Spoiling tactics are no good for kids in long run

Gordon Ramsay says he doesn’t treat his children to the trappings of wealth – but is he right to travel first class while they go economy, asks Arlene Harris

Gordon Ramsay, Megan Ramsay, Matilda Ramsay, Jack Ramsay, Holly Ramsay and Tana Ramsay at the BAFTA Children's Awards at The Roundhouse last year.

He may be renowned for his quick temper and colourful language, but celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay is apparently a stickler for old-fashioned values when it comes to rearing his children and helping them to realise the important things in life.

The chef has claimed in an interview that he doesn’t want to spoil his children, Matilda, 15, Jack and Holly, 17, and Megan, 18. So despite being able to afford plenty of luxuries for them, he insists that they travel ordinary class when flying (while he sits in First Class), doesn’t treat them to five-star restaurant meals on a regular basis and ensures that they all do part-time work to help learn the value of money.

Admittedly the Ramsay family’s idea of normal is probably a lot different from the rest of us (his 15-year-old daughter, Matilda has her own slot on a TV show, the CBBC series Matilda And The Ramsay Bunch, and the family is regularly photographed on exotic holidays or coming out of expensive restaurants), but according to experts, his intention is sound.

“Giving children what they want in the material sense is a delicate balance for parents,” says parent/child coach, Helen Sholdice. “The art of knowing when ‘enough is enough’ is what challenges most parents today so it is helpful to understand that children can feel overwhelmed when given too much and lose out on finding out how to fulfil their own desires.” The Dublin-based therapist says children of celebrities and wealthy parents are no different from the offspring of the general public.

“Overindulgence is always about the parent - not the child,” she says. “A parent may think, ‘I can give my child all the things I never got as child’ but the key here is knowing that what might please a parent may not be developmentally appropriate for a child.” Dr David Carey, director of Psychology at City Colleges and Dean of the College of Progressive Education agrees.

“The child who receives everything he or she wants, just because they asked for it, learns the value of nothing and is eventually ruined for life,” he says. “Children should freely be given the necessities of life such as food, clothing and access to play based on their age. Beyond that there is little they need for ‘happiness’, that most elusive of all life’s commodities.”

Dr Carey says not only should parents avoid indulging children, but should insist they contribute to the running of the household.

“Children live in a group called a ‘family’,” he says. “And they should all participate in some way, appropriate to their age and ability, to the running of the family. No child should be paid for making this contribution as parents are not paid for cleaning, washing or cooking so children should not be paid to be contributing members of the family group.

“Likewise the children of celebrities and the wealthy should be treated just the same as other children. They need their emotional and physical needs met, they need love, boundaries and respect and they need how to show respect in return. Any child, be they rich or poor, who is given everything on demand or request, is a child who will grow up with a great poverty of spirit at the centre of their being.”

Child psychologist Peadar Maxwell says while celebrities like Ramsay are doing the right thing by not spoiling their children, they should also try to lead by example.

“Gordon Ramsay has made the news proclaiming that he does not intend to spoil his children, but everything is relative,” he says. “While I certainly don’t know the Ramsay family I would imagine they all live quite a privileged and luxurious lifestyle by almost anyone’s standard because if parents can afford nice things their children will vicariously benefit from those fancy cars, exotic holidays and fine restaurants.

“But rich parents are wise to sometimes ‘slum it’ by eating in modest diners, holidaying modestly and buying non-luxury products to give their children a taste of reality and normality. Without wishing to judge any celebrity it is a bit rich to sit in first class while your children are in economy as to be taken seriously by our children we need to practice what we preach, that is to sit with them in the local simple café or in economy on flights.” Wexford-based Maxwell says indulging children too much may result in them being unable to understand the real world.

“One risk of being privileged is that your children may not learn to relate to others which is a skill they may need in college or their work lives,” he says. “When you add the high-profile life of a celebrity family with access to a lot of money you potentially have a dangerous cocktail of money and profile where children -just like their parents - have to be seen to look beautiful at all times and to be doing amazing things. That’s a lot of pressure for a child who would be better off playing games and hanging out with their friends.

“But it isn’t only rich people who spoil their children. Many middle and lower income parents don’t teach their children the benefit of saving up either. For our own good, we all need to learn about the value of money and how to delay gratification.”

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