What should you do about a spoiled brat? Jane Eyre and Roald Dahl have some answers...

July 11, 2019
What should you do about a spoiled brat? Jane Eyre and Roald Dahl have some answers...
Vance Osterhout
Earl GreyHeaven's Only Wishful by MorMor

Dear Erica,

My best-friend’s son is a spoiled brat. She’s always complaining that he doesn’t have friends, and his teachers don’t appreciate his genius, but I think it makes complete sense that no one wants to be around him. I’ve made one or two subtle remarks about his behavior, but as someone without children, she thinks I’m just being judgmental. Any suggestions as to what I can do?


Appalled in Atherton

Dear Appalled in Atherton,

A tricky situation. There’s nothing more appalling than a spoiled child, especially when he’s not your own spoiled child. And, as you probably have figured out, your friend is contributing to the problem by not doing anything about it. As Roald Dahl said, “Some children are spoiled and it is not their fault, it is their parents.”

You probably won’t be able to get your friend to change her way of doing things by telling her what she’s doing wrong. But you might be able to help her by simply handing her a copy of Jane Eyre. If you’ll recall, Jane Eyre was originally raised by her aunt, the cold, and unforgiving Mrs. Reed. But while Mrs. Reed was cruel to Jane, she was oblivious to her own children’s faults, and refused to punish them for their bad behavior. When Jane’s cousin John Reed bullies her mercilessly, and then throws a book at her, his mother punishes Jane! As Charlotte Bronte writes, “John no one thwarted, much less punished; though he twisted the necks of the pigeons, killed the little pea-chicks, set the dogs at the sheep...he called his mother “old girl,” too; bluntly disregarded her wishes; not unfrequently tore and spoiled her silk attire; and he was still “her own darling.”

But tolerating this sort of behavior is not only unpleasant for those around him, but ultimately leads to his own destruction. His behavior doesn’t change as he becomes older, and he is weak, spoiled, and dissolute. As Mrs. Reed’s maid, Bessy, tells Jane, “He could not do worse: he ruined his health and his estate amongst the worst men and the worst women. He got into debt and into jail: his mother helped him out twice, but as soon as he was free he returned to his old companions and habits.” When his debts become too much for him to bear, he commits suicide.

In contrast, Charlotte Bronte shows the fate of Mr. Rochester’s, illegitimate ward, Adele. “A genuine daughter of Paris” as Mr. Rochester mockingly describes her, Adele is originally raised by her immoral French mother, who ultimately abandons her and runs off with a lover. She is then adopted by Mr. Rochester. Jane acts as her governess, and then becomes her guardian when she weds Mr. Rochester. And unlike John Reed who is spoiled and horrible, Adele has “a sound English education which corrected in a great measure her French defects.” Jane reflects that “when Adele left school, I found in her a pleasing and obliging companion: docile, good-tempered, and well-principled.”

Ignore the xenophobic tone, the English have always had a love/hate relationship with the French, or the Frogs as they are called to this day. The important thing to note is that Jane believes that giving Adele love, attention, and a sound education helped her become a well-principled adult. And while I would never advise a parent to provide only discipline, a childhood without any discipline is guaranteed to ruin the child. Who can forget greedy Augustus, and spoiled Veruca in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory?

But nobody wants to be told that they are spoiling their child, and so the best thing you can do is hand your friend a copy of Jane Eyre at the next Book Club(as a teatime reader, I’m sure you’re in one!), and bring up the topic of John Reed. She might not see the connection immediately, but the thought of her little darling ending up in dire straits might spur her into action. And if that doesn’t work,maybe a movie night with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory will teach her the error of her ways. Just make sure you hum along to the oompa loompas!

Who do you blame when your kid is a brat. Pampered and spoiled like a siamese cat. Blaming the kids is a lie and a shame. You know exactly who's to blame. The mother and the father.”

You might not have children, but your friend can’t discredit the words of one of the world’s most popular children’s authors. Hope she and her little darling change their ways soon!