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

"The thing we worry about most is the kids, because they are the ones paying the debt," Richard Eyre said during a recent interview about the new book. "They will be stuck with the bills for our retirement, Social Security and Medicare and the national debt we're ringing up, but on a macro level, we're worried that they're growing up in a society where the model is 'I need to have it right now.'"

With that entitlement attitude, children aren't grateful for what has been given to them because they think it's deserved. In the end, giving in to demanding behaviors is not just discouraging for parents and frustrating to teachers, it's also damaging to the child.

"It's a guaranteed prescription for unhappiness," says Love and Logic's Fay. "Because nothing will ever be their fault, and they can never have enough stuff."

Discussion over dollars

Materialism is one of the biggest factors driving entitlement, experts say. Kids today are nearly drowning in a wave of consumerism that leads them to believe they need the newest gadget to keep up with their friends. Thus it's no surprise that parents far too often hear, "I want this," "I have to have it" and "Everybody else has one."

To combat this, many parents give their children allowances or assign monetary values to chores, requiring that they save up for their own toys and clothes to learn money management and the value of patience.

Nelson believes children should be given allowances — unrelated to chore completion — so when they ask for something at the store, parents can teach the child what it means to save. Or perhaps they can create an arrangement where if the child saves half, the parents will chip in the other half.

"If they want it bad enough, they'll learn they have to earn their money," she said. "They learn delayed gratification."

Other parents choose not to pay their children for chores or even give an allowance. Instead, they expect children to participate in chores just because they're a member of the family, and when needs arise, the family assesses them together.

Bahr remembers growing up like this, working with her 12 siblings alongside her father on the family's two-and-a-half-acre farm in northern Utah. When money came in, it wasn't dad's money, she says. It was family money and "we were as entitled to spend it as my mother was."

When the children needed notebooks, clothes or even toys, they brought it up in a family meeting and were given the money to buy what they needed. And when someone else's needs were more pressing, the siblings learned how to sacrifice for each other.

She believes that when kids are paid to do chores, "(they) don't learn to do things out of the goodness of their heart. If we as adults impose that on our kids' thinking that we're teaching them how to manage money, what we're doing is robbing them of the lessons of learning how to work and serve with each other."

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.

"We found that the methods they used to teach their kids about money and work actually had unintended consequences," said Manwaring, who formerly taught in the School of Family Life at BYU. "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."

Her research also showed that in families where children were paid for chores, they were less likely to help siblings or other family members without financial incentive.

She remembers one family where the grandparents asked their grandsons to come help them with yard work.

"The boys responded, 'How much?' " Manwaring recalled. "It horrified the parents, but the kids had been trained.

"We came away from the research with (the understanding) that the more you can minimize money, the less entitled your kids will be," Manwaring said, adding that the topic still needs to be studied in greater detail.

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