In our estimation, the biggest problem kids have today and the problem parents worry most about is an attitude of entitlement.
We call it the "entitlement trap" because children get trapped in the mentality of “I deserve whatever I want, and I want it right now" — without waiting and without working. This type of thinking robs the child of motivation, initiative and gratitude. And it deprives the child of the joy of delayed gratification.
When we are speaking to groups of parents, we often ask how many of them had a job of some kind while they were growing up so they could earn a little spending money and save up for things they wanted. Almost all hands go up, and the jobs range from paper routes and baby-sitting to mowing lawns and shoveling snow.
Oh, the joy that came from finally saving enough. I (Richard) will never forget the pride and satisfaction I had when I saved my meager earnings from little odd jobs for six months and was finally able to buy my first bike. And I (Linda) loved the feeling that came with the stylish new coat I bought with money I had saved from my carhop job.
Next, we ask our audiences how many of their kids have jobs outside the home. Almost no hands go up.
For the most part, kids today don’t know the joy of working for something or the joy of waiting for something.
Some parents have figured out how important working, earning, saving, waiting and delayed gratification are — and have set up little “family economies” in their own homes where kids get paid for some of the household jobs they do instead of getting a handout allowance. (We've provided some “how-tos” at valuesparenting.com/happyfamily4.php.) Other families still help their kids find jobs outside their homes, although that can be more problematic today than it was a generation ago.
There is another kind of “instant gratification” that we worry a great deal about, and it doesn't have to do with money. It has to do with sex.
Just as kids who don’t learn to work for and save their money will never know the delayed gratification and joy of waiting for and finally obtaining something they love, kids who don’t learn to value and save their physical bodies for someone special will never know the delayed gratification and joy of waiting for the person they truly love.
There is a kind of romance and growing excitement in delayed gratification that is never found in instant gratification. The media’s portrayal of couples jumping into bed on their first encounter or at their first spark of mutual physical interest is becoming the reality for too many young people. And sex is increasingly thought of as a form of recreation rather than as the consummation of the deepest and longest-lasting kind of commitment.
And apart from questions of morality or amorality, what is lost or missing in instant sexual gratification is the magic, the intrigue, the nuance and the genuine romance of falling more and more in love and gradually giving more of yourself to another as respect and commitment grows — and saving the ultimate gift of self until the commitment is total.
The old phrase “fools rush in where angels fear to tread” comes to mind.
Like many, we remember our two years of courtship (and of waiting) as an incredibly heady and wonderfully romantic time. To borrow a phrase from our late and dear friend Stephen Covey, we were making deposits, by waiting, into our respective emotional bank accounts. We were telling each other that we were worth waiting for, that we loved each other enough to want everything to be right. And it made the magic grow.
Perhaps “chastity,” a word that sounds old-fashioned, is not so much about what not to do as it is about the power, beauty and joy of delayed gratification. Or, as G.K. Chesterton said, “Chastity does not mean abstention from sexual wrong; it means something flaming, like Joan of Arc.”
Richard and Linda Eyre are New York Times No. 1 best-selling authors who lecture throughout the world on family-related topics. Visit them anytime at EyresFreeBooks.com or at valuesparenting.com, and follow Linda’s blog at eyrealm.blogspot.com.