Today I want to talk about a sticky, polarizing, sensitive issue- Entitlement!
I always hear people complain about the entitlement of today’s youth. The entitled generation. Kids and individuals who want something for nothing, who think the world owes them, and that their problems are the government’s fault, the school curriculum’s fault, the neighbor’s fault. Want to know what I have to say to this? You are right. This is an entitled generation. But…who raised these entitled kids? Why are they this way?
What are some of the characterizing attributes of the entitled generation? They are demanding, often narcissistic (how many “selfies” do you really need to take?), full of faux self-esteem, and have really high expectations of others, and low expectations of themselves.
How did they get this way? While a lot of the blame lies on their own shoulders, there has to be a reason a whole generation seems to exhibit this behavior. Can we safely say it maybe had something to do with parenting and society? I think so.
Who were the parents? The baby boomers and early members of Gen X. So what makes this generation of parents different from other generations? Why the shift to entitled kids? These parents grew up in a tight economy, with parents who lived lives of sacrifice, and scrimping. When they did not face the same, the mentality of easy-come, easy-go started to develop. This is evident in the divorce stats from the time. The focus changed from achievements to a path of self-actualization and being “happy”. And this had a negative impact on kids because being happy replaced being productive.
In addition, this is when birth control became a viable and socially acceptable option. This is the first generation of truly “wanted” kids. These kids were born because their parents planned them, and chose to get pregnant. And because of this, kids thought the world revolved around them, because their parent’s worlds did. And those parents wanted their kids to be “happy”. In an attempt to achieve this, parents and the public school system started pushing the agenda of “building self esteem.” But poorly. For the sake of not making a kid feel bad, extra-credit, do-overs, participation ribbons, and pats on the back were all too common. Competition and true achievement went out the window. There were no science fair winners. You are all winners because you participated. If you try, you get credit. No one gets left behind.
These individuals were raised in a culture of victimization and blame, and with the prevailing thought that it is someone else’s responsibility to take care of them, fix mistakes, and provide this elusive happiness. Sure, responsibility got lip service, but parents picked up the slack, doing homework, funding college educations, and hooking kids up with high paying jobs, despite their lack of credentials. “It’s who you know, not what you know.” Thus, a decade of people that have few ambitions, and fewer skills. This is a generation that relies on others to think for them so that they don’t have to take responsibility if the thoughts are incorrect or problematic.
I could literally go on all day about how this occurred and why. But what I really want to focus on is how, as parents, we can avoid passing this same sense of entitlement and lack of responsibility on to our children. The answer is to have a major shift in the parenting paradigm. Here are my suggestions:
Teach kids values.
When a child is taught values at home, they use them in society. One of the biggest problems with the entitled generation is the lack of values. Marriage is not valued, look at the high divorce rates. Relationships are not valued, it is too easy to make new “friends” online. Family is not valued. Education is not valued. Kids need real values in areas like, sex, respect for authority, family, education, and religion. Without them, they are anchorless in a sea of competing ideas and social pressures. Stop focusing on making kids happy, and instead, help them learn to be happy by themselves by being productive, contributing members of the family.
Teach kids to work.
In our world of instant gratification, it is a hard concept for kids to work for something. Information and gratification are ever ready, just waiting for a swipe, a click, or a command. Help kids learn work. Start at home with chores. Let kids earn their own way to an extent. As parents it is important to provide kids with shelter, clothing, food. But that does not mean fulfilling their every whim. Help kids learn to work, by making them work for some of those “extra” things they want.
Rights don’t come without responsibilities. Sure we have the inalienable rights our founding fathers fought for: The right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. But how did we get it? We fought for it. It is our responsibility to protect those rights. This idea can be achieved on a more focused level in the home. You have the right to sleep in a bed, but it is your responsibility to keep it made, clean and nice. You have the right to food, but you also have the responsibility to help prepare it, clean it up, and not waste it.
One of the biggest problems with entitlement is the 100% focus on self. Kids have to learn that the needs of the individual do not outweigh the needs of the whole. Teach your children to think about community and contribute to it. How can you teach this? Start by giving your kids chores, including chores in a communal area. While it is good to have chores like making your own bed, this still focuses on self. How about having your 6 year old unload the dishwasher, or your four year old take out the bathroom garbages? Implement chores, starting from a young age. Practice acts of service. It is important when kids start to focus too inwardly to change that focus. For example, at Christmas, when the “me, me, me” mentality starts, help them consider community by donating toys, working at a food bank, or choosing other community service options.
Entitlement is characterized as thinking you “deserve” something just because you exist. Help kids understand that they have to take actions to be deserving, and not just participation. For example, if kids want good grades, they can’t just exist. They have to put in the work, study, attend class, etc. Whenever possible, point out to kids the opportunities available to them if they put in the work and effort.
Many kids are born believing they are entitled to their parent’s care, and many other things. Thus are disappointed and frustrated with life. This will not bring happiness. Gratitude will. So how do you teach and practice gratitude? The simplest way is to regularly count your blessings. At dinner time, ask your kids to name a few things they are grateful for. When kids start to lament the bad things in their day, ask them to counter it by pointing out the good in their day as well. It is a mindset, and you have to help set it. Practice makes proficient.
Stop fulfilling every whim.
Last, but not least, help kids understand that the world does not revolve around them. How do you do this? Stop feeling the need to drop what you are doing the second your kid needs something. Stop buying them everything they ask for. Start giving them the opportunity to feel disappointment. It is healthy. They won’t resent you. Protect yourself from a child who will never move out. If you keep fulfilling every whim, your child may never feel the need to take care of themselves.
It is up to you! Do you want to raise snotty, narcissistic, defiant, consumers? Or, do you want to raise productive, thoughtful, contributing members of society who will be our future leaders?