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In long run, spoiling kids is less than kind

sandra thompson
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© St. Petersburg Times
published November 2, 2002

I'm one of those unfortunate "would-have, should-have, could-have" people who look back on all the dumb things they've done in their lives and second guess how they might have acted better. Now that the stock market has been rotten for how long, I spend useless time thinking about things I spent money on that I wish I hadn't.

One of those things was a three-day trip to Puerto Rico right before the Christmas holidays -- which means the airfare was top dollar -- so my daughter could take a look at an unpaid internship in graphic design in Old San Juan, where she could also become fluent in Spanish. This idea proved to be utterly worthless. The design firm was one person only -- so she would have been sitting all alone at a computer rather than socializing with artsy Spanish-speaking people. Plus the art school there, we were told, would not be hospitable to a student who was not already fluent in Spanish.

It was stupidly indulgent, but on the spoiling scale of 1 to 10, I rank way down on the list.

It isn't easy not spoiling a kid, especially living in South Tampa. Maybe it's not easy anywhere. And as the kids get older -- even past the age we used to consider "grown up" -- the ante is upped.

I know parents who let their college-age kids roam the globe for a year, all-expenses paid, and once they're back in school give them carte blanche on credit cards, which are billed to the parents. I know parents who've bought their adult kids condos on Bayshore. A girl in my daughter's high school was taken out of school on her 16th birthday so her parents could take her to buy a new BMW. A friend of mine who could ill afford it took his daughter on a cruise for her 16th birthday. A cruise! I thought he was nuts. Buy her a sweater, I said. I mean, this was a guy who drove a 20-year-old car.

Remember the South Tampa girl whose parents bought her a $30,000 rock-climbing wall? It made news because the neighbors objected, but wait a minute; $30,000 so your kid can climb a wall?

My question is this: Why would these kids ever want to grow up? What's the incentive?

Adulthood is a drag in so many ways, all that work and responsibility, but the big advantage is that you get to do whatever you want (as long as you can pay for it). Kids now get to do anything they want -- and they don't have to pay for it.

A while back, after I'd written about bratty little kids, I heard from a mother of three older children. She'd already given up on her 17-year-old, who'd come to expect things like sports cars and spring break trips to Cancun, and saw her 14-year-old picking up on the same expectations.

"Oh my gosh," she said. "We have created not just one monster but two!"

She asks herself and her friends: Why are we doing this?

Why indeed? Are we so fearful our kids can't compete without these things? Is it because we have so little faith in our children's ability to develop into their own kind of human beings without our pushing and pulling in what we think are the right directions?

That trip to Puerto Rico is the least of it, on the would-have, should-have, could-have list. I wish I had some time back with my daughter. I would have given her an allowance in high school and made her stick to it. I would have had her work during the summers rather than send her to art school -- twice! (And it wasn't even her idea.) I would have had her pay for her own gas. I would have taught her to shop the discount stores, to shop sales.

But money was looser then, I was busy, and I guess I wasn't thinking.

We want to make things easier for our kids, but in so doing we make them so much harder in the end.

Because eventually these kids do have to go it alone.

At least I hope so.

- Sandra Thompson is a writer living in Tampa. She can be reached at City Life appears on Saturday.

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