Never before has there been a generation with such a sense of privilege as our kids today. Their tendency to think they should have whatever they want and do whatever they want whenever they want lies at the root of most of their problems (and most of our parenting problems).
As we travel the world, speaking to parents in audiences large and small, the questions and concerns we get from them are always the same:
- Why do my kids sometimes make such obviously bad and foolish choices?
- Why don’t they put in the effort at school to reach their full potential?
- Why won’t they pick up their clothes or put away their toys?
- Why do they think they need to have everything their friends have?
- Why is it so hard for me to influence my kids — and so easy for their friends to influence them?
- Why can’t I get them to set some goals and to start feeling responsible for their lives?
- Why can’t I get them to work, why won’t they follow through on their tasks?
The cause for each of these problems — for every one of them — is one thing. That thing is entitlement.
Entitlement is the best name we know for the attitude of children who think they can have, should have, and deserve whatever they want, whatever their friends have, and that they should have it now, and not have to earn it or give anything for it. And it goes beyond having to behaving. They think they should be able to do whatever they want, whatever their friends do, now, and without a price.
A sense of entitlement contributes mightily to laziness, to low motivation, to boredom, to messiness, to bad choices, to instant gratification and constant demands for more, and to addictions (including the addiction to electronic gadgets and technology).
Perhaps the biggest problem with entitlement is that when kids are under its illusions, there seem to be no real consequences in life and no motivation to work for anything. Someone will always bail you out, get you off the hook, buy you a new one, make excuses for you, get you another chance, pay your debt, and give you what you ask for.
Entitlement is a double-edged sword (or a double-jawed trap) for kids. On one edge it gives kids all that they don’t need — indulgence, dullness, conceit, and laziness. On the back swing, it takes from them everything they do need — initiative, independence, inventiveness, pride and responsibility.
More, far more than any previous generation of kids, today’s children feel entitled. They are indulged and pampered by their parents and other adults in their lives, and they don’t want to work (or to wait) for anything. Not only do they live in a society of have-it-now media and advertising, bailouts, and instant gratification, but they also live in homes that perpetuate and strengthen that mindset, thanks to parents who give them what they want without expecting anything in return.
Entitlement really is a kid trap, because once those entitlement jaws have grabbed a child, they hold fast! And the reason this trap is a particularly bad one is that it stifles children’s initiative, encourages self-centeredness, and mutes their natural and healthy fear of consequences. It makes them believe the world owes them a living and destroys the connection between effort and reward.
So our kids don’t learn to work. They don’t feel much incentive or motivation to do their best.
DO YOU AGREE? Hit the “comment” button at the bottom of this article and let us know if your kids are getting caught in the entitlement trap.
What it does and where it comes From
Entitlement is killing us! It’s trapping our kids and setting them up for failure. It is affecting (and ensnaring) children from all geographic locales, all economic and educational levels, and all philosophical, religious and political persuasions.
How widespread is it? We happened to mention on our blog recently and asked for entitlement stories from parents. We were flooded. Personal examples of entitlement poured in for days. The stories ranged from funny kids ideas about what’s what and who does what to demands so extreme they resemble gallows humor.
Here are a few samples:
My son’s pre-school class with fifteen three- and four-year-olds on the Upper East Side of Manhattan were seated crossed legged on the carpet in front of their bright and cheerful teacher who announced, “Today we are going to talk about the seasons.
“Who can tell me anything about the four seasons?” she asked with a big smile. One four-year-old shot his hand up immediately and with perfect confidence announced, “It’s the very best hotel in Hawaii!”
I’m a forty-something professional from the Midwest. Recently, I had been gone from my family for a week and was greeted by my nine-year-old son with a big hug. That night at dinner after a catch-up session about things that had happened while I was gone, he quietly brought up something he had obviously planned quite carefully. “Mom, you’ve been gone a long time and you missed my band concert. How about buying me the new Wii game to make up for it?”
I took my eight-year-old out to rake leaves in the backyard. He liked it for about five minutes and then said he wasn’t having fun anymore. I told him it wasn’t about fun; it was about work and about taking care of our yard. He said “Well, that’s what gardeners and Mexicans do, isn’t it?”
I decided to take a year off of work to volunteer in the “projects” in Atlanta. The children I worked with had all had hard lives and had been raised on the dole. None could remember ever sitting around a dinner table with their families, but of course all of them had cell phones with a bazillion different ring tones.
One day I was helping them with their reading when a 12-year-old girl said, “Hey I like your shoes! They’re so cute! I want them! How about you give ‘em to me?” Stunned, I realized this girl was serious. “Hey, I worked hard for these shoes!” I declared, as I realized that I was looking straight into the face of entitlement.
Our Sunday school class of hardworking parents was asked if we thought our children felt as entitled as their peers who were not particularly religious. Almost in a chorus everyone declared, “Of course they are! They all think they need every gadget their friends have! They claim they don’t have time to clean the bathroom because they’re so busy texting and doing their homework on the Internet.”
Some of the parents ventured that they thought entitlement was worse in faith-centered families where kids felt they deserved special blessings in reward for their “righteousness.”
Our eight-year-old son was aghast when his we suggested he might have to work to earn some money to replace the neighbor’s window that he had broken while throwing rocks. “You’re my mom,” he said. “That’s the kind of thing you are supposed to take care of.’”
I’m a sixth grade teacher and I called the home of a student who had been absent for three straight days to see what was wrong.
The mother explained that her daughter had refused to go to school until she had the new name-brand jeans and shoes that she said all her friends had. “I’ll have the money Friday, on payday, to buy her the stuff, and she will be back in class on Monday,” the mother promised.
My 28-year-old daughter who had lost her job and ended a relationship with her boyfriend just showed up at my home one day and moved back into her old room without any thought of asking or of paying. Worried about her, I began paying her bills. When her two siblings, both married and living elsewhere, heard about the arrangement, they demanded that I “be fair” and send them the same amount of money each month that I was spending on their sister.
We were trying to teach sharing to our two small children, so we suggested that they give their old but complete Lego set to a child living down the street whose family was on welfare. The child opened the box and looked skeptically at its contents. Without any kind of thanks, he informed me that there were parts missing and that he was big and needed a bigger Lego set and could I get one for him.
My eleven-year-old seems to think that the living room is his personal domain where he can change clothes, eat contra banned food from the kitchen, whittle sticks with his pocket knife, and anything else he wants to do. Of course, he leaves clothes, wrappers, cups, bits of food, wood shavings, and other garbage all over the floor. When he is asked to clean up, he says, “That’s your job. You’re the mom.” Hmm. I must have not got that job description when I signed up for the position.
We will be excited to hear from you on this pervasive topic of entitlement. It is a problem of a magnitude that has not existed before in any other generation of children. (Again, if you haven’t already, go to the “comment” button at the bottom of this article, and let us know your own feelings about the sense of entitlement that seems to grow stronger every day among our children.)
In our follow-up column next weekend, we will explain what we think is the only antidote to entitlement — giving kids a sense of real ownership in order to breed a feeling of pride, self-worth, and responsibility. Join us here in next Friday as we explore how to give our kids actual and self-perceived ownership of their toys, their clothes, their money, and more. Once ownership takes root, entitlement begins to disappear.
See you then!