"My mom and I are in a fight. I have a graduation I'm supposed to go to this weekend and she won't buy me a new dress. She says I already have enough dresses in my closet. What does she think I'm supposed to do? Wear the same dress twice?"
Honestly, this eighth grade girl astounded me. As a counselor for more than 20 years, I've sat with a lot of children and teens who have all kinds of issues. But I've never spoken with a child of any age grappling with the issue of entitlement quite like this young woman.
She went on to talk about a new girl at her school and how the teachers asked a few of the students to reach out to her.
"I mean, yeah, she's new. I don't know if she has any friends yet or not. But what am I supposed to do? Walk up to her and say, ‘Hi, I know you're new. My name's ...'"
"Yes," I responded with all of the patience I could muster. "That's exactly what you do." Her entitlement was undoubtedly about material things, but it reached beyond her wants to her character. She thought entirely too much of herself and too little of others. Entitlement can be defined in the same way. And, though she may be extreme in her sense of entitlement, the problem is growing in leaps and bounds in children of all ages — even those being raised by well-meaning Christian parents.
Consequences of Free Rein
It wouldn't take long to see the chains of entitlement in any school in the United States. When many in my generation were growing up, we saved our money to help our parents buy our bicycles. Today, some elementary school students have iPads as a part of their curriculum. In 2007, 22 percent of children aged 6 to 9 had their own cellphones. One could guess that the numbers have grown exponentially since then.
We live in a culture saturated with things. Children growing up today are constantly entertained, overly stimulated, and often completely satisfied ... instantly. Many times, they want for nothing. I once saw two teenagers in a line at Disney World checking Facebook on their iPads. They couldn't wait patiently, sans devices, in a 30-minute line at Disney World, of all places.
So what's the genesis of this issue of entitlement? Why do our children constantly want more, whether it's more treats at the grocery or more attention than parents can possibly give? We don't have to look far to find the answer. The media is rampant with kids who seem to have unstoppable resources and attitudes. Long gone are the lectures about walking to school — uphill — both ways — in the snow.
There's been much press about the "every child gets a trophy" phenomenon across the country. So often, every child does get a trophy ... or unearned accolades or praise. As a counselor, I believe it's important to encourage your children. But there's a difference between encouraging them and over-inflating them.
Speaking the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15) can include statements like, "It's OK that you're not the best basketball player out there. But I sure love what a great big sister you are." Or, "You may not be the best math student, but you're outstanding in science."
In our book Intentional Parenting, my co-authors and I suggest doing a strengths assessment with your children by having them outline areas in which they feel strong and areas where they'd like to improve. It helps them understand themselves — their God-given limitations and gifts — and can be a fantastic starter to a real, honest conversation.
In our parenting seminars, we challenge parents not to rescue their children. If every time your son forgets his lunch, you take him a McDonald's meal, or every time she loses her North Face jacket, you buy her a new one, entitlement will wedge its way into your home. Struggle breeds resilience in children. As we read in James 1:12, "A man who endures trials is blessed because when he passes the test he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him." That's a much more durable crown than any we figuratively place on our heads anyway.
It's OK to let your child experience pain ... not pain that you can prevent physically, but pain that you can't necessarily prevent emotionally. Suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope, says Paul in Romans 5:3-5. The suffering that we try to prevent as parents can be the tool God uses to give them hope.
Opportunities for Real Growth
So, what can you do? How can you break the chains of entitlement that may already be present in your home? Here are a few practical suggestions that can make a difference in the lives of families:
Help your children understand the difference between wants and needs.
Be aware of your own language and how you distinguish the two. Help incorporate both words into your children's vocabulary and experience. Provide necessities, but let them look forward to holidays, birthdays, special occasions, and other random special days for the things they simply want.
Let your child be a part of fundraising.
If your son desperately wants his first iPod, let him earn half the money. When holidays roll around, let him save to help buy gifts for your immediate family. Don't just buy them on his behalf and sign his name to the card. Gifts for him and others will mean more when he's been part of the process.
Make gratitude a part of the natural environment of your home.
At dinner, have everyone go around the table and say something for which they're thankful from their day ... not just on Thanksgiving. Have your children write thank-you notes. And model gratitude as an adult. Thank your server at dinner. Be grateful to your own parents when your children are around (and when they're not).
Be a family who gives.
At Christmas, sponsor another family with children of similar ages, and let your children select the gifts. Help at a local soup kitchen. Take your children on mission trips when they're old enough. Don't just tell them about children in impoverished countries ... give them hands and feet to experience life for those who have less. It will broaden their perspective and help them see that they can make a difference — no matter how old they are.
Establish financial boundaries.
If your 15-year-old daughter earns a $20 weekly allowance, don't give her more than that. Allow her to run out of money, or she'll never appreciate the distance a dollar can go. Give her consequences for overspending, too. If she uses too many minutes on her cellphone plan or overspends in another area, have her complete chores in your home to pay the difference. She'll learn much more from paying the debt of her experience than by your explanation.
Give your children responsibilities around the house.
Kids should contribute to life as a family with age-appropriate chores. They can help clear the table as young as they can walk and carry items. You can pay them for some chores, but some chores should just be a part of being a contributing family member. Chores help them learn responsibility and the value of your time and energy.
Don't be afraid to start over.
It's never too late. Tell your children, "I've been thinking about how, as a family, we're not grateful" or, "We take a lot of things for granted. It's time we did something different and appreciated one another and all that we've been given." Then do something different — no matter how old your children are.
Breaking the chains of entitlement begins at home. As you live out gratitude and graciousness, your children will see these values as worthy. You teach them by how you live, what you say, and how you allow them to struggle and work their own way toward responsibility. You can raise kids who live with humility and thankfulness, who see and appreciate what they're given daily by the Giver of all good gifts.
This article is courtesy of HomeLife Magazine.