Eyres: Dissecting a child’s entitlement

We love the SUCCESS audience because you are THINKING parents and you are looking for real answers to the challenges that face your kids today.

You have concluded, most of you, as we have, that entitlement and the lack of motivation to earn and save and experience delayed gratification is a core problem for kids today, and you have admitted that it is mostly the fault of parents! (See the reader poll in our last two blog posts.)

We are going to make the audacious claim that we can help you (and your kids) overcome the problem of entitlement attitudes. But before we start spewing out ideas, we invite you to think with us a little more about the problem itself, and about the changing nature of raising kids today.

In other words, let’s think a little harder about the questions before we start trying to state the answers. Here are some queries that we hope will challenge you:

Are you letting your kids fall into a trap that can make their lives (and yours) miserable?

Instead of giving our kids a sense of responsibility, are you giving them the exact opposite—a sense of entitlement?

Are you setting your kids up for disaster by not teaching them how to handle money?

Are yesterday’s parenting methods completely unsuited for today’s world?

Are some of the “old reliables,” such as allowances and the withholding of privileges, just not helpful anymore and perhaps even becoming counterproductive to raising responsible kids?

Is the technology that surrounds and suffocates our kids causing them to think that everything is “instant,” sapping our children of real-world experience and taking away their chances to earn and to wait and to make good choices and become responsible?

What if many of our basic notions of parenting, the way our parents raised us, and much of what we read from “experts” in parenting books is now working against us in our efforts to raise kids who are prepared for the world they will inherit?

Do any of the following questions sound familiar to you?  Might you be the “asker” of some of them?

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?

What ever happened to self-discipline and self-reliance and delayed gratification?

Why can’t I get them away from games and gadgets, from cell phones and headphones?

Why can’t I motivate my kids? Or communicate with them? Or teach them responsibility?

Whenever we open our parenting meetings to questions, these are the ones that come up!

And in a world that is changing as fast as ours (as fast as our children’s) the answers have to keep getting better! And to look for answers, we have to understand the root of the problem… of all of the problems.

One evening, as we heard these questions for the umpteenth time from an audience of parents in an auditorium, we had a parenting epiphany: We realized all the questions hinge on the same problem—and the problem 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 technology).

So where does this sense of entitlement come from?

A sense of entitlement (which is the polar opposite of a sense of responsibility) is endemic among children today.

It is fostered by our demanding, narcissistic society where wants are confused with needs and where everyone seems focused on the notion that he deserves what everyone else has. Gone are the days when kids expected to have to work for something, even for acclaim. Everyone gets a trophy now, everyone is recognized, and everyone is special.

Kids grow up in a reality-show world, thinking of themselves as the central character on the stage. They have a Facebook page, they are famous in their own minds, they are like rock stars, and to them there is no room (and no need) for true emotional empathy, or self-examination, or personal responsibility. Nor is there much incentive or motivation to learn to work. And they think they are entitled not to have limits or boundaries or discipline.

And it is us parents, by not saying “no” and by giving them what they demand, that become the ultimate enablers.

In their book Living in the Age of Entitlement: The Narcissism Epidemic, Jean M. Twenge and W. Keith Campbell explain it this way:

“It is increasingly common to see parents relinquishing authority to young children, showering them with unearned praise, protecting them from their teachers’ criticisms, giving them expensive automobiles, and allowing them to have freedom but not the responsibility that goes with it. Not that long ago, kids knew who the boss was—and it wasn’t them. It was Mom and Dad. And Mom and Dad weren’t your “friends.” They were your parents.”

Then Twenge and Campbell get at one of the true causes of entitlement:

The sea change in parenting is driven by the core cultural value of self-admiration and positive feelings. Parents want their kids’ approval, a reversal of the past ideal of children striving for their parents’ approval.”

And as our lives get busier and busier, as both parents work, and as the disconnect grows greater between what we say our priorities are and where we actually spend our thought and energy, we parents give our kids things instead of time, spoiling them as we add fuel to the entitlement flame.

Dan Kindlon, in his book Too Much of a Good Thing, puts it simply:

“We give our kids too much and demand too little of them.”

Kindlon goes on to argue that when kids are overindulged, it leads to outcomes resembling the seven deadly sins: pride, wrath, envy, sloth, gluttony, lust, and greed.

Join us in our next blog post when we will begin our exploration of the antidote to entitlement!

The Eyres’ new book is The Entitlement Trap, which will be released by Penguin this fall.

Leave a Reply