Service of When the Tail Wags the Dog: Over-Empowered Kids

August 3rd, 2017

Categories: Children, Control, Empowerment, Parenting

Picture this: It’s 2030 and an intern where you work slams her phone on a table, demands that the company summer outing be at an amusement park, not at the venue described in the text she just received, and flounces out of the boss’ office. Or maybe a nubie objects to the upcoming move and complains loudly to management that the new location is inconvenient for her.

“Fat chance,” you predict.

If some of the scenarios Jennifer Breheny Wallace described in her Wall Street Journal article are accurate, these instances could happen when the children she wrote about are let loose on the world as young adults. The days of “the tail doesn’t wag the dog,” no longer apply in some families whose kids rule every aspect of the roost.

Wallace warns that a democratic approach—where every member of the family, regardless of age or experience, has an equal vote in major decisions–isn’t such a good idea. [You think?]

In “Children Should Be Heard, but Only So Much–Children now have much more influence over family decisions, but parents need to be wary of giving them too much sway,” Wallace writes about one set of parents who put the purchase of an apartment on hold until they could get the approval of their six year old. Kids in other families determine where the family goes on vacation.

“‘Modern parents want their kids to feel included and empowered, so nearly every purchase is now a family decision,’ says branding strategist Bill Goodwin. In a recent National Retail Federation survey of more than 1,000 parents of Gen Zers (the generation born after 1995), 67% said that they solicit their child’s opinion before making family purchases, and 59% said that they won’t buy something if their child doesn’t approve of it,” wrote Wallace.

Richard Weissbourd of the Harvard Graduate School of Education told Wallace that there are benefits to letting kids know parents value their opinions such as in picking a restaurant. “But when it comes to making major purchases (such as a house) or determining family priorities (such as deciding whether to travel to see extended family or go to Disneyland), he says that a parent’s wisdom should prevail.”

Weissbourd observed: “Unfortunately, some parents now rely on their kids to fill the void of where a friend should be.”

Wallace continued: “Children need to be taught to make sacrifices and not to assume that others will organize their lives around them, which can lead to entitlement, says Dr. Weissbourd. For example, if Saturdays are spent engaging in a child’s activity, then on Sundays, bring your child on family errands,” she wrote.

“Empowering children to make decisions about their own lives teaches them valuable life skills, such as how to take responsibility for themselves,” psychologist Laura Markham told Wallace. She referred to picking a sport or clothes. “However, when it comes to decisions that affect the overall family, “Parents should have the last word.”

Parents who hand over the reins to young children mean well but can it end well? Do you know families that operate in this way? Has the age of reason moved to six from 13—recognized by major religions–and isn’t 13 on the young side to know the best place to live or vacation?

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11 Responses to “Service of When the Tail Wags the Dog: Over-Empowered Kids”

  1. Hank Goldman Said:

    This is a great topic. Certainly children should be told, what is going on, but whether or not they can nix an apartment or house deal… Well that is going a bit far!

    We did things for our kids, such as search out areas for the best school systems, etc. but how could a young child possibly know what to look for in that regard.

    Wish I had a more solid answer than: parents know best, but I think that ought to still be the case!!

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    While Jennifer Breheny Wallace’s article focuses primarily on the psychological implications of inappropriate empowerment for young ones, I was nagged by thoughts similar to yours. What does a child know of school systems, land values, the age appropriateness of a vacation for younger siblings or the family budget for any of these things? Nothing. In addition, the kids will have plenty of time to make grownup decisions. Let them be kids for goodness sakes!

  3. Debbie Kunen Said:

    Debbie Kunen on Facebook: Oy

  4. HB Said:

    I first read Nobel Prize winner, William Golding’s, “Lord of the Flies” when I was in college just after it was published in the mid-1950s. It shattered any illusions I may have had about the competence of youth to make decisions, especially serious ones, — permanently.

    If you have not read it, do. If you do, I promise you will be persuaded of the wisdom of leaving judgement-making to those best able to make them well, — the mature.

  5. DManzaluni Said:

    Is it August silly season already?

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I hope someone who knows the parents in the article or others like them see your comment and buy them the book or a copy of the film.

    In the meanwhile, who will these parents blame if the apartment or vacation turn out to be lemons?

  7. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Yours is probably the closest to the truth. Were it April 1 we might think Jennifer Wallace’s article was written as a joke. However, I don’t think it is. I can only exclaim, anything’s possible. We have a head of state confusing phone calls with in person encounters and 30-something million citizens shrugging “what’s the difference?” Your answer applies there too: August silly season.

  8. Lucrezia Said:

    In seeking feedback, it should be stressed that a recommendation may not necessarily be adopted, but lets the child know his opinion is respected and that he fits into the picture. The nostrum that a child should be seen but not heard, stinks. How else will a child learn to reason, negotiate and sometimes wheedle his way to success?

    To consider a child a carbon copy of oneself is not only stupid, it’s potentially harmful. This is not to say a child may dictate where to live or what to buy. But making him feel he’s a member of the family community, and that his feelings count, brings about a number of vital skills when entering society on his own. Children are fun, creative, and sometimes come up with unthought-of solutions.

    Families are not to be confused with democracies, and to give a child a vote in final decisions is insane. Opinion/voice does not = vote.

  9. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I agree that a child should feel comfortable to express opinions. I’ve known families where fear rules. If a child in that family was sad about missing his/her friends when a parent’s job meant a move far away and couldn’t express that anxiety, a parent wouldn’t know to address the understandable feelings of loss.

    As for parents who count on a youngster’s choice to determine the outcome of major family events, it makes no sense at all. Would the owner of a company accept without checking the calculations of a new employee, who’d never before worked in her type of business, to determine how many yards of textile to buy for three major jobs or would the chairman of a Fortune 500 company consult a summer intern about adding to the corporation’s real estate holdings or about buying back stock?

    Even in small things, such as clearing the table or helping with dishes, why should a child determine whether or not to participate? People aren’t born knowing to pitch in. Someone needs to guide them. That helps them fit in with others as much as learning to negotiate helps them survive.

  10. JM Said:

    My mother died @ 42 yrs. of age just as I entered HS. My sister was already a boarder. I was raised in the Bronx outside Parkchester; everyone knew Parkchester. My mother was so strict & when I needed a privilege I went to my father who was born in NYC. I don’t know where they met.

    My mother had Rheumatic fever in Ireland in 3rd grade & she emigrated to Worcester , MA where her father’s sister lived & married & had 3 children. And when Aunt Nora’s younger son was killed in WWII she came down w/ her middle daughter to mind us.

    When we were young, when my father came home from work on a Friday & he perceived my mother was mildly depressed & we were in our p j’s , my father wrapped us up in blankets & we took pillows w/ us so we could sleep in the 39 Chevy on our way to Worcester, MA. We made these trips so many times. There were no highways in those days.

    I’m in the mood for reminiscing. We had our children over & we spent 2 days while they reminisced about their youth! Forgive me Jeanne!

  11. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I love hearing stories like yours.

    I get the feeling that you were not consulted by your Dad when he’d pile you in the car to take you and your Mom up to see her aunt in Worcester. What a wonderful father he must have been! Your mother’s death at such a young age must have been horrendous for him as well as for you and your siblings. Families pulled together and shared each other’s grief and responsibilities in those days. Your great aunt must have been quite a woman to tear herself away from all her friends to take care of her niece’s children. They taught responsibility and selflessness by example–no room for entitlement in an emergency.

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