Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Is Your Kid Spoiled or Smart?

It has occurred to me recently that my sons may be the kids in the neighborhood who have too many toys.  There was always that kid growing up that you avoided telling about the new toy you received because he always told you he already had it.  He had his parents under his thumb and could get whatever he wanted from them whenever he wanted it.  Despite that child’s usual plethora of friends, the suspicion always remained that people didn’t necessarily like that kid, but he was popular because he had all the coolest new toys.  There existed a resentment over his ability to work the system.

Nobody said anything in particular to cause me to feel that my kids might be perceived this way.  In fact, there hasn’t even been the rolling of eyes or dirty looks from other parents that sometimes come after their kids complain in the middle of crowded toy aisle, “Bobby’s parents let him have one, why can’t I?”  (Note: neither of my sons are named Bobby)

But I have noticed their friends’ reactions to their Nerf arsenal.  From time to time other parents marvel at the massive size of their Lego collection and, probably due mostly to my own self-critical mania, I have felt the need to explain that I spent the entirety of my paper route money and any Christmas or birthday gifts from the ages of 8-14 on Lego sets.  “Most of that is still mine,” I preemptively apologize.

Still, I end up with this gnawing feeling at the back of my head (which I should probably have a doctor look at) that causes me to worry that my sons are perceived as being the s-word: spoiled.

This has caused me to spend a lot of time over the last few months analyzing their toy collections and watching their toy-acquisition-related behavior.  I have been very conscious of how often I am ready to cave and buy them something they want.  I have patted myself on the back with every no.  With each different item I discover left upon the floor, I try to recall how they acquired it.

This has led me to a realization.  My sons have a lot of toys.  That’s not the realization.  My finding is that they are not spoiled.  Toy volume alone does not dictate whether or not your child is spoiled.  Their reaction to not receiving the next toy does.

I have witnessed countless children having what would most likely be interpreted by an observing alien species as the physical reaction to a brain aneurysm or perhaps an outward display of dominance when denied their request in any given toy aisle.  I can proudly say that my sons have never done this.

I’m serious.  Never.

They have practiced time-tested techniques to try and get me to bend to their will.  I have been asked the same question at least a thousand times while navigating the cart through Target’s laundry detergent section, each time with a slightly longer, “Pleeeaaassseee,” at the end of it.  Both of my sons have at some point attempted to stand in my line of vision with a disappointed scowl on their face to make me aware of just how badly they wanted the thing for which they were asking.  (This has led me to a secondary finding that such behavior is instinctual and has its roots in thousands if not millions of years of evolution).  But never could anyone have heard their protests in the next state and never has their expressed disappointment caused anyone to think the fire alarm in the store had been activated.  In fact, I cannot recall a time when they were still upset with me by the time we were walking through the parking lot.  Do they pout a little in the store?  Sure.  They are kids after all, but then they get over it.

Confident that my kids were not spoiled because they accepted no as an answer, shared said toys with their friends when they came over, and valued social interaction over playing with the same said toys, I still wanted an answer to one of my other questions: Where the hell did all these toys come from?

The answer turned out to be simple.  Everywhere.

My two boys are the only grandchildren to my parents and are the first grandsons to my wife’s parents.  I have two siblings, she has four.  There are a lot of people who want to buy them things for their birthdays, Christmas, Easter and other various events throughout their lives.

Another factor is that, while I don’t buy my sons toys every time we go to a store by any stretch of the imagination, we do always look around in the toy section.  All the while, as we wander up and down, looking at what is new, discussing what we like and don’t like, they are apparently conducting research.

Furthermore, being only seventeen months apart, my boys share nearly identical interests.  There is the hobby that one happens to be more into than the other, but when it comes to toys, they want the same things and play well with them together.  Thus, gifts serve only to increase the size of the pool of common toys between them.

When the time comes that I begin receiving calls from grandparents, aunts and uncles asking what my sons want, I know almost instantly what to tell them.  The resulting efficiency of toy purchasing reaches astronomical percentages.

So, when it comes down to it, I found that not only are my sons not spoiled (in my humble opinion, anyway), they are focused and practical.  They have displayed impeccable research skills and an ability to commit to the things that they particularly enjoy.  Knowing what they like and pursuing it is something I hope to teach them later in life and they seem to have grasped it already.  They are well aware of the times they are going to receive a gift and have time and again been able to optimize the enjoyment of those gifts through diligence an communication.

Sometimes working the system just goes to show that the system works.

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