COLUMN: Hedonism America: Are our children 'spoiled rotten'?
Editor's note: This post is part of a series by Dr. Baker on Our Values about core American values. This week Dr. Baker is discussing whether or not Americans spoil their children.
This past weekend, I bought $100 worth of “really good” fireworks for my 10-year-old son and I to use on the 4th of July. Fireworks in Michigan are “really good” this year, due to a change in the law that allows the sale and use of fireworks that leave the ground — bottle rockets, skyrockets, reloadable shell devices, and the like.
Advocates of the new law say it will help the local economy. Opponents are dubious and worried about the escalation of injuries.
But I want to ask a different question:
Am I spoiling my child by spending $100 on fireworks?
“With the exception of the imperial offspring of the Ming dynasty and the dauphins of pre-Revolutionary France, contemporary American kids may represent the most indulged young people in the history of the world,” writes Elizabeth Kolbert in today’s issue of The New Yorker. Her essay — headlined “Spoiled Rotten” — is a review of a couple of books on the subject.
“It’s not just that they’ve been given unprecedented amounts of stuff — clothes, toys, cameras, skis, computers, televisions, cell phones, PlayStations, iPods They’ve also been granted unprecedented authority.”
I took an empirical approach to the issue:
I asked my son if American children are spoiled.
Oh, yes, he said, they are.
I asked him if he is spoiled.
Then I asked if that is good or bad.
“Good,” he said, “because you get stuff. Bad, because you don’t learn how to do things for yourself.”
Too late to return our fireworks!
But his reaction has me thinking: Are we raising a generation of hedonists? Now, I don’t mean hedonism as a moral philosophy that says pleasure is the only intrinsic good. I mean it in the psychological sense, where hedonists have a preference for pleasure and self-gratification.
Hedonism is one of the Top 10 core values in America, as my surveys have shown. I’ve mentioned this before in the OurValues.org column, but we really haven’t gone into it in much detail.
This week we will — so tell us what you think.
Your honesty may nudge other readers’ reflections.
Are American kids the most indulged young people in our world?
Is hedonism a core value in your life?
Should I fret about the fireworks — or just shoot them off?
Dr. Wayne E. Baker is a sociologist on the faculty of the University of Michigan Ross School of Business. Baker blogs daily at Our Values and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook.