It frustrates me that so many kids today feel “entitled” to the best of everything. It’s a hard notion for me to grasp because I wasn’t brought up that way. It seems to me that such a focus on “stuff” can be a huge defocus from the values that matter most. How do we break out of this “Me, Me, Me” thing with our kids?
I understand; I wasn’t raised that way, either. (Every day of my life I’m grateful for that.) While I lived at home, my dad worked in the oil patch and my mom was a housewife. Money was generally pretty tight. Thinking back on it now, my sister and I grew up in a home that often struggled financially.
(I believe it broke Dad’s heart to tell me that, aside from providing a place for to me to live, plus food and laundry, he was unable help me with college tuition and books. So I continued to live at home, worked part-time at the local radio station, and commuted to junior college.)
In my career of working with young people and their families, I’ve encountered youngsters whose folks truly were poor. These kids never spoke of wanting the newest video game console, or the most popular clothes, or a new car when they graduated high school. They spoke instead of having enough to pay the rent, to have enough food in the house, and the opportunity to be the first in their family to graduate high school. When they did want something else, it was not for themselves, but for a younger brother or sister. I am convinced that, if we can help these kids break the cycle of poverty, they will become the salt of the earth, with no hint of entitlement. That makes helping them achieve stability and significance in their lives a double blessing.
As parents and grandparents, we naturally want our children and grandkids to have what we never had at their age. But is it possible to overdo it? Of course; it’s easy to create entitlement issues in the process. We don’t do it to spoil our children; we just want them to have the breaks, opportunities and “stuff” we didn’t have. Unfortunately, it can work against our best efforts to create sensitive and responsible adults.
One “cure” for entitlement in our children (we’re talking about a junior variety of grandiosity here) is to help them understand that life not a perpetual gravy train; it can be difficult for many. One child service agency I worked with had youngsters doing volunteer work at a homeless shelter during school’s mid-year holiday break. It helped them to reset their perspective. They learned the value of service to others and the importance of being tolerant of the circumstances of less fortunate people.
I can still remember taking my son, Jamie, with me on a trip to downtown Houston. He was about 10 or so at the time. We walked around looking for a place to have supper. Jamie saw people going through garbage cans looking for something to eat. It touched him to the core. It had never occurred to him that people could be that hungry and that desperate. He never forgot what he saw there, and he’s a more grateful and generous person because of that experience.
Often, it’s the lessons we don’t plan that stick with us the most.
Many young people don’t really have an accurate idea of the value of money. It’s not their fault; they just don’t know what a dollar is in terms of the work and effort it takes to earn one. Challenge them to learn this lesson first-hand by establishing a goal for something they want and working to get it themselves. For adolescents, a part-time job, even if it’s just for a few hours a week, can be an experience greater than what they earn. They learn even more about being tolerant, they learn how to get along with the boss and coworkers, and they learn how to talk to the public. How can you put a price tag on that?
While rags to riches seem to be an American staple, we should caution our children that there are riches to rags stories, also. Things can change quickly.
The Road of Life has many twists and turns in it, and we never really know when trouble and difficulty might hang around longer than we want. Those twists and turns are managed best with a grateful and humble heart, plus the wisdom in knowing that very, very few of us were raised on the Good Ship Lollipop.
Although a nationally recognized child and adolescent psychologist, Dr. James Sutton deeply values his first calling as a Special Education teacher. Today he is in demand for his expertise on emotionally and behaviorally troubled youngsters and his skill for speaking, writing, and training on this subject. He is the author of numerous articles and books on the subject, including his latest work, The Changing Behavior Book: A Fresh Approach to the Difficult Child. His monthly publication, the ODD Management Digest, is available at no cost through his website, www.DocSpeak.com.