A friend of ours recently told me this following: "Americans treat their children like clients, Europeans treat them like apprentices of the family." I don't know if the generalization is true, but it is worrisome to me that the former is very often visible. Treating children like clients means, catering to their every whim, jumping through hoops to make them happy, just like a banker, lawyer, consultant would for their clients. I see this a lot among my girls' friends in Menlo Park. Treating children like apprentices means that the children do their share of whatever needs to be done. They do what parents do, but at a smaller scale. I see this too, but far less.
At the root of the comparison is the concept of entitlement and obligation, two sides of the same coin that shows up in many facets of life, but none as early as the development stages of a child. When you treat a child like a client, you are sending him/her the message that they are entitled to be made happy. That, it is their right, and it is the parent's obligation to provide it. For example, I know 7-8 year old children who get paid by their parents to do their chores. They are given the sense of entitlement. When you treat your child like an apprentice to the family, you give them the sense of obligation, the sense of their role in the family. This doesn't mean the children doesn't develop their self-esteem, it means that they are part of something bigger and not the other way around.
It is this sense of entitlement that, over time, leads to carelessness for others, the environment, the neighborhood. It is the sense of obligation that creates leaders, and entitlement that ruins them. And it all starts at childhood. Luckily there is a very simple litmus test, to see what side of the parenting spectrum you are on. Again, I've seen this a number of times in multiple children over a lot of playdates. Does your child come to you and say: "I am bored." That's the litmus test. If he/she does, he is expecting that you as the parent have the job to entertain them. That statement is one of the biggest taboos in my household, and I've never heard it from my children yet. If I do, and who knows, I may, then I've been doing something wrong. It is not the job of a parent to deliver entertainment, it is the job of the child to find it themselves. And in a world filled with wonder and amazement, it is really sad to see that parents, in all their love and care, may miss giving their child the ability to see it and seize it.