Amy Choate-Nielsen: The age of entitlement: Selfishness is rampant, but can be corrected, experts say

Published: Sunday, Aug. 28 2011 3:00 p.m. MDT

This cycle hits working parents especially hard, says Nelson, who notes they often try to make up for the lack of time with their children by giving them things or quickly solving their problems.

"I'm one who believes that you meet all their needs, but you don't meet all their wants," Nelson said. "But if they always get everything they want, of course they feel entitled. If their parents give them that, then of course they become obnoxious."

Leslee Miller, a licensed clinical social worker in Sugarhouse in Salt Lake City, sees the entitlement mentality all the time.

It comes from a low-frustration tolerance, she says, "the idea that I should never be frustrated, life should be easy. And it's not just in kids."

Entitled adults exude the belief that "everything is everybody else's fault," "the world is unfair to me" and question "why is this happening to me?" — "as if hard things shouldn't be happening to (them) — when that's just a really healthy part of life," she says.

Wake of problems

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.

"People who have this mind-set often hold a negative view of hard work — they put it down and ridicule it," wrote James Lehman, a renowned child behavioral therapist who died in 2010. "They think they deserve things they haven't earned, and they can develop contempt for people who work to earn things.

"I believe that a false sense of entitlement affects every strata of society today. Kids who grow up this way don't want the jobs that are available because they have the belief that they're entitled to something better without having to make an effort. So that false sense of entitlement prohibits them from getting the work skills and the social skills they need to start at the bottom and work their way up."

Such an attitude often manifests itself in the home, where children want mom to make dinner, wash their soccer uniforms and help them with homework, but they grumble and stall when asked to unload the dishwasher or fold the laundry.

Yet it's this work — despite society's labels of menial and mundane — that binds families together and strengthens children, says Kathleen Bahr, a retired BYU professor who spent her career researching the importance of family work.

"Family work links people," she wrote in an essay on this topic. "On a daily basis, the tasks we do to stay alive provide us with endless opportunities to recognize and fill the needs of others. Family work is a call to enact love, and it is a call that is universal."

Without opportunities to sacrifice and serve, particularly in a family, children can become selfish, impatient and narcissistic adults. These adults also often deal with a fear of failure — because they've always been shielded from frustration — and financial instability, because they feel entitled to comforts they can't afford.

Marriages will also suffer if one person expects their spouse to give them everything they're used to getting, or if one partner doesn't want to pull their share of the load.

So instead of working on their relationships, "when things get rough, they just bail," says Don Herrin, professor of family and consumer studies at the University of Utah.

Even the hostility in recent political disputes shows signs of an entitled generation, Herrin says. Inflated promises and progress in tackling problems such as debt are crippled by individuals' inability to accept sacrifice or compromise. The growing trend is worrisome to parenting experts Richard and Linda Eyre, who just completed a book about battling entitlement called "The Entitlement Trap — How to Rescue Your Child with a New Family System of Choosing, Earning and Ownership."

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