IN CALIFORNIA, PROSPECTIVE PARENTS enroll in courses at Prenatal University so they can learn to communicate with their as yet unborn babies. In New Jersey, a juvenile-furniture maker advertises with the slogan "good isn't enough for your child." In Atlanta, a company markets diapers in 65 different colored motifs.

America, argues author Fred Gosman, is obsessively concerned with its children. "In sonic homes children decide the car-radio stations, the TV channels, the movies, the restaurants," says Gosman, 45, in Spoiled Rotten: Today's Children and How to Change them, his self-published self-help book that, thanks to good reviews and word of mouth, has become a mainstream success. "When the telemarketer calls and asks to speak to the head of household, many honest parents would have to hand the phone to their children.

Gosman's Robert Fulghum—like observations on everything from tantrums to term papers are winning him praise. A Washington Post critic said the book contained "more reality...in its 196 pages than a year's worth of psychobabble about child rearing." Noted child-care expert Dr. T. Berry Brazelton also approves. "It's good, healthy common sense," he said.

Among Gosman's prescriptions: "Homes are not democracies"; "Good parents discipline before the stares of others tell them to"; "Children have no inalienable right to filibuster"; "Our children's TVs should not be bigger and better than ours."

Gosman credits his success to the fact that he is utterly without formal credentials in child rearing. Growing up in Milwaukee, the son of a liquorstore owner and a housewife, he dropped out of a Ph.D. program to become a stockbroker and later a salesman of telephone services.

The impetus for the book came from a parents' group Gosman formed when his son Bob's sixth grade class was disrupted by misbehavior. To Gosman's surprise, other parents also favored disciplining troublemakers. "We've made parenting into some kind of complex process, like brain surgery," he says. "And despite all our sacrifices, children have never been less happy."

For nearly two years, starting in 1988, Gosman rose at 4:30 every morning and went to the local Hardee's, where he wrote until it was lime to go to work. When 15 publishers scoffed at his amateur standing in child psychology, Gosman and his wife, Eileen, 45, sank $9,000 into printing 3,000 copies. Then came a second printing of 10,000 copies and the Washington Post rave, and Villard Books, a division of Random House, signed up Spoiled for a 50,000 printing.

Gosman, who admits that his own two sons are "slightly spoiled," has been trying to follow his own advice. But he's no tyrant. On weekends he golfs with Bob, now 16, and he is planning a fishing trip for Mike's upcoming bar mitzvah. Most important, lie writes, is to remind our children "that although they are exceedingly important, the earth still revolves around the sun."

SUSAN REED
BONNIE BELL in Milwaukee

  • Contributors:
  • Bonnie Bell.