American families today enjoy a level of prosperity unimaginable 25 years ago. Many well-intentioned parents provide their children with an extraordinary array of material possessions—designer clothes, computers, cell phones, television sets, VCRs and stereos, automobiles, credit cards. Even families with limited financial resources can fall prey to the urge to give their children these status symbols.
Many psychologists worry that today’s parents are overindulgent. Parents sometimes give their children too much and demand too little of them, in the misguided belief that boundless freedom and abundant material goods will ensure their lifelong happiness. What seems to be lacking is a sense of the importance of grounding children in experiences that encourage concern and compassion for others, moral responsibility, and recognition of how we all fit into the larger society. These lessons seem particularly critical for gifted children, who hold such promise as America’s next generation of leaders.
Parents ask me for specific suggestions as antidotes to our culture’s overindulgence. Here are three that I’ve found valuable in my work with families:
- Hold regular family meetings. They are a great way to practice communication skills, establish and review family rules, share personal information, celebrate events, and encourage perspective taking and problem solving.
- Use discipline. Limits help children feel secure and loved. Establish reasonable, age-appropriate rules; discuss the reasons for them with your children; and consistently enforce them.
- Teach good social skills. These are among the simplest and yet most important skills in life. Gifted children, like everyone else, need to learn them. Model good manners, discuss the value of social skills at family meetings, and don’t be reluctant to correct impoliteness.
—Steven I. Pfeiffer, Ph.D.