My husband Richard and I are embarking on a new book which will be published by Penguin next year. The working title is The Entitlement Trap. When we started thinking about this we saw entitlement as an enormous problem with modern families. But little did we know according to our explosion of responses that this just might be the biggest issue in today’s parenting world. We have been astounded by the feedback that parents have given us! Regardless of economic level, nationality, religion and age of children it is an enormous problem across the board. The following vignettes will give you an idea of what we mean:
A thirty-something working mom who had been gone from her family for a few days was greeted by her nine year old son with a big hug. That night at dinner after a catch-up session about things that had happened while she was gone, her son 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?”
A hard-working, service oriented twenty four year old decided that for a year her time would best be spent helping young women in the projects in Atlanta They 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 every one of them had a cell phone with a bazillion different ring tones. One day she was helping them sort out their lives when one of them said, “Hey I like your shoes! They’re so cute! How about you give ‘em to me?” Stunned, she realized this girl was serious. “Hey, I worked hard for these shoes,” she declared, as she realized she was looking straight into the face of ‘entitlement’!
A Sunday school class of hard working parents was asked if they thought their children felt as entitled as their peers who were not particularly religious. Almost like a chorus they declared, “Of course they are! They all think they need cell phones like their friends! 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 thought entitlement was worse in faith centered families where kids felt they deserved special blessings in reward for their righteousness.
An eight year old boy was aghast when his mother suggested he might have to work to earn some money to replace the neighbor’s window that he had broken while throwing rocks. His argument was, “You’re my mom, that’s the kind of thing you are supposed to take care of!”
Sometimes we perpetuate the problem:
A young mother, obviously very worried about getting more healthy food into her young children’s bodies was at her wit’s end with her 3 and 5 year olds because they thought they were entitled to eat whatever they wanted to eat. If she denied them, they knew how to throw spectacular tantrums. Perfectly innocently she asked, “Is it okay to tell them that they can’t have what they want to eat until they finish their veggie smoothie?”
There are many ways to rescue kids from our entitlement mentality world, but to encapsulate, we feel sure that the magic antidote for entitlement is giving kids ownership! With preschoolers it is a matter of giving them ownership of their choices i.e.” Do you want to eat this breakfast smoothie or go without any food until lunch? It’s your choice.” With elementary age kids one idea is giving them ownership of their things by providing a way for them to earn the stuff they want with a “will-work-for-stuff” mentality. For teenagers, along with partially overcoming the entitlement mentality by giving them ways to earn instead of being given what they want we also suggest one-on-one talks with them about having ownership of decisions they can make now that will have a huge impact on their future lives.
There are so many entitlement issues that there is no space to even list in this column but if you have a story of entitlement that comes to mind with your own family, we’d love to hear from you. Send entitlement stories to firstname.lastname@example.org and your story may be published (anonymously) in this new book.
Even if you have been able to avoid most of the entitlement mentality with your own kids, the entitlement of their friends and even grandparents showering your kids with things that lead to feelings of entitlement becomes an issue. In any case we hope you’ll give entitlement some thought in your own life. How has it affected you and what can you do to fix some things now before they get out of control later. Good luck!