A combination of indulgent parents and ever more demanding children is producing a generation of ill-mannered brats. And we are storing up major problems for the future if we don’t change our approach to parenting

They kit themselves out daily in clothes and accessories worth £700. Their mobile phones are better than ours, they have busier social lives and access to money on demand.

And demand they do: whether it’s the latest jeans or a computer upgrade, instant gratification is the byword, and refusal is not an option.

Welcome to the pampered existence of today’s children, a place where pester power rules and parents are milked like cash cows.

If that all sounds a little harsh, cast your mind back to the last time you stood your ground as your nine-year-old begged for yet another pair of trainers, or your 14-year-old threatened to fail his exams unless he could go out with his friends midweek ? bankrolled by you?

Can you, hand on heart, say that you have never once given in to the petulant insistence that “everyone else I know has one”, even when you knew, deep down, that you shouldn’t?

We all love our children, want them to succeed and will do anything we can to give them the best start in an increasingly competitive world.

We hate it when they’re unhappy, and recoil when they shout, and sometimes taking the path of least resistance seems easier ? after all, the other parents are all doing it.

But the message we are sending out to our children is that they should expect the things they want in life to be handed to them on a plate.

And according to an increasing number of experts, our pushover parenting is doing more harm than good.

So why do modern parents find it so difficult to say no? Could we be doing our children a grave disservice by letting them have their own way? Are we, in short, rearing a generation of spoilt brats?

According to Valerie Outram of parents’ charity Parentline Plus, “I do see a lot of white middle-class parents who are bringing up spoilt brats.

“I think the reason is partly a generational thing. Parents who were themselves brought up in a very disciplinarian way are determined not to do the same with their children, but they struggle to find a balance between saying “no” all the time and saying “yes” all the time.

“Sometimes, it’s simply easier to say yes.”

It’s long been recognised that China’s one-child policy has given rise to Little Emperor syndrome, where single children are so cosseted and are given their own way so consistently that they become wilful little autocrats and treat adults with mild contempt.

Here in Britain, the only difference is we tend to have a houseful of underage despots, lounging inconsiderately across every sofa, throwing tantrums when the latest must-have accessory is denied them, and treating their parents as little more than lackeys.

“I’m the breadwinner and the only thing I ask is that when I come home, I get to relax in my armchair,” says Gary, who runs an IT company.

“But my 17-year-old son is usually sitting there and refuses to get up.

“I know it sounds petty, but it makes me livid.

“He gets £35 a week pocket money, plus the clothes, computers and mobile phones that he needs, but he won’t show me the most basic courtesy. He hardly even glances up when I come into the room.”

A recent survey by insurance firm Cornhill Direct revealed that the average teenager leaves the house in an outfit worth more than £229, jewellery bought for £125 and a £75 watch.

Mobile phones, MP3 players and wallets add another £300, bringing the total up to around £700.

Our youngsters have developed a taste for the finer things in life, and increased affluence means that most of us can afford to keep them in the manner to which they’ve become accustomed ? albeit at a push.

Liz, 38, and her husband Eric, 55, stretched themselves to their financial limits to send their daughter, Amy, aged 12, to public school.

They have discovered that the fees are just the tip of the iceberg.

“We’re very conscious that most of her classmates are better off, and I know Amy is aware of it too, because she often talks about friends who have weekend cottages in the country,” says Liz.

“It’s a struggle, but having placed her in that environment, we feel it’s our duty to ensure that she can keep up with the others, go on the ski trips and have the same gear that the other girls have.

“She’s not spoilt, we just want her to do well, and if that means we have to do without holidays or a new car, then it’s worth it.”

Of course, self-sacrifice has always been part and parcel of parenthood ? we even take a perverse pride in it.

Just talk to the mother who boasts how she never buys any new clothes, while her kids are dressed in this season’s fashions.

Or the father who recently traded in the Porsche he’d worked towards all his life for a Ford Escort ? because his daughters wanted him to give them driving lessons.

“My wife drives a Jeep, which is the family car, and we simply couldn’t justify three cars, so something had to give,” he says.

“I suggested paying for their lessons, but they want me to teach them. I think it’s the sort of thing a father should do.”

Even those annual surveys estimating that it costs around £180,000 to bring up a child to the age of 21 don’t appear to put us off procreating. But increasingly, questions are being raised about the effects of child-centred parenting.

So much emphasis is on empathising with our children; could it be that we’re storing up problems for later?

“Middle-class parents bend over backwards to give their children choices from the time they are babies,” says Julia, 48, mother of Shauna, aged 19, and Jenni, 15.

“We ask them if they want yoghurt or cheese and which colour spoon they would prefer.

We encourage them to have opinions. Then we throw up our hands in horror when we end up with a stroppy 12-year-old who has a mind of his or her own.

We empathise with them, which is great, but there’s a flipside ? if we’re too close to our children then we feel their pain when they really, really want that new iPod, and it’s very hard to say ?no?.

“Most parents don’t want to provoke a confrontation. I know I’m as much of a soft touch as the next parent.”

Guilt is also a prime motivator, it seems, among dual-income couples who find themselves caught in a catch-22 situation.

They both work all hours to service the mortgage, school fees and family holidays.

Then they feel guilty about never being there for the kids, and so assuage their guilt by lavishing their children with even more clothes and consumer durables.

“The idea of a family unit is a myth,” says Professor Cary Cooper, head of psychology and health at Lancaster University.

“Working couples have very little disposable time for each other, or their children, so when the kids are younger they outsource them to nannies or childminders, and when they’re older, they feel guilty and buy them off by indulging them and never asking anything in return.

“By the time they’re teenagers, kids see their peer group as their new family and have little loyalty to their parents.”

The fallout to all this is already with us. The anti-bullying charity Kidscape has identified the disturbing emergence of spoilt middle-class monsters who make other children’s lives hell.

These ‘brat bullies’ are too shrewd to engage in physical violence, and instead target their victims using text and e-mail.

Casting forward a few years, the so-called Generation Y, aged 16 to 27, is also turning out to be a tricky bunch. Having grown up questioning their parents, they now question their employers, are terminally self-absorbed and show little respect.

A recent survey of leading employers by the Association of Graduate Recruiters revealed employers’ despair at the lack of interpersonal skills, even among graduates with top-class degrees.

Graduate vacancies remain unfilled because increasing numbers of young people are unable to answer phones politely, interact respectfully with colleagues or grasp the fact that, as newcomers, they will have to perform tasks they consider beneath them.

“Some young people have been so pampered they can’t stick at a job when things get tough,” says Professor Cooper.

“They have no experience of knuckling down to household chores and pulling their weight, because their parents did everything for them.”

Overindulgence tends to start in the cradle. That being the smartest, state-of-the-art cradle money can buy.

There’s an unmistakable element of social competitiveness and “keeping up with the Joneses”, when we dress our young children in cashmere, and shower them with expensive toys and our teenagers the whizziest gadgets money can buy.

Diane, 37, admits that she gives her two children, Tess, four, and Jake, two, a “ridiculous” number of presents throughout the year, buys them designer clothes and throws lavish parties for them.

“I can’t help myself,” says Diane. “I didn’t have much when I was a child and I’m determined that my children won’t feel the way I used to. I want them to feel loved, which will make them confident and happy.”

Whether a wardrobe crammed full of Armani Baby guarantees adult happiness is a moot point, but sociologist Frank Furedi, author of Paranoid Parenting, says parents shouldn’t be too hard on themselves.

“It isn’t really the parents’ fault,” he says.

“There’s so much pressure on them to ensure their children succeed in life from an early age.

“They are constantly told that however well or badly their child does at school, it’s all down to the parenting they received.

“As the years go by, the stakes get higher, until they’ve invested so much in them that family life revolves round the children.

Even their friends are parents of their children’s friends, and then when their kids leave home, the parents’ social network disappears.”

So far, so alarming. But in the United States ? generally a reliable barometer for what will follow in Britain ? the first stirrings of a backlash are evident.

A group of parents, appalled at the spiralling cost of children’s parties, has set up a website, birthdayswithoutpressure.org, in order to spark off a national debate about the social and financial difficulties that excessive birthday celebrations can cause.

In her book, The Pampered Child Syndrome, Canadian clinical psychologist Maggie Mamen points out that we are bringing up a generation of children who believe they are entitled to the same rights as grown-ups, but who are not yet ready to accept grown-up responsibilities.

Laying out the ground rules for acceptable behaviour must begin with the parents.

“Adults have to take responsibility for setting boundaries and sticking to them,” says parenting coach Allison Mitchell of mumsanddads.biz.

“Parents come to me in despair because their children are constantly demanding stuff and the adult is struggling with discipline.

“We’re more affluent these days so we can give our kids things we never had, but that means they have no concept of saving up or of striving for anything.

“It’s easier to say ?yes? to that expensive new mobile phone your child wants, rather than waiting for their birthday, or suggesting they earn the money to pay for it themselves, but I get the parent to sit down, close their eyes and visualise the consequences of saying ?yes? to a mobile.

“They can see that in a week’s time a fresh demand for something else will come, and they wonder where it will end.”

These days it seems to end in remortgaging your home to provide a deposit for your child’s first flat.

According to the Council of Mortgage Lenders, around half of all first-time buyers rely on parents to help them buy their first home, compared to fewer than ten per cent in 1995.

It’s a daunting thought, but possibly a small price to pay in order to ward off the terrible alternative.

“Parenthood has become a life sentence,” says Frank Furedi.

“You’ve made things so comfortable for your kids that just when you thought you could retire and travel the world and spend some money on yourself, your 35-year-old son comes back home and expects Mummy and Daddy to look after him again.”

Now there’s an incentive to stand firm the next time your spoilt brat asks for new trainers.

How to avoid ‘spoilt brat’ syndrome

Encourage children to work, save or negotiate for things they want, so they value and care for what they have.

Ensure your children feel good about who they are not what they’ve got. Boost their self-esteem with praise.

Shower your children with quality time rather than trinkets and designer goods.

Instead of shopping at the weekend, take the kids swimming or to an art gallery.

Give children fair rules and boundaries that are consistently reinforced, so they know where they stand and what’s acceptable.

Ignore “bratish” tantrums. If you are about to give in, ask yourself, “What are the long-term consequences for my child of encouraging this?”

Source: Daily Mail