Do Hunter–Gatherers Spoil Children?

This interview with author/scientist Jared Diamond in the New York Times ended with this exchange about raising children.

Of particular interest to unschoolers is the interviewer’s statement that a parent who supports children to actively pursue their interests is spoiling them. Dr. Diamond’s rejoinder is crisp and refreshing.

Is it true that you raised your sons, Max and Joshua, like Pygmies?

Yes, but we did not go to what I would consider the extremes. In traditional societies, children are allowed to make their own decisions, so we let them make their own decisions within reason, with some surprising results. When Max was 3 years old, he saw his first snake, and he demanded one as a pet. We bought him a nonpoisonous snake, and eventually he had 147 different pets: snakes, frogs, salamanders and other reptiles and amphibians.

That approach to parenting could be seen as spoiling children.

Theoretically yes and in practice no. I think you get brats when you raise children who are told what to do for seven hours a day and in the remaining one or two hours they express their will, which has been frustrated all day. New Guinean kids are not brats, and my kids were not brats.

Have your children been to New Guinea?

No, it’s too dangerous.