Spoiled Brats Running Amok: Not A Rich/Poor Issue

September 20, 2011

I was perusing the latest news account of rich kids behaving badly (CNN’s “Privileged kids anger Chinese public“) when it occurred to me that this isn’t really a wealth and privilege problem, it’s a parenting problem.

It’s easy to point fingers at the spoiled rich brats, particularly the ones who ride around in BMWs with no driver’s license and beat up on unsuspecting motorists. Talk about an easy target. I myself on occasion have gone after the wealthy with furious abandon (in a rhetorical sense).

But while the rich and privileged have a lot to answer for in this country, I’m going to go to bat for them on this issue. Well, sort of. I’m not saying that the parents of Li Tianyi are not at fault, since they most assuredly are, but rather that they are not alone in failing to rein in their odious progeny. Non-wealthy parents of spoiled brats who are among the vocal critics of Li Tianyi and other princelings need to wake up and acknowledge their own failings.

Parents in China operate from the beginning from a weak position. Because of the One Child Policy, kids know from the outset that the entire family is devoted to the child’s well being and success, sometimes forking out half of the family income on rug rat-related costs. Admittedly, that narrow focus can lead parents to place burdensome and unrealistic expectations on a child, transforming the kid into a stressed-out library troll by the age of 12. However, the same situation can also result in pampered, self-important brats with a mammoth sense of self-importance. Note that the two situations are not mutually exclusive.

The important thing to remember here is that “spoiled” does not necessarily mean wealthy. I was at a cheap noodle shop the other day. At the table next to me was a grandfather type with cloth shoes and a wardrobe that went out of style in the 70s. He was accompanied by his grandson, who had a serious case of ants-in-the-pants and couldn’t sit still. Instead of either telling the kid to sit down and shut up or removing him from the premises, grandpa decided to let the kid do whatever he wanted, which included running up and down the aisles, shouting at the top of his lungs.

Most of the patrons were amused, laughing politely. Or at least they pretended to be amused. I have a feeling that some of them wished the kid would go the f&@( away and let them eat in silence, but because of the “Cult of the Child,” it isn’t polite to express that opinion. (By the way, the Cult of the Child is not a China phenomenon.)

That screaming little bastard I saw in the noodle shop is not wealthy, and I doubt he will have access to this country’s better educational institutions. It is unlikely that he will grow up to own multiple houses, play golf, and drive around in expensive foreign cars. Consequently, we will not in the future be reading about him jumping out of an Audi and stabbing someone.

However, I have a feeling that the noodle shop kid feels a sense of entitlement similar to that of Li Tianyi and other rich brats. Sure, the wealth magnifies everything, and more important, it also gives one the opportunity to engage in expensive forms of mischief. Li Tianyi wouldn’t have been joyriding without a driver’s license if his father hadn’t made a BMW accessible to the lad. Moreover, if your parent is privileged and is able to get you out of trouble time and again, that tends to encourage anti-social behavior.

But when kids are allowed to do whatever they please from a young age, isn’t a poor kid’s psychological sense of entitlement pretty much the same as that of the princeling? And if that’s the case, perhaps the recent focus on wealthy families is missing the point. The money and privilege merely exacerbates an underlying psychological condition. Or to put it another way, even if Li Shuangjiang (father of Tianyi) was penniless, he might still have been a crappy parent.

Disclosure: No, I am not a parent, and no, I don’t think that makes me unqualified to criticize parents.

6 thoughts on “Spoiled Brats Running Amok: Not A Rich/Poor Issue

  1. D

    It is a parenting problem. These children of the elite saw their parents use sex, money, and hard influence to rise to power in China. Often these parents had “no holds barred” in their rise, and their children grew up seeing this. Now those children are emulating that bad behavior.

    When countries worry that China will be a powerful nation, they need not worry anymore. China is rotting from within, like teeth chewing too much sugar. With power comes responsibility, and these people apparently lack any manner of societal or familial responsibility.

  2. Jc

    It seems to me that there’s a generalized parenting problem with regard to kids screaming in restaurants. Just yesterday, I was at a hotpot restaurant here in Montreal and while waiting in line, I was able to thoroughly enjoy the kids at 2 adjacent tables having the time of their lives. They were 7 in total, running and screaming through the aisles, and the parents ignored them COMPLETELY.

    I also don’t understand why the other patrons were letting this happen, as the restaurant was full, and many were rolling their eyes. This wasn’t some kids-friendly fast-food place, this was a proper hotpot restaurant, with waiters hurrying by carrying bots of boiling broth.

    There seemed to be some fundamental differences in the way people viewed the purpose of going to the restaurant. When I go out, I want a quiet, relaxing time. When they go out, it seems they’re too tired to cook and too cheap to hire a babysitter, so they just bring their kids along and let the premises do the babysitting.

    As for me, I gingerly seized the occasion when the main little monster ran by me, put on my angry face, and yelled at him to quiet down and go sit. That sent the kids hiding behind a column, which was good enough for me.

    1. Stan Post author

      I wish I was that brave. The restaurant thing is a pet peeve, and I started noticing the problem back in the 80s. It’s a widespread problem that has unfortunately been around for a while now.

  3. King Tubby

    The last paragraph ties it up nicely. Great post.

    Seen that uncomfortable laughter quite a few times. However, if you fix your gaze on one of the applauding bystanders, they usually then display a conflicted and embarrassed discomfort over said marauding little t..d.

  4. S.K. Cheung

    Nice post.

    I agree, this is certainly not a problem that is unique to China today. Perhaps the “one child” thing plays a role. Certainly the money aspect plays a part, in China and elsewhere.

    But most of all, it’s a generational thing. There are things other little piss-ants do that I never would’ve gotten away with doing when I was a kid. My kids are reasonably well-behaved (not purely rose-coloured glasses here; other parents have commented to me in that regard, though there is always the question of “reasonably well-behaved compared to what”), yet I still let them get away with lots of things for which my dad would’ve shown me the business end of a belt-buckle, or ruler, or some other similar instrument. In general, i think parents behave more as enablers now than when I was a kid.

    Then there is the aspect of absentee parenting, where both parents are working to pay the rent, and kids are reared by nannies.

    On the other end of the spectrum are the helicopter parents, who would chew their teenagers’ food for them if they could. Little princelings and princesses are brought up with the concept that they are golden, and can do no wrong. The world is constantly portrayed to them as their oyster. And wealth doesn’t have anything to do with it.

    Somewhere along the line, it appears that parents as a group have lost sight of some of the balance between carrot and stick that is required to raise well-adjusted children. Me included.

  5. Chris

    Plenty of perfectly well adjusted kids out and about in China and some dreaded ones as well. Sometimes its parents, sometimes just bad luck. With the Rich Second Generation such a hot topic at present and China being such a big country where statistically anything happens, there will be plenty of examples for the media to shout about of rich kids behaving badly. Not yet convinced that this is worse than anywhere else in the world. The cases coming up of course are pretty horrible and the entertainment value high.