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 wherein wants are confused with needs, and wherein 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, self-examination or personal responsibility. There isn't 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, who 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. 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.
How widespread is this sense of entitlement among kids? Widespread enough that every parent seems to have a close-to-home example of it. We asked on our blog for examples of entitlement, and the inbox was flooded. Personal "testimonials" poured in for days. The stories ranged from kids' funny ideas about what's what and who does what to demands so extreme they resemble gallows humor. Here are just four out of the hundreds we received:
"I'm a 40-something professional from the Midwest. Recently, I had been gone from my family for a week and was greeted by my 9-year-old son with a big hug. That night at dinner, after a catch-up session about things that had happened while I was gone, he quietly brought up something he had obviously planned quite carefully. 'Mom, you've been gone a long time and you missed my band concert. How about buying me the new Wii game to make up for it?' "
"My 9-year-old came up to me the other day and said, 'I have to have a credit card … or a cellphone. At least one of them.' "
"Our 8-year-old son was aghast when we suggested he might have to work to earn some money to replace the neighbor's window that he had broken while throwing rocks. 'You're my mom; that's the kind of thing you are supposed to take care of.' "
"A few weeks ago, I was shopping with my 4-year-old who saw something he 'really wanted.' He got upset when I said 'no' and angrily asked me why I wouldn't buy it for him. My response was, 'Because I don't want to spend the money on that.' He frowned, growled at me and said, 'Fine, then you just give me the money and I'll pay for it.' "
Send your own examples of entitlement to us via the "contact us" button at www.valuesparenting.com. We will comment further and suggest some solutions in future columns.
The Eyres' next book is "The Entitlement Trap: How to Rescue Your Child with a New Family System of Choosing, Earning, and Ownership." For information about preordering "The Entitlement Trap," see www.valuesparenting.com.
The Eyres are the founders of Joy Schools and of valuesparenting.com and the authors of numerous bestselling books on marriage, parenting and family. Their mission statement, developed while presiding over the England London South Mission, is "FORTIFY FAMILIES by celebrating commitment, popularizing parenting, bolstering balance and validating values."
Their newest book, now available in stores and online, is "5 Spiritual Solutions for Everyday Parenting Challenges," and their blog can be found at http://www.deseretnews.com/blog/81/A-World-of-Good.html. Visit the Eyres anytime at www.TheEyres.com or www.valuesparenting.com.