Surprising Saturday: The Myth of the Spoiled Child

Posted 19 April, 2014 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Surprising Saturday: The Myth of the Spoiled ChildThe Myth of the Spoiled Child by Alfie Kohn
Published by Da Capo Press on March 25th 2014
Genres: Child Rearing, Education, Family & Relationships, General, Parent Participation, Parenting
Pages: 280

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange honest review consideration. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Parenting and education expert Alfie Kohn tackles the misconception that overparenting and overindulgence has produced a modern generation of entitled children incapable of making their way in the world.

Confession time: I picked up this book as a hate read. I opened it with the attitude, “This is gonna be a crazy, liberal book on how we ought to be coddling our children and never setting in any boundaries.” 

Rather quickly, through citing studies, statistics, and history – Kohn was able to draw me around to his point of view and I found myself in agreement with many of his assertions. The book opens by pointing out that since the beginning of recorded history people have been saying the same thing about “kids these days”. 

“This time, in other words, things really are different. That’s what people today post in their blogs to get you to take their italicized complaints seriously, and it’s what people were using fountain pens to communicate a hundred years ago for the same reason. Appeals to historical perspective apparently need to be put in historical perspective.”

So after dismantling the assumption that kids these days are lazier, more disrespectful, etc. Kohn turns to the ‘problem’ of helicopter parents and overly permissive parents. Turns out, when you look at the evidence – sure – the helicopter parents are out there and Paris Hilton is still a thing but they’re not the widespread massive problem that the media would like us to think that they are. He argues that because most parents fear being considered overly permissive they tend to overcompensate by being excessively controlling.

So what’s wrong with controlling our children? Kids gotta learn, right? They better get used to it because that’s just how life is, right? Wrong. Kohn points to multiple studies that show the best way to prepare kids for failure and disappointment later in life is not to start young – it’s to boost them up with success early on. After you shake off the chains of that conventional ‘common sense’ – it starts to make a lot less sense. Kohn’s arguments are actually very intuitive. 

“Parenting at its core – or at least at its best – is a process of caring, supporting, listening, guiding, reconsidering, teaching, and negotiating.” 

There’s no doubt that Kohn’s ideas feel radical. He calls for the elimination of sports and activities that pit children against each other. He discusses the harmful effects of the ‘scarcity model’ for child rearing activities and perhaps most radically advocates for the elimination of letter grades and class rankings at all levels of education (but especially for younger children). He coins this parenting style, ‘doing-to’.

“Put it this way: If you were to make an argument against doing-to parenting, it’s unlikely that someone would challenge you by asking, “But if we stopped using rewards and punishments, how could we make sure that our kids will be happy, psychologically healthy, genuinely concerned about others, critical thinkers who will fight against injustice and work for social change?” Instead you would probably hear, “No rewards and punishments?? Then how will we get our kids to do what they’re told, follow the rules, and take their place in a society where certain things will be expected of them whether they like it or not?” Indeed, there is evidence that greater concern about social conformity translates into more punitive and restrictive parenting.”


Now, this book isn’t without its problems. There’s a lot of great theory in here – but very few suggestions on how to actually put things into practice. It’s all well and good to want to raise non-conformists but there are times when I need my three year old to put on her damn shoes. There’s no time to talk or listen to how she feels about it. Kohn offers little advice on how to handle everyday situations like that.  

I don’t buy it all, but I definitely think that there is much in this book worth thinking about and discussing. 

How about you, Reader? Have you ever picked up a book you thought would be ridiculous only to have it convert you? 

April @ The Steadfast Reader


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