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Excerpt from Chapter One: Understanding the Entitlement Child
The world of entitlement wasn't created in a day. It took decades of consumerism and wealth, of superkids, supersized egos, and hypervigilant parents to amp up to current levels of entitlement behavior. The Entitlement Generation is typically defined as men and women born between 1979 and 1994. This new cultural force drew significant attention in the last few years as Florida State University (2005) and others reported that entitlement kids have grown up and entered the workforce with an unprecedented give-it-to-me-now attitude. One career counseling firm described them as poorly prepared and out of touch. Now, with the so-called Entitlement Generation entering parenthood, the entitlement issues are increasing. New parents need a way to distinguish parenting myths from parenting reality. But it isn't just the Entitlement Generation who needs an effective response to entitlement trends; it's everyone raising children today.
The entitlement child is the one you see in the grocery store cart opening six different packages of food because nothing tastes good. The entitlement child is the child at someone else's birthday party running away with the presents or talking about the best gift from her party. The entitlement child is the child who unilaterally rules at home or in public. She decides what's for dinner and when it's time to leave an activity. Life is about her.
Entitlement children are children who have learned from experience that they will get what they want if they demand loud enough or insist long enough. They might accomplish this with irresistible charm or with forceful persistence. Either way, not only do they know how to get their way, they expect it. The problem lies in the nature of that expectation"Me! Mine! Now!"without regard to anything or anyone else.
Entitlement isn't a problem because a child seeks immediate gratification of all her desiresthat's normal. The problem occurs when parents are confused about how to respond to childhood demands. Entitlement becomes a problem shared by all parents when outside pressures start to outweigh and overwhelm parental decision making. You know your child doesn't need designer clothes to wear to preschool, but you naturally want your child to fit in. You know your child has more toys at three years old than most children have in a lifetime, but what kind of parent doesn't buy new toys for birthdays…and holidays and on vacations and, and, and? If only the rest of the world would come to its senses, it would be much easier to stop the insanity.
The University of Minnesota Birthdays Without Pressure Project confirms the pressure on parents is real. The website reports that 71 percent of parents claim that parties in their community cost too much and kids receive too many presents. Fifty-eight percent say they worry that their parties are not as good as their neighbors'. Parents choosing to resist community trends are not only swimming against a tidal wave of entitlement and consumerism, they also face the internal struggle of "Why not my child?" The inner conviction to say no is overruled by outside influences. Unfortunately, the consequences of giving in put children at risk.
The American Psychological Association Task Force on Advertising and Children (2004) reminds parents that children under the age of eight lack the cognitive skills to manage the persuasive powers of advertising. Children need adult protection from misleading images. Young children don't know the difference between needs and wants; they believe it when someone on television tells them they need the newest hot item, a cereal will make them happy, or that a $200 toy is affordable to everyone watching. A few isolated incidents may be harmless, but child advocates like the Campaign for a Commercial- Free Childhood are now asking for legislation to address the growing influence of media on children.
This is not your parents' consumer culture. The American Academy of Pediatrics policy statement on "Children, Adolescence, and Advertising" (2006) notes the high-stake gains from winning over younger consumershundreds of billions of spending dollars. Parents are being challenged to withstand a groundswell of sophisticated and subtle pressure to buy more products and experiences that promise to enhance their children's happiness and success. And children are being used as pawns in the spending game. In the past, the parent giving in was the exception; now, the parent saying no stands alone.
Unfortunately, all that buying and giving creates an entitlement child unprepared for age-appropriate experiences. These are the children who believe they are treated unfairly if they receive a less-than-perfect grade, even though they never turned in their homework. These same children struggle with friendships because they believe their needs are more important than someone else's. Children who are overprotected and overindulged become young adults who rely on their helicopter parents to complete their college applications and negotiate health benefits with their future employers. They are the interns who act like CEOs on their first day of work. Entitlement children thrive, but only in the bubble of their own perfection.
What Is Entitlement?
Entitlement wasn't always a bad thing. It insured basic rights and privileges. Entitlement social programs, for example, are based on a shared belief that citizens are entitled to certain services regardless of limiting conditions or exceptions. This concept of entitlement guarantees that certain opportunities are open to everyone. Entitlement without responsibility, however, opens the door to unexpected problems. Children are entitled to quality education, but a quality education is possible only when students come to school and agree to certain tasks. Children learn more when more is expected of them and when they are invested in learning. Balance is essential. Otherwise one person's "right" becomes another person's obligation. A "you owe me" attitude eventually fails.
Children have rights, in society and in families. All parents should encourage children to reach their fullest potential. Children should strive to realize their greatest dreams and absolutely should be valued as human beings. Children should expect success, but that expectation must also include a sense of responsibility for themselves and for their actions. Being good at something takes time, talent, and practice. Parents can help, teach, comfort, lead, and follow, but they cannot live their children's lives or learn their children's lessons.
Entitlement children are not defined here as those with healthy self-respect and a gracious respect for others. Entitlement behavior is negative when it is defined by a Me-Mine-Now attitude and Me-Mine-Now actions. When entitlement becomes a relentless demand for immediate gratification ("Me! Mine! Now!"), it hurts the child and the child's ability to reach her fullest potential. The entitlement child is handicapped by a lack of self-control, the inability to work with others, and by short-sighted problem solving.