“Raising responsible kids" has been the topic of our most popular parenting lecture for more than two decades. And much of it is based on our best-selling book by essentially the same name, "Teaching Your Children Responsibility." The simple fact is that teaching responsible behavior to kids is perceived by most parents as one of if not the most important part of parenting.
But just lately, another topic has risen to the top of our request list. It is “Saving your Kids from the Entitlement Trap” based on our newer book "The Entitlement Trap: How to Rescue your Child with a New Family System of Choosing, Earning and Ownership."
What is interesting to us is that these two top presentations are really the same thing (or flip sides of each other) because an entitlement attitude is the precise opposite of responsibility.
Why are these the most requested topics by parents? Simply because many of today’s kids are not learning responsibility in the ways that we did as kids. Instead, they are growing up with the entitlement attitude that seems to say “I deserve to have whatever I want (and whatever my friends have) and I want it right now, without working for it or waiting for it.” Delayed gratification is a foreign land — a forgotten subject! And children affected with this entitlement attitude lose their capacity for gratitude and for developing creativity, initiative and motivation.
We often begin our parenting speeches by asking parents and grandparents a simple question:
“Did you have a job outside your home while growing up?” Almost every hand goes up. We then ask, “What did you do?” and people shout out paper route, babysitting, grocery store bagger, mowed lawns, car hop, washed cars — the list goes on and on.
We then ask, “What did you learn from these jobs?” One hand after another, one comment after another — mentioning everything from initiative to being on time to hard work to sticking with it until the job was done — and all the answers basically boil down to responsibility.
Then we ask the audience, “How many of your kids have these types of jobs today?” Hardly a hand goes up, and we begin to reflect together on how very, very different the world is today and how very, very different life is for our children than it was in the time we grew up.
If we ask audiences why their kids don’t have jobs outside the home like they did, there are plenty of reasons, such as "The world has changed”; “It’s less safe”; “Kids' school and lessons and sports and schedules are busier.”
“Yes, that’s all true,” we agree, “But if they are not going to learn responsibility, dependability and work ethic the way we did, then how?”
In this context, most parents and grandparents come to two conclusions.
Well, for starters, here is one thing to stop doing, and another thing to start doing:
1. To stop giving kids so much. It’s the handing out of spending money and the giving them everything they want or ask for that creates the entitlement attitudes.
2. Find ways to make it possible for children to earn some things for themselves — to do some real work inside the home that can teach them the same lessons that most of us learned from our jobs outside the home.
Implementing these two things probably should start with all involved adults (from one person in the case of a single parent without grandparents to six people in the case of a two-parent family with four nearby grandparents) having a meeting and discussing and agreeing on what they will and won’t give kids and on how they can provide ways for the children to earn money through house and yard chores and responsibilities and how they can be taught the basic principles of earning, budgeting, saving and giving.
There are a lot of ways to do this, including a “family bank” system mentioned in our last column. The essential goal is to substitute an “earning” family job and initiative system for the “entitlement” allowance system.
Any parent or grandparent (or a “parenting team” made up of both) can create in the home a basic “family economy” that is essentially a microcosm of the real economy — where rewards are directly proportionate to the work put forth and the responsibility accepted, and where savings, budgeting, interest-earning and even charitable giving comes into play.
When this happens, parents and grandparents can help give kids a way to learn the same valuable lessons we learned through the kind of jobs we had growing up that are usually not available or feasible today.