How to Deal With Entitlement in Kids…and Parents!
Every parent holds their newborn child and speculates on what his first word will be. Perhaps she will say “dada” or “mamma,” or even “pfluglhis.” Either way we are excited about what they will say. In recent years though it seems that kids are far more “me” centered and before we know it words like “mine,” “want,” and “give me” are being thrown around.
And many of us want to give our kids every advantage, we want them to have everything we didn’t have growing up, so we struggle with giving our kids the latest and greatest of everything. One by-product of our sincerely good intentions is a generation with an entitlement mentality believing they are owed anything and everything. Those items we would have described as “wants” and “privileges” when we were growing up are now called “needs” and “necessities” by our kids. Something went wrong.
Carey Nieuwhof has written an excellent article discussing this entitlement epidemic taking place in our country. Listen as he describes the cycle and how it escalates:
“On the day your child is born, it’s easy to decide as a parent that you need to give your child every advantage…So you compete. You made sure he had bright colors in his nursery and exactly the right kind of mobile to stimulate his brain, but now it’s an all-out frenzy to ensure your preschooler can swim, skate, hit a ball, paint frameable art, read, write and speak classical Greek before his fourth birthday…And don’t worry, because by the time you’re done with the race to kindergarten, the culture has taken over feeding the frenzy…And then other inalienable rights emerge: the right to a phone for texting, iPod touches, Facebook and so much more.”
Does this in any way sound familiar to you? Were you nodding your head in agreement as he described what I can only assume is the normal pattern for many American households?
Many times I have wanted to get my kids something because it was the “latest and greatest” that I was sure they would treasure forever. Then I watched as they giggled and laughed while playing with a box, lid, or something else and I was rebuked. I remembered Scripture and what it had to say about coveting (Rom. 7:7-8, Mark 7:22, 1 Cor. 5:10-11), jealousy (Rom. 13:3, 1 Cor. 3:3), and unthankfulness (Rom. 1:21). It occurred to me that my desire to give my kids everything they wanted was unbiblical and would teach them behaviors and characteristics that would not honor God.
So how do we fight the unhealthy, unbiblical entitlement culture we live in today? Here are several suggestions:
1. Be clear on wants and needs. Your kids need to know the difference between wants and needs; they need you to explain it. Showing pictures of how kids in other countries live is an excellent way to drive this point home.
2. Reclaim special occasions. Just because you go to Wal-Mart or the grocery store doesn’t mean you have to buy something for your kids; and they should not expect anything. There’s nothing wrong with saving gifts and purchases for birthday’s and other special occasions.
3. Set a budget and let them choose. It’s never too early to start teaching your kids how to live on a budget; after all, you do it (I hope). So set your budget for your kid’s needs (clothes, shoes, back to school items) then let them help with the shopping. This real world experience will be invaluable.
4. Establish an allowance and expectations. Rewarding your kids for some of the things they do around the house (not everything) with an allowance (or, commission if you are a Dave Ramsey fan) is a great way to teach fiscal responsibility. Teach them to tithe (10%) and save (10%) and live off the rest.
5. Be clear about what you will never pay them for. Because your kids are part of your family they should do certain things; things they will not get paid for. This is different for everyone so set the rules and make sure everyone is clear. For example, if keeping their room clean is expected, make that clear.
The only way our kids will develop a strong work ethic, gratitude, and thankfulness is if they are not given everything they want when they want it; doing this will most certainly spoil our kids. But, as parents we must also model this truth in our own life by not using our credit card to get “what we want when we want it.” It will be nearly impossible to teach our kids if we are not first modeling the behavior we desire them to have.
Another very good article from Nieuwhof is directed at parents and the entitlement mentality that gets many families into financial and marital trouble. He says:
“It’s so critical we combat entitlement in ourselves and our kids because entitlement kills our ability to experience two critical things in life: gratitude and joy. None of us would sign up our kids to live their lives without gratitude or joy, yet it’s surprising how many adults live without either. Entitlement does that…First, entitled people are never grateful people…Second, entitled people experience very little joy.”
So before you can teach your kids how to be joyful, grateful, thankful kids with a strong work ethic, you must first be the model they see every day of these characteristics. Nieuwhof shares three ways we can fight against entitlement when it attacks:
1. Decide that no one owes you anything. The entitled generation believes they are owed everything, as if it is a right rather than a privilege. But the truth is that we are not owed anything; especially by God (not even the breath you just released is promised).
2. Be generous. Entitled people have a “want want want” mentality with no room for “give give give.” But we know that as believers we are called to give far more than we received because it is “blessed.” With a proper view of money and possessions it will be easy to share and be generous.
3. Hold what you have loosely. Everything you “own” is a gift on loan from God that you cannot take with you when you die. So don’t hold on too tightly to something that does not matter while the things that do matter (people, relationships) slip away.
Another suggestion I would propose to help fight materialism and entitlement in our kids and ourselves is to take a trip to an impoverished country. My trips to Jamaica and Haiti forever changed my view of “things.” My level of contentment increased dramatically when I returned from seeing how many people, families, kids, orphans, live around the world. I began to understand that we in America are truly rich beyond measure. I believe it would do you and your kids good to see firsthand what it is like to live in a “developing” country.
Fighting entitlement can be a struggle because we are constantly bombarded with advertisements telling us about all the things we “need.” But beyond food, shelter, and clothing, there is not much we truly need. Once we begin prioritizing our relationship with God, serving the less fortunate, and quality time with the people we love, it’s amazing how “things” don’t seem to matter much anymore.