Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Is My Kid Entitled? How to Tell

Is My Kid Entitled? How to Tell

'A child who is shocked to be told no … is definitely feeling entitled.'
Is My Kid Entitled? How to Tell -- Mom's Homeroom -- © altrendo images/Getty Images
By Martha Brockenbrough

Maybe you missed the recent news out of Washington, D.C., where a restaurant called Serendipity 3 sold its first $1,000 sundae — a bowl of ice cream made with dueling vanillas from Tahiti and Madagascar, topped with caviar, truffles and edible gold.

Given the hard economic times so many people are facing, the situation is mind-boggling. The kicker? The inaugural eater was a 9-year-old boy celebrating his birthday.

Ignoring the fact that most little boys would gag at the thought of fish eggs and fungus on his dessert, is this really what a kid needs to feel special?

Chances are most of us haven't sailed this far over the top of the parenting fence. But it doesn't mean our kids aren't at risk of feeling entitled, something we should worry about. A lot.

Consider what's happening with the generation of kids before ours, Generation Y. Born between roughly 1980 and 2000, these kids have been dubbed the Entitlement Generation by the media.

Though there are always exceptions, many Gen Yers struggle at work because their expectations are so out of line with reality. As the subhead to a 2007 Boston Globe story put it, "The crop of talented recent graduates coming into today's workforce is widely seen as narcissistic and entitled. And those are their best qualities."


Will our kids fare any better? When you look at the material expectations some have for cell phones, gadgets and fancy clothes, there's reason to worry.

We want our kids to have everything, of course. But we don't want them to be spoiled. It's a delicate balance to strike. So how can you tell when things are out of whack for your family?

What entitlement looks like

There are a number of ways to tell if you're giving your kids too much, experts say.

"Deny a request and observe the reaction," says Dr. Deborah Gilboa, a family physician and mom of four. "A child or teen who asks 'Why?,' even if [he or she sounds] very annoyed or whiny, is not acting entitled, merely self-interested in an age-appropriate way. A child who is shocked to be told no, or who immediately lashes out with accusations or insults, is definitely feeling entitled."

She defines entitlement as the notion that a child's wants should be fulfilled and his opinion should be the deciding factor in any situation "simply because he is … himself."

Another way of looking at it: An entitled child feels he or she should receive without giving or working, says Edie Raether, a behavioral psychologist and family therapist. Other common signs of entitlement in children include:

- not taking turns
- impatience
- a tendency to put themselves first
- insensitivity to or a lack of compassion toward others
-temper tantrums when they don't get what they want
- not saying "please" or "thank you"

While it's not uncommon for kids to view themselves as the axis of the universe, it's a parent's job to help kids see beyond themselves, and some of us aren't doing it very well.

When our kids create conflict and chaos to get their way and we give in, we're letting them manipulate us. This can be cute when kids are young, according to Raether. It gets less so later.

"If you have an entitled child, it is because you created one," Raether says.

It's not that we set out to do this. We love our kids. We want them to be happy so we buy them things. We want them to do well in school, so we pick up the slack with their chores or run out to get that necessary book or glitter stick the night before a project is due.

This is a huge problem, Gilboa says. "We build false expectations that their needs and desires will be at the center of all future relationships."

Am I giving my child too much?

It's not always easy to tell if you've overindulged your child. The line keeps moving. When we were growing up, for example, computers were a luxury.

Today, though, "Computer access is almost a necessity, especially at the high school level, for research and written assignments," says Jennifer Little, Ph.D., who runs the website Parents Teach Kids.

So what are other necessities? The basics of clothing, food and a bed are a given, she says. Kids also need social outlets. Sports are good ones because they let kids be both physically active and social.

Beyond that — designer clothes, gourmet meals out, piles of toys, concert tickets, expensive vacations, huge bedrooms — these things are all frills.

"If there's no room in the closet in his or her room, there's too much," says Little. "If you don't know anyone who provides those 'luxuries' to their kids, what you're giving is too much. If you didn't have it when you were growing up, it's probably too much."

Our kids especially need us to set limits on how much time they spend with their friends and how much money is spent on clothing and gifts at holidays and on birthdays, Little says. And instead of us providing them with material things, they need us to find ways for them to earn their own money and opportunities. As teens, for example, they should help pay for their own cars, insurance and college tuition.

It's a matter of shifting our priorities

The good news is, "This is an entirely solvable problem," Gilboa says.

It's not about saying no to everything. Rather, it's a matter of understanding what we need to be focusing on. Our kids' happiness isn't it, Gilboa says. Rather, it's their resilience — their ability to cope with stress and adversity.

"As we think of each request with the goal of building resilience, it becomes much clearer how we can say no with love and confidence," Gilboa says. "Clear, repeated explanations to our disbelieving children can bolster our will and spirit to give our children less things than they want, and more of the initiative to get those things themselves."

True enough. No 9-year-old who'd earned $1,000 would blow it on a bowl of ice cream, which ought to give all of us parents the reassurance that our kids do have the wisdom they need already — provided we don't get too much in the way.
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