Last weekend at a local heartland mall, my girlfriend and I saw something that deeply furrowed our brows. This little girl who couldn’t be any more than six years old was standing in front of a mirror ordering her helper around.
“Take the soap for me. Wash my hands,” she demanded sternly. “If you don’t, I tell mommy, ah!” she threatened the helper, who duly completed each of her orders.
This prompted my girlfriend and me to discuss: Are children today more entitled than ever before? Given what we had just witnessed, we felt that children today are entitled, but neither of us have children or have worked with children to state that with real authority. Which is why The Pride approached professionals whose work it is to deal with children.
“Yes,” said one principal of a local early childhood school unequivocally. Jennifer Lim* said that the classroom – where the children are between the ages of two and six – is the scene of a power struggle between teachers and tyrant toddlers, with the latter usually relying on their parents to back them up.
Lim, 27, has been in the industry for nine years after diving straight into the working world after her first diploma. Over the past few years, as the millennial generation have started to build families at the ages of 24 to 35, she noticed a difference in how her students behaved.
“Children are getting smarter, more intelligent, and developing a voice at a much earlier age, even at two or three, in some cases,” explains Lim. “These children know that you, the teacher, might be bigger than they are, but they also know that their parents are bigger than you.”
The shift in parenting styles from our grandparents to the current generation of parents may also factor into the reasons why more children are entitled.
“Children don’t listen to their parents anymore; parents listen to their children,” added Ong Ping, a former childcare centre principal who now owns an early childhood centre.
Ong, 41, who has spent a combined 15 years in the early childhood profession in the US and in Singapore, notes that entitled children are a symptom of the affluence that countries like Singapore have come to enjoy.
Ong explained that when she was growing up, the generation before had gone through much more hardship, so there wasn’t much opportunity for kids to act entitled because the parents understood the struggle. But now, with more opportunity and wealth, parents feel it is a duty to provide only the best for their children.
However, just because the parent can provide all the child’s material needs does not necessarily mean they are providing the best for the child’s development.
“There is a difference between giving your best and over-providing. If you’re giving in to all your child’s whims and fancies, you are doing more harm than good,” Ong explains.
She warns that giving in to the child all the time could lead to problems down the road.
One possible scenario is when educators may try to encourage healthy eating or social activities at school, and parents request that their children be allowed to sit out if they do not wish to participate. As a consequence, these children miss out on the opportunity to pick up social skills and may even become more prone to developing poor eyesight from being cooped up indoors for too long.
Another factor that contributes to toddlers becoming tyrants is the tendency of parents to depend too much on foreign domestic workers.
“Many parents in Singapore have domestic helpers who cook, clean, tie the child’s shoelaces, bring them water, and so on. This is a form of over-providing because the child doesn’t learn anything by being spoon-fed,” says Ong.
“The issue is top down,” she adds. “Children model their behaviour after their parents. From an early age they are watching and learning how their parents speak, behave, and react through verbal and non-verbal cues.
“When a parent speaks a certain way to, let’s say, a domestic helper, the child picks up on the behaviour and imitates it in the future. For example, that little girl you saw at the mall most likely thought she wasn’t being rude but simply behaving normally,” explains Ong.
Dr Foo Koong Hean, a senior consultant psychologist at the School of Positive Psychology and senior lecturer of psychology at James Cook University Singapore, told Channel NewsAsia that smaller families and shifting parenting styles have led to children having an entitled mentality.
Echoing his sentiment, Ong states that parents who mollycoddle their children are robbing them of important developmental lessons such as resilience, independence, responsibility, and a sense of achievement. Which may all lead to developmental problems further down the track if left unchecked.
But how, then, do we tame the entitled children of Singapore?
Ong recommends building a solid value and rewards system, remaining consistent, and for parents to examine their own biases and behaviours to be a steadfast example for the child.
“We should no longer be in a time where parents point at a garbage man saying, ‘If you don’t study hard, you’ll end up just like him’!” Ong says. Instead she suggests being open and honest with the child, explaining the role of a garbage man in a society, to provide context of the role, and not demean it as a pseudo scare tactic. With this, the child can learn to discern his own path and future.
Speaking as a mother of three herself, Ong explains: “Kids can start doing age-specific chores, like sorting between the coloured and white laundry at two years old, to carrying some light groceries and doing the dishes from four to six year old.” She notes that these chores establish a sense of pride and familial responsibility within them, and provide them a safe environment to act, make mistakes, and learn from simple real-life experiences.
In other words, love them, but don’t spoil them.
“Rewarding them can also be a time for strengthening the parental bond and building a better relationship with the child,” Ong says. For instance, instead of walking into a toy store and telling the child he or she can have whatever they want as a reward, you could tell the child they can have something within a specific budget, and if they wanted something more expensive, they would have to save for it.
“This develops their decision-making skills and teaches them the value of money. It may also be a learning experience for them in curbing impulsive behaviour,” adds Ong.
This may not be easy as it requires time and patience, and unfortunately, many families today may leave such parenting decisions to the helper, which is not ideal.
“You can’t outsource parenting to a helper,” says Lim.
And as many households have both parents who are working professionals, the importance of active parenting at the early childhood stage ends up taking a backseat. But is providing for the child’s future worth the risk of poor early child development?
“There is no substitute for the time you spend with your child, loving, teaching, and growing alongside them,” declares Ong.
Perhaps, it’s time we re-evaluate the important roles that parents play in nurturing their children, taking into account the different hats they often have to wear, the challenges they face, and the sheer dedication it requires to run a household and raise sensible, well-mannered children.
And when we’re able to check our priorities this way, it may be that for every young child who doesn’t hesitate to lecture his or her maid, there will be a watchful mother or father by their side, ready to nip such a show of entitlement in the bud.
*We are withdrawing the interviewee’s real name and using an alias at her request