Taming the brat pack

October 30, 2008

Taming the brat pack

(October 24 2008 at 05:43AM)
By Helen Grange

Marie Henning has three daughters, aged nine, seven and two. She can’t help indulging them, the youngest in particular, but what she’s most concerned about is their “lack of respect” for the toys she buys them.

“They nag me to buy expensive stuff – I mean really expensive – and then two days later I pick it up in the garden, chewed to pieces by the dog,” she says.

It’s not unusual in today’s materialistic world to see children with cellphones, digital cameras, iPods and PlayStation Portables, while their rooms are replete with a flat-screen TV, state-of-the-art computer, the entire Hanna Montana DVD and book collection, and a wardrobe that would make an adult envious.

Each time the little person is in the supermarket, another “present” somehow makes its way into the trolley, along with a chocolate from the wretched row of treats that line the queue. And if you have a boy, there can be no end to the requests for gadgets and PlayStation games.

‘Children are the biggest manipulators on the plane’
Are today’s children spoiled? Have modern parents forgotten how to exercise the discipline they themselves were brought up with? And if so, why?

You need only engage in the world of parenting to realise that “spoiling” children is a real concern for modern parents, who know they are doing it but are helpless to stop themselves.

Part of the problem is that the parenting lexicon has changed quite dramatically: the “be seen and not heard” and “spare the rod, spoil the child” mentality has died and been replaced with a more liberal culture that abhors corporal punishment and consciously encourages confidence and assertiveness.

All good, except that for many parents there is no frame of reference to work from. They feel as though they are blazing a new trail, and the new-age parenting books fail lamentably to give advice that works in real-life situations.

The world itself has also changed.

Where once mothers stayed at home with the children, they now work full days, and often are the main breadwinners. Where once there were big families, single parents are common.

Where once there was simply not enough money to splash out on extras like expensive toys, middle-class people today are much more affluent.

And it’s a free-for-all for advertisers and marketers, who know all too well how to sell their wares to children.

Busi, a mother of two, laments: “Children are the biggest manipulators on the planet, and they are aided and abetted by marketers and advertisers. How do you keep it simple when ‘everyone else’ at school has that thing?”

Keeping up with the Joneses plays as powerful a role today as it ever did, says Jacomien Germishuys, a Pretoria educational psychologist specialising in children and families.

“I find many parents are anxious to have their kids accepted and this includes letting them have the same things as their peers. And they tend to buy stuff as a reward for, say, a good report, instead of doing something pleasurable like going on a boat outing.”

Another strong driver in the buying habit is guilt.

Exhausted working mothers are prone to alleviating guilt feelings over not spending enough quality time with their children by buying stuff, Germishuys says.

“The problem is, the more you do it, the more they’ll nag. You have to say ‘no’, and mean it,” she says.

Television is another huge challenge for modern parents who use it as a convenient babysitter. But how much is too much?

Parents are remarkably divided on this issue, with many happy to allow their little ones hours of viewing a day, and others restricting them to little or no TV.

Cape Town dad Gareth Griffiths says the Disney channel and all the “American tripe” aired on it has become the bane of his life.

“I gave in to family pressure to upgrade to DStv’s so-called premium bouquet. Now the Disney channel blares out full blast, forcing me to take refuge in my local coffee shop,” he groans.

Marie Henning believes it doesn’t help to shut TV out of children’s lives. “I personally think there is nothing wrong with watching TV. I think, in fact, it is a wonderful tool to keep our children informed about the world outside their little world, and prepares them better for life.

“That said, my PVR has a child-lock on all programmes for age groups 16 and up, and I monitor what they watch and when.”

Johannesburg Parent & Child Centre assistant director Jenny Shain says there’s no hard and fast rule regarding passive activities like TV, PlayStation games, Internet surfing and cellphone messaging – except “exercise some control” and “don’t allow unlimited access”, especially where teens are concerned.

“It is important that, whatever you as a parent decide on – be it no TV or a couple of hours of viewing a day – you should follow through and implement that decision. However, the problem with too much monitoring and restricting is it can be difficult for the parent to keep it up,” she warns.

Germishuys points out that the problem with watching TV is it is a passive activity and that children need to be interactive for healthy development.

“We feel good when they are actively socialising, and sitting in front of the TV for hours deprives children of that as well as the ability to engage in imaginative play. Also, children tend to pick up some horrendous manners and attitudes from American shows,” she observes.

Many paediatricians agree that a child over two should be restricted to one or two hours of quality TV programmes a day (no TV for children under two).

It all boils down to setting parameters and sticking to them, agree Shain and Germishuys, difficult though that may be with today’s confident and assertive children.

“Yes, there will probably be a tantrum the first few times you say ‘no’ – kids are masterful at wearing you down – but eventually they will accept it and everyone will be happier for it,” Germishuys says.

More difficult might be finding the time to devote to your child, an essential factor in raising emotionally healthy, well-socialised adults.

“You may be tired – all parents are – but try to make an effort to have conscious interaction with your child daily, maybe doing something active like reading or cooking together or going out for a walk with the dog,” advises Shain.

“Think about the long-term consequences, rather than the short-term peace and quiet you might be getting by letting yourself off the hook. You’ll find, too, that the more effort you put in, the more you’ll start enjoying it too.”

When it comes to buying things, Shain points out that although materialism and a culture of instant gratification are realities in our world – exacerbated by crime and the consequent restriction on kids’ freedom to move around – parents would do well by teaching patience and frugality by living that way themselves.

“Parents themselves are spoiled these days. Many in our increasingly affluent society want for nothing, and buy things they desire on credit.”

Tried and tested rules

# Teach children the value of money. Saving pocket money in a piggy bank for that desired object is the key. It also teaches patience.

# Make an effort to give your children time, not stuff.

# Be consistent. All children need parameters that have to be adhered to.

# Treat siblings equally. Avoid favouring one child over another.

# Reinforce good behaviour. Compliment good behaviour and occasionally reward with “stars” on a star chart, or with an outing.

# Stick to your guns. “No” means “no”.

# Engage and listen to your children. Be there for them. They need your compassion and understanding too.

~uBABY NET 24th October 2008#www.iol.co.za~

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