The Myth Of The Spoiled Child

Coddled Kids, Helicopter Parents, and Other Phony Crises

(cloth: Da Capo Books, 2014)(paperback: Beacon Press, 2016)(audio: Tantor, 2014)

The Myth Of The Spoiled ChildSomehow, 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, Kohn 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 A’s 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.

Table of Contents

1 Permissive Parents, Coddled Kids, and Other Reliable Bogeymen 
2 Parenting in Perspective
3 Overstating Overparenting
4 Getting Hit on the Head Lessons: Motivation, Failure, and the Outrage over Participation Trophies
5 The Underlying Values: Conditionality, Scarcity, and Deprivation
6 The Attack on Self-Esteem
7 Why Self-Discipline Is Overrated: A Closer Look at Grit, Marshmallows, and Control from Within
8 Raising Rebels

What people are saying

“A wise and passionate book — by one of the best friends our children have today — that is also a delight to read.”

— Jonathan Kozol

“Filled with surprising insights and counterintuitive data….an energetic…argument against all the columnists, politicians, and pundits who insist children today are spoiled.”

–New York Times Book Review

“With his trademark blend of skepticism and idealism, [Kohn] dismantles most of the hype surrounding motivation and competition, failure and success.”

–Boston Globe

“A well-researched, important counter-truth to all the foolishness…A must read for parents who care.”

— Seth Godin

“Splendid….Kohn’s analysis is incisive, witty, and fun to read…bring[ing] clear and profound social criticism to a topic of great contemporary importance.”

— Prof. William Crain

“An insightful, well-informed, thorough analysis of the many false and hostile claims made about parents and children today. Kohn patiently dismantles myths and then provides a positive vision of parenting for our time.”

— Prof. Jeffrey Jensen Arnett

“A thought-provoking…scrutiny of modern parenting practices.”

–Kirkus Reviews

Where to buy it