How Not to Create Entitled Children

Posted on September 11, 2012


family doing choresIn today’s world of surplus, where 6 year olds have cell phones and teens are given cars without having to work for them, many children are growing up with a strong (and unhealthy) sense of entitlement. For many reasons, many of today’s parents feel they have to go all-out for their children, whether it’s for birthday parties, vacations, holidays, or by providing them with the newest and most expensive toys and gadgets.

Why do parents do this?  Perhaps out of a sense of competition with other parents, guilt or wanting to provide their children with what they didn’t have growing up. My guess is that their actions have more to do with what’s going on inside of them rather than what their children may need or expect.  Whatever the reasons, it can lead children to develop an entitlement mindset. When children head out into the real world, this sense of entitlement can leave young adults unprepared for the challenges they will undoubtedly face as adults.

In reality, I often find myself struggling with these same issues. It’s difficult to balance my desire to give my kids everything, with my knowledge that if I make my daughters work for what they want, they will recognize the value of things and get to feel that sense of satisfaction when they achieve their goals. It’s also partly for selfish reasons. I hate saying no to my girls. I do want them to have everything they want and while there is one part of me that knows this really isn’t in their best interest (or in my financial reality), there’s another part that feels awful every time I say no.

I grew up in a middle class family.  While my parents weren’t wealthy, they did provide my younger brother and me with what we needed. We always had new clothes for school; we were able to go to camp in the summer and a family trip to Florida each year to visit my grandparents.  Not as much as some but more than others.  I remember times when I wanted what my friends had and I was told no. When I went on some of the same school trips as my friends, I had to work to earn the money to go.  When I wanted to borrow the car as a teenager, I was the one who got up at 5 to drive my dad to the airport when he traveled for business.  As an adult, looking back, I can honestly say that I don’t feel I was deprived in any way. When it all comes down to it, my parents gave us the really important things – love, discipline, stability and their time.

I’ll always cherish the memories of my childhood. I remember my dad taking us to the airport to watch planes take off. I remember family cook-outs and picnics with friends in the summer and I remember skating outside in the winter. Birthdays were always celebrated with a cake and singing. As a matter of fact, I remember that each special occasion was celebrated with cake and lots of singing. And photographs. My mom took pictures about everything.  A good thing too since now I can look back with my girls and laugh at all the memories. The fact is, when you have children, you can create memories they will cherish for the rest of their lives without showering them with lavish gifts or events or toys.

As a psychologist, I know that the whole point of parenting is to gradually prepare a child to deal with the challenges of life as an adult. Giving kids everything they want not only doesn’t prepare them, it does quite the opposite. It keeps them from learning how to earn things through hard work, sweat and tears. In reality, many parents who had it rough when they were kids often don’t appreciate what those struggles did for them. They often compensate for this with a misguided strategy by giving their children everything they ask for. This may meet the child’s short term needs; along with the parent’s need for being the “hero,” it does little to teach a child about responsibility and accountability.

As a mom, saying no is often overwhelming and guilt provoking.  When the guilt of saying no gets the best of me, I take a deep breath and try to remind myself of what’s important.  I try to remember that as a mom, the most important things I want my girls to take with them from their childhood are their positive memories. Memories of a family life filled with music, laughter and love.

It takes a great effort, but I try to remember that by saying no to my girls, by making them earn toys and privileges, I am making them stronger and more resilient.  I remind myself that in reality, the most important need that every child has is to feel loved, valued and understood. If I can meet those needs in my children, they will be better equipped to handle both the difficulties and successes in life. And that’s what being a good mom all is about, right?

Posted in: Advice