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Overcoming Children’s Sense of Entitlement with Responsibility

Never before has there been a generation with such a sense of entitlement 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 and why won’t they follow through on their tasks?

The cause for each of these problems—for every one of them—is one word… and the word 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).

Perhaps the biggest problem with entitlement is that, 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.

Eyre-familyEntitlement 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; and on the backswing, 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, they live in homes that perpetuate and strengthen that paradigm thanks to parents who give them what they want without 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 feel like the world owes them a living and destroys the connection between effort and reward.

ChildrenSo our kids don’t learn to work.

They don’t feel much incentive or motivation to do their best.

And they don’t know much about consequences because someone always excuses them, gets them off the hook, or bails them out.

In our next blog, we will explain what we think is the only antidote to entitlement—giving kids a sense of real ownership, which breeds a sense of pride, self-worth, and responsibility. Join us here in a couple of days 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.

Do you agree? Post a reply below and let us know if your kids are getting caught in the entitlement trap.

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