The Myth of the Spoiled Child

The Myth of the Spoiled Child

Challenging the Conventional Wisdom About Children and Parenting

Book - 2014
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Baker & Taylor
A human behavior and parenting and education expert dispels the prevailing notion that today's parents are raising spoiled and self-entitled children, using logic, social science data and a dose of humor to challenge the complaints of pushover parents. 30,000 first printing.

Perseus Publishing
Somehow, a set of deeply conservative assumptions about children--what they're like and how they should be raised--have congealed into the conventional wisdom in our society. Parents are accused of being both permissive and overprotective, unwilling to set limits and afraid to let their kids fail. Young people, meanwhile, are routinely described as entitled and narcissistic...among other unflattering adjectives.

In The Myth of the Spoiled Child, Alfie Kohn systematically debunks these beliefs--not only challenging erroneous factual claims but also exposing the troubling ideology that underlies them. Complaints about pushover parents and coddled kids are hardly new, he shows, and there is no evidence that either phenomenon is especially widespread today--let alone more common than in previous generations. Moreover, new research reveals that helicopter parenting is quite rare and, surprisingly, may do more good than harm when it does occur. The major threat to healthy child development, John argues, is posed by parenting that is too controlling rather than too indulgent.

With the same lively, contrarian style that marked his influential books about rewards, competition, and education, Kohn relies on a vast collection of social science data, as well as on logic and humor, to challenge assertions that appear with numbing regularity in the popular press. These include claims that young people suffer from inflated self-esteem; that they receive trophies, praise, and As too easily; and that they would benefit from more self-discipline and "grit." These conservative beliefs are often accepted without question, even by people who are politically liberal. Kohn's invitation to reexamine our assumptions is particularly timely, then; his book has the potential to change our culture's conversation about kids and the people who raise them.

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.

Book News
Kohn, author of The Homework Myth and Unconditional Parenting, questions assumptions on child rearing and education, revealing that many of these assumptions are rooted in political and social conservatism. He counters the outrage over participation trophies and self-esteem programs for students and draws on social science data to show that today’s young people do not suffer from inflated self-esteem any more than previous generations. The book is written in an accessible style with a dose of humor for general readers, parents, and educators. Annotation ©2014 Ringgold, Inc., Portland, OR (

& Taylor

Dispels the prevailing notion that today's parents are raising spoiled and self-entitled children, using logic, social science data, and a dose of humor to challenge the complaints of pushover parents.

Publisher: Boston, Mass. : Da Capo Lifelong, c2014
ISBN: 9780738217246
Branch Call Number: 649.7 KOH
Characteristics: vii, 268 p. ;,24 cm.


From the critics

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Jan 14, 2016

In Punished By Rewards (1993), one of Alfie Kohn's more popular books, he makes the case that we can do so much better than relying on the carrot/stick mentality to raise and educate our children. This idea of challenging long-held, potentially damaging beliefs about how children learn has informed Kohn's decades-long body of work.

With The Myth of the Spoiled Child, the target this time is the near-urban legend belief that today's kids are hopelessly coddled and overindulged. You hear the jokes about "Kids these days..." only most aren't joking. My initial impression was that Kohn might be overstating a problem that's been overblown by the media. Using an example from the other end of the spectrum, I've read all about Tiger Moms and accounts like these seem far more suited for stirring up indignation and generating book sales than actually advocating for a paradigm shift in parenting. I'll concede that, real problem or not, the damage could be enough to pose a threat and Alfie Kohn is leading the charge of dissent against what he refers to as the BGUTI (Better Get Used To It) argument. BGUTI is a lazy parting shot leveled at those facing life's hardships, and it almost always says more about the person giving the advice than the one receiving it.

Chapter by chapter, Kohn breaks down the accusations in order to discern what the actual problem is. (e.g. "Kids these days are too entitled!" "Well, what do you mean by entitled? Do you mean too much self-esteem because that's not necessarily a bad thing.") Similar to calling someone out on the baseless conspiracy theories that are often emailed around, Kohn usually discovers that people aren't reacting to real data. They're reacting to an impression that kids don't see the world as they do.

The last chapter, "Raising Rebels," is especially good because it makes the case for raising our children into adults capable of adapting to an ever-changing world. In order to do that, we need to instill values of willful independence, critical thinking, risk taking and to question everything. Otherwise, the result will compliance to a fault and deference to authority without first asking "Why?"

ksoles Jun 21, 2014

Alfie Kohn currently reigns as America's gadfly on parenting and education discourse, constantly challenging popular views with solid evidence to the contrary. His newest book, "The Myth of the Spoiled Child," refutes the prevailing picture both of modern parents as over-involved and indulgent and of children as narcissistic and ill-prepared for adulthood. But Kohn does not argue for permissive parenting here; rather, he offers a point-by-point response to said baseless social criticism. Though Kohn occasionally presents as peeved and defensive towards the researchers he considers biased, he does meticulously discredit prevalent assumptions about falling school standards, pervasive selfishness, and the too-touted benefits of self-discipline and failure.

Kohn astutely points out a longstanding cultural tendency to decry each generation as worse behaved than the last but reminds us that, "Every generation is Generation Me, at least until they grow up." He shows that permissive parenting does not damage children and he debunks what he terms "BGUTI," the viewpoint that kids "Better Get Used To It," ("it" referring to difficult situations and early hardships). Instead, he argues that experiencing success and joy, feeling supported and respected, receiving unconditional care and having a say about what happens in their lives best prepare children to deal with the challenges of the real world.

"The Myth of the Spoiled Child" ends with clear advice: teach children to care about social issues, support their assertiveness and encourage skepticism. Nobly, Kohn pushes parents to raise independent thinkers and analytical dissenters, ones set on questioning the status quo and motivated enough to work towards positive change.

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