then gigged in a band whenever I could. I was young, had energy, and yeah – I HATED the newspapers. But we ate. Sometimes you do what you have to in order to survive. I get that you have a degree and want a job in that industry but come on…the parents need to let them be hungry. It’s how you appreciate it when you’re not.

  7. Stacey M

    July 11, 2012 at 3:51 pm

    For us it’s more than just a “parenting style,” it’s who we are, it’s our life style. Doug and I don’t give ourselves everything, we aren’t lavish. We were raised by hardworking single moms and are grateful for all we did have. We both grew up happy and don’t feel “deprived.” My son is happy, imaginitive, friendly, intelligent, polite and empathetic

    It’s not just about doing themselves a favor by not raising better kids, do ALL of us a favor and raise better kids. They will be our employees, bosses, students, teachers, bankers, money makers, doctors, patients, restaurant servers, bus drivers, and most importantly voters of the future.

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Combing the aisles at Target in search of the best deal on Cheerios, it hit Rene Syler like the stench of a dirty diaper on a hot summer’s day. Not only is perfection overrated its utterly impossible! Suddenly empowered, she figuratively donned her cape, scooped up another taco kit for dinner and Good Enough Mother was born.

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