Pretend that you're a parent. I know, impossible to see yourself in that thankless position right now, but your parents and theirs all thought that at your age too, and look where they are now. You're at a store to buy something, and you bring your son along because he needs to get out of the house more often and you want to spend time with him. Everything's going great at first; you've both got a good banter going, and it feels like you're actually connecting with him in a way you haven't before.
This all changes when you stroll by the toy section and he begins to eye a certain action figure. He plants his feet, points at the excessively muscular blob of plastic, and mutters those words you hate hearing: "I want it."
What a spoiled brat, you might think to yourself. You, unfortunately, know from experience what's going to happen. You're in a rush and short on cash, so you gently tell him that we're in a hurry and he can get a toy on his birthday in a couple months, desperately hoping this situation will turn out differently. As if on command, he turns red, and seconds later he erupts into sobbing and tears. You submit to him like you always do—you grab the action figure and head to the checkout. He grins over his additional victory. With the swipe of a credit card, you're free. For now.
When children take advantage of their parents' love and care to get what they want, they really aren't cognizant of the mistake they are making. Every time they satisfy their tangible desires through physical gifts, they become more reliant on being rewarded with fairly meaningless substances. Parents struggle to identify how to properly reward children and behavior and can often choose this ineffective route of material objects. The decision has dangerous consequences as children become spoiled and ultimately grow dependent on their parents to bail them out of adversity.
Giving children material gifts no doubt seems like a reasonable form of parenting. After all, parents just want their kids to be happy, and a gift here and there does no harm. Catering to each of their child's desires to potentially form a stronger bond between is certainly enticing. At the same time, however, no parent wants to willingly place obstacles or barriers in front of their son or daughter, so they end up babying them.
As a result of being pampered, children learn to take advantage of their parents' disposition to generosity—not out of malice, but simply because they can get away with it. After being spoiled for a great duration, children like your hypothetical son might think their gifts were like rights that they deserved, not privileges to be earned. James Lehman has a master's in Social Work and regularly write to parents struggling with taking care of their children. He notes in one article that the sense of obligation doesn't dissipate when children are pleased by gifts, but instead grows to make them feel entitled. Entitlement makes kids unprepared for when an adult won't always be there to support them. When this behavior isn't corrected at a young age, then they become rooted in a cycle of receiving gifts and don't know how to react to adversity, a situation no child or adult should find themselves in.
If parents shouldn't appease children, what should we do? It's hard to abandon material gifts, but rewarding positive behavior with a different type of gift is the best way to teach them to be independent while retaining a connection. This reward doesn't offer the tangible items your son yearns for, but it is much more powerful. It is something that even the strongest of action figures cannot achieve. Instead of buying your son a toy, why not show a love that no sum of money can replicate and spending quality time with him? This is a better expression of how you care for him. Your son will value this type of fathering much more, and he won't be reliant on always getting his way without adversity. He'll become more independent, and while that's frightening as a caring parent, independence does not mean disconnection. Your son can be intimately connected to you without relying on material satisfaction. Watching him grow as an individual and forge his own character is much more rewarding than the artificial gratitude of the past. Someday, he might even have his own loving family that he will take good care of—just like you did.