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.