Here’s Another Contrary Thought — About Parenting

“The energy which makes a child hard to manage is the energy which afterward makes him a manager of life.” – Henry Ward Beecher (Proverbs from Plymouth Pulpit, 1887)

If, as I asserted in yesterday’s message, it’s a mistake to think that government should give handouts to businesses, maybe it’s also wrong for parents to spoil their children.

Sure, we’ve got to feed, clothe, and educate them. But what about luxury goods?

I have friends whose kids have their own televisions, laptops, even brand-new cars.

As a general observation, the more they have the more self-centered they seem to be.

I’m lucky with my children. KFF resisted my impulse to spoil them. They got nice presents at Christmas and on their birthdays but none at other times. And they were not allowed any sort of video games, toy guns, beepers, cell phones, or anything else she felt was not good for them.

We discontinued cable service for our one TV. If they wanted to watch a movie, they could rent a video — on the weekend. If they wanted to listen to a basketball game, they could listen to the radio.

Some amazing things happened.

First and most surprisingly, they didn’t seem to mind. When I gave away our extra TVs and cut the cable, they whined for about three hours — but that was the end of it. A little while later, they were playing board games. Eventually, they learned to read. They are all now voracious readers. This has proved immensely helpful during long car rides. Each of them developed hobbies: music, art, what have you.

When government gives handouts to business, it does two things wrong. First, it takes the spending decisions away from the smart people who know how to make a profit and gives it to well-meaning bureaucrats who have no useful business experience. Second, it ends up supporting programs that are usually doomed to failure because they are bad ideas to begin with. If they were good ideas, the private sector would fund them.

I think there is a parallel here with children.

When parents try to improve the lives of their children by giving them things — expensive clothes, toys, cars, vacations, etc. — they make two mistakes. First, they weaken the children’s natural capacity to create their own diversions. Second, they dilute the pleasure their children get from experiencing such things less frequently.

Maybe what parents should do is what governments should do: create some sensible restrictions. Kids, like entrepreneurs, will find ways to grow on their own. They don’t need their parents for that.

Does this make sense to you? Let us know on “Speak Out” (

[Ed. Note.  Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]