Archives: When is a child spoilt?

This is one of a series of columns I wrote for IOL Lifestyle in 2011. See the original here. When is a child spoilt? There’s much hand-wringing in the British press about a Unicef report
which reckons that UK parents buy their children branded toys rather
than spending time with them.

The report – according to the London Independent – says that British
families are unable to resist the “materialism” of modern childhood.
Many parents told researchers they felt “compelled” to buy things for
their children, even though they knew much of this spending was

The author of the report, Dr Agnes Nairn, is quoted as saying: “Fears
about ‘brand bullying’ are much stronger in the UK. Parents seemed to
feel much more helpless. There was an incredibly strong feeling that
children have to have these things to fit in – otherwise they’ll be
the only ones in their class not to have them.”

Researchers looked in depth at the pressures on parents and children,
and compared the experiences of 24 families in the UK with others in
Sweden and Spain.

Out here in the wilds of Africa, we are not immune. Who hasn’t bought
a Ben 10 T-shirt, or a Barbie nightie? I’ve been a staunch cheap
takkie mom – but finally my son does indeed have a pair of brand-name
running shoes (they were a reward for winning a race at school –
that’s what I’m telling myself, anyway).

Some of the triggers for buying expensive or pointless things for our
children are clear: guilt, pressure, fear of our children being
outsiders. But I’m interested in the whole question: where do we all
draw the lines in what we give to our children?

Beyond the clear duties (love, food, education, respect, safety,
routine, enough sleep), I’ve observed such different ideas about what
is okay.

One kid gets R10 a week pocket money, another of the same age gets R30.

Big ticket items (eg bicycles) are for birthdays – but other children
get them when they need them.

One kid has two skateboards and a J-board. Another has none of these,
even though they are affordable to that family.

My son desperately wants a pair of soccer boots – even though at his
school those kinds of team sports only start next year for him. Some
hard-assed part of me thinks he should wait till he’s actually in a
team; a wiser (and nicer) colleague says buy him a cheap pair now, he
just wants to fit in.

At what point does generosity turn to over-indulgence? What’s a parent
(or an uncle or an aunt or a grandparent) to do? Use our comment form
below to share your tips for sense and sanity in a materialist world.

Archives: Bees, birds and ballet

This was one of a short series of columns I published on the IOL Lifestyle site – the original, published on September 6, is here:

I went to the ballet last night.

Well, sort of. It was my niece’s school ballet concert and it was enchanting.

It was called Down The Country Lane and featured girls (it is a
girls-only school, after all) from Grades R to 7 dancing as birds,
sunbeams, mice, wooland fairies and bees, among others.

My niece Gemma, aged six, was one of the bees, in a black-and-yellow
striped costume and a proper bun and pink ballet stockings. She had
wanted to be a sunbeam, as their costumes were so pretty but it was
not to be.

The really little girls all have a designated older girl to dance with
them in case they forget what they are supposed to be doing – but,
between you and me, some of them still forgot.

Were they in time with each other? No.

Were they all going in the same direction? No.

Were they all properly spaced? No.

Were they all graceful? No

But they were all trying really hard and they were lovely.

Gemma fell over in last year’s concert (thereby pre-disastering
herself) and was a very fluttery if slightly anxious bee. Mom, Dad,
Gran and Aunt beamed all the way through her three minutes of fame.

I came to parenthood late and by the skin of my teeth, and every
school concert I go to (not to mention every kiddie birthday party)
reminds me why I wanted it so much. It’s a chance to be part of what
my sister calls “the fabric of community”, a chance to share love and
fun and make memories. I am, as they say, ever grateful for this
parenting life.

Meeting the teacher

As I pulled on my boots this morning (how is a woman to meet the world if not in a pair of stout boots?), there was not much to fear in my day. Lists were made, The Staff at work appeared all to be in place and not phoning in sick.  All I had to do was follow the lists, boss people around and go to bed early – I tell myself every day that I will go to be early.

However, I was repressing the knowledge of something big, something that Loomed.  It was time to go and See The Teacher at my son’s primary school. His third term report said his concentration was out of whack and discussion was required.

I have done public speaking and faced down irate company CEOs. I have met horrendous deadlines and publicly criticised The Editor. When I walk through rain, I expect to stay dry. I have given birth and survived early parenthood. I am not easily scared. But meeting the teacher is something else: you are instantly ten years old again and certain that you’ve done something wrong.

But I did it, and a fruitful discussion was had and a plan was made to try to get the boy back on track. And there’s the thing about parenthood: you will go through the fires of hell for your child. And, yes, you will go meet the teacher.