Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Age of Entitlement

This post is an expansion of an article of the same name that will appear in the October issue of Viva Magazine.  

Much has been on the parenting radar recently – in books, interviews, and articles – about a drop in children’s gratitude and an increase in their entitlement.  An August 28 article in the Deseret News was entitled “Selfishness is Rampant”.  The article says that a child’s lack of gratitude is a “symptom of a greater phenomenon that psychologists, family experts, sociologists and scholars say is gripping the world.  Now, more than ever, entitlement — the idea that "I should get everything I want when I want it, even if I haven't worked for it" — is rearing its ugly head.” 

Entitlement is not just about the “gimmies.”  It reveals a child’s beliefs about work, choices, consequences, respect for others and self, team, contribution and relationships.  It impacts the child’s happiness now and as an adult.  It is an indicator of one’s self-reliance.  “The attitude of entitlement doesn't just mean that kids and teens believe they should have everything they want when they want; it's also that they believe they're entitled not to do some things — like work.”

Karen Deerwester, author of The Entitlement-Free Child Raising Confident and Responsible Kids in a "Me, Mine, Now!" Culture, emphasizes the importance of responsibility in raising entitlement-free children.  “Entitlement children are not defined here as those with healthy self-respect and a gracious respect for others.  Entitlement behavior is negative when it is defined by Me-Mine-Now attitude and Me-Mine-Now behavior.  When entitlement becomes a relentless demand for immediate gratification, it hurts the child and the child’s ability to reach her fullest potential.” 
What can parents do to raise entitlement-free children?  It begins with examining several areas in your family. 

How does your child contribute and serve within the family? The fulfillment of serving and being part of team is learned in childhood as is cooperation.  Having chores, working together and feeling the satisfaction of assisting others is vital.  If you are doing it all for your child, you are not doing him any favors.  It is comparable to a personal trainer doing the workout for you.  He is earning money, learning about his body and getting fit while you are static.  Allow your children to do more, even if it is not perfect.  Very young children can match socks.  Teens can cook meals and do laundry.  Your children can make grocery lists, mop the floors, feed the pets and much more. 

Do you allow your child to fail and make mistakes knowing they have a “safe place to land” at home?  It is through mistakes that we learn.  Many parents fear that mistakes or failures will damage their child’s self-esteem when actually the opposite is true.  Making mistakes and subsequently learning how to do something in a different way builds self-esteem.  Self-esteem involves knowing that you are loveable AND capable.  Children learn that they are capable through making mistakes, learning from them and then going for it again.  Edison made hundreds of mistakes (also known as new inventions) on his way to the incandescent light bulb.  Examine how you handle your own mistakes and allow your child to make his, knowing that home is a “safe place to land”. 

Where does your family stand with consumerism and how do you handle the rampant marketing aimed at your children?  Young children do not have the ability to handle the advertising that is targeting them.  Parents are the filter.  How do you handle your children’s demands for things and do you distinguish between needs and wants?  Tied in with this is your child’s allowance and his responsibility with money.  “In an attempt to evaluate what impact paying for chores had on children, Kristine Manwaring did her master's thesis on the topic, interviewing 30 families, half of whom had monetary systems in place.” Manwaring said, “We found that the methods they used to teach their kids about money and work actually had unintended consequences. The families who felt strongly about paying their kids for work and trying not to (promote) entitlement had kids who would only work when they wanted to buy something.  So parents were in the awkward position of encouraging their children to buy things, which promoted materialism and a fixation on money beyond what a child at certain age levels would have."

There are other areas to consider – such as how you respond to your child’s demands for things, how you set boundaries, if you use rewards or encouragement – and these three are a terrific place to begin.  Your child’s efforts – in serving within the family and learning from his mistakes – will contribute to his happiness now and as an adult.  When you really take a look, happiness is what all parents desire for their children. 


  1. I was shocked when a teacher asked me to help the kids who had not finished their projects which had been due 2wks previous. This "help" consisted of these children wanting to argue with me about why they should not have to do the project and then them wanting me to finish it for them.
    I told the teacher that I would not engage in this sort of behavior. The teacher laughed and said that this is how most children are towards school and projects.
    I stayed on until the end of my volunteer session, assisting children but not doing their work for them.
    I am a proud mother of two very capable beings. They may not always want to do their work but they do their work themselves. With help and struggling through, with lessons learned and with the parental hand nearby. I will NOT be in it all the way as the child stands by overseeing or just wondering off leaving me to finish the task. There is no lesson in that mode of "help".

  2. Thanks very much for your input. Children in the circumstances you describe learn that if they procrastinate or complain enough, adults will do their work for them. That is not satisfying for children because they never experience how capable they are or the true satisfaction of working through something that is challenging. The mistakes, baby steps in learning, the handling of frustrations and the parent's helping hand all assist a child prepare for life.