“That which we obtain too easily, we esteem too lightly. It is dearness only which gives everything its value.” Thomas Paine
I have recently come to face a harsh reality. It’s a fact that I often try and deny, but I must accept it’s reality – my children are privileged. Now the state of being privileged isn’t a bad thing. My husband and I have worked very diligently to provide our children with the life experience we want them to have. What troubles me about this reality is that they have an entitled mindset. They believe that things should happen just because, and it’s partly my fault. As young children, their life view is primarily self centered and most things they want and need are provided for them. But as they get older and become more materialistic and embrace their ability to exercise individual will, I am seeing a pattern of behavior develop that I must nip in the bud.
We all want our children to experience the better things in life. With cultural motivators like The Women’s Suffrage Movement, The Great Depression, The Civil Rights Movement and The Digital Divide, parents have committed to giving their children a better life experience than they had themselves. The fight for rights that were unfairly and systematically withheld from particular groups of people has evolved into a mindset where any and all causes worth fighting for become viewed as inalienable rights and deserved. And many times the causes they want to support are simply their individual wants and desires. We work so hard to provide them a better life that we inadvertently have created a generation of young people that hold an entitlement complex; they esteem life and opportunity much too lightly. Somewhere along the way we neglected to teach them that to gain those better things comes at the cost of hard work, humility, sacrifice, and patience. Because, let’s face it; entitled children become entitled adults.As I ponder the state we find ourselves in with a generation of entitled children, I reflect on the Biblical story of The Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-31). There are clues and cues in this parable that may help us identify the genesis and the steps to address the entitlement complex.
1. Expect your children to exhibit selfishness, and do not feel obligated to give into it.
When this young boy began “smelling himself” and decided that he wanted what he felt was his and he wanted it now, his father’s response was one that I did not expect. He actually gave him what he wanted. A deeper understanding Hebrew culture reveals that asking for his share of the inheritance while his father was still alive was an sign of utter disrespect, and equivalent to saying “I wish you were dead.” For many of us that would strike a nerve. Having your child, the one you may have prayed for, the one you fight for and the one you would likely die for say something like that can be hurtful. But the point to be taken here is that children are primarily self centered. As they grow and begin to come of age, we as parents must recognize that their selfishness is intrinsic and not (always) intentional. When your child displays a selfish point of view, don’t condemn her, but redirect her to a point of view that is more reasonable. And more often than not, that means not giving into his demands AND helping him learn to cope with it.
2. Help your children understand that reward comes with taking risk and paying dues.
The Millennial Generation will have difficulty grasping this concept. They live in a world where everything happens instantaneously and is accessible with the swipe of a finger and the beep of a gadget. We must educate them on the opposition and triumphs of the generations that have come before them, so they will understand that there “is nothing new under that sun;” their cause is not likely revolutionary, their ability to freely and openly fight for it didn’t not come solely by their own doing, and their brilliance nor presence is price enough paid to walk into their victory without some struggle. As parents we must not belittle them in the process, making them feel as though their causes are unimportant or trivial, but we must help them see that achieving the reward comes with having taking risks, and the freedom they presently have to take those risks was granted by someone else having paid the price of admission. The Prodigal Son was able to receive his reward because of the hard work and effort rendered by his father for many years. He contributed little to the creation of the reward himself, yet his opportunity to walk into it was granted, nonetheless.
3. Teach your children never to lower their aims for any temporary benefit that might be gained.
Integrity – the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness.
In the face of potential disappointment and let down, human nature has a way of altering one’s point of view for the purpose of preventing rejection and experiencing immediate, albeit temporary, gratification. An appropriate scriptural reference would be “And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?” Mark 8:36 NLT The Prodigal Son set aside all his learning, culture, values and integrity once he found himself between a rock and a hard place. Teaching your children to have integrity will go a long way to not only curing them of the entitlement complex, but will also serve as a valuable lesson on handling life’s disappointments, because they are sure to come.
4. Reinforce with your children that no mistake is unforgivable, and the path to correction begins with humility.
Here is where we as parents have the most growing to do. When was the last time you graciously forgave your child for having wronged you? What constitutes a child having wronged a parent? We have established that children are self centered. When would they have come into the knowledge of what was insulting to you? As parents we must be willing to look at the situations from the perspective of the child and recognize that they are more likely not directly opposing you, but attempting to fulfill their own needs. And whether or not the offense was intentional, teach them to acknowledge, accept and apologize for their mistakes and misgivings. Being able to swallow pride and render those two difficult little words, “I’m sorry,” with sincerity is a behavior trait that sifts the wheat from the chaff. Reinforcing that humility is noble and honorable will help your child appreciate forgiveness much more once given.
I was inspired to write this from a Facebook post of a high school alum, whom we’ll call Mary. Mary was berated by a university student who missed the opportunity to register for her class, and by a turn of events beyond either of their control, the student jumped to the conclusion that additional people were let into the class after she was told that she would have to wait until the next go ’round. Mary was shocked and appalled at this response, and the intrinsic “fight/flight” nature arose within her. She appealed to those of intellect and enlightenment in her Facebook post regarding how she should respond to this student, who charging full speed down the path to becoming an entitled adult. The discussion that ensued reinforced for me that we, as parents and those who interact with the Millennial Generation, must begin to address this entitlement issue before this generation of young people “rights fight” themselves into a corner and the society they so desperately want to be a part of rejects them. We must help them understand, with compassion and concern, that “you get more flies with honey than vinegar,” and a little common courtesy goes a long way. We must consistently reinforce that entitlement is not an acceptable mindset, and not be apologetic about our stance. We must be willing to lovingly bring them back into the fold once their wants and desires have been rejected and teach them the error of their ways without condemning them for their mistakes. And we must be mindful that our persistence, consistency and love will eventually help them overcome their entitlement issues, and when that happens, we can esteem that which they have obtained greatly.