In 2006, David Dingwall, a former Public Works Minister for the Liberal government of Canada, resigned in disgrace after a scandal from running the Royal Canadian Mint. When asked about his extraordinarily generous severance package in a House of Commons Committee, he famously said, “I’m entitled to my entitlements”.
I love that. I can’t think of a better slogan for today’s political culture. We’re all entitled to our entitlements. Doesn’t that brilliantly sum up what’s wrong with our culture? We don’t try; we don’t think we should have to. Everybody owes us something.
I was reminded of that when I came across a new book by Today’s Mama, coming out later this year, called “The Entitlement Trap”. She shows that it’s not just politicians who want their entitlements; we are raising our children in an entitlement mode, too. Here’s a snippet:
A thirty-something working mom who had been gone from her family for a few days was greeted by her nine year old son with a big hug. That night at dinner after a catch-up session about things that had happened while she was gone, her son quietly brought up something he had obviously planned quite carefully. “Mom, you’ve been gone a long time and you missed my band concert. How about buying me the new Wii game to make up for it?”
Have you ever heard a variation on this? I know I have, though thankfully not really from my own kids, unless they’re trying to convince me to let them have chocolate ice cream for breakfast. But even then, they know it’s just a joke.
But I have heard it in other kids, too. And Linda Eyre, aka Today’s Mama, says that ironically religious kids may be among the worst, because they “felt they deserved special blessings in reward for their righteousness”.
What’s the solution?
There are many ways to rescue kids from our entitlement mentality world, but to encapsulate, we feel sure that the magic antidote for entitlement is giving kids ownership! With preschoolers it is a matter of giving them ownership of their choices i.e.” Do you want to eat this breakfast smoothie or go without any food until lunch? It’s your choice.” With elementary age kids one idea is giving them ownership of their things by providing a way for them to earn the stuff they want with a “will-work-for-stuff” mentality. For teenagers, along with partially overcoming the entitlement mentality by giving them ways to earn instead of being given what they want we also suggest one-on-one talks with them about having ownership of decisions they can make now that will have a huge impact on their future lives.
I think that’s right, and that’s what I was talking about in this post on the clothing allowance for my 13-year-old. But I want to elaborate a little bit more on why this is so important.
We probably all agree that we live in an entitlement culture. At one point people were scrambling to get stuff for nothing; it was the me generation. But in a way that was better, because at least they knew that they didn’t actually deserve this stuff, they just wanted to see if they could get away with it. Kids began cheating on tests more in the 70s to get good marks; we saw more welfare scams, more cutting corners, more selfishness. But at least everybody was honest about what they were doing: they were trying to cheat to get ahead. They were trying to get stuff from everybody else.
When you’re honest, you know what’s going on in your heart. You know you’re a selfish jerk, but you’re going to keep doing it anyway because you want the easy way out.
Today we’re not honest. We’re still doing the same things–lying, cheating, stealing, being lazy and waiting for someone else to pull up the slack–but we don’t realize that we’re lazy. We don’t realize that we’re cheating others. We think that we’re entitled to our entitlements. We think that this is the way the world should work–that it’s not fair if others don’t have to work very hard, therefore I don’t have to work hard, either.
We’ve gone from trying to get ahead to feeling that we deserve to get ahead, even with no effort on our part. And the reason is because we’ve lost track of how the world really works. The world will not long operate the way it’s supposed to if everyone is trying to get by with the minimum and take what they can from other people. We need people to try their best, to be honest, to put in a good day’s work. If everybody starts going on about how entitled they are to a huge salary for little work, to endless breaks and vacations, to sympathy and compassion even when they haven’t done anything good, then who is going to actually produce anything in our world? We need people who won’t just whine but who will work. Without work, our society will stop functioning. That’s a statement of fact, not feeling.
And it’s that fact that people have lost track of. It starts in childhood with this belief that I deserve to be happy, and everybody else is put on this earth to make my life cushy. I shouldn’t have to work hard in school. Mom exists to pick up my toys and make me dinner and buy me stuff.
What’s the antidote? It’s just what Linda Eyre said: a good dose of real life. Give kids choices that reflect real life. You can do this, or you can bear this consequence. What’s it going to be? Start when they’re young. Choice says: you are responsible for how your life turns out. You are the one pulling the lever. You are the one making the engine go. Other people aren’t here to live your life for you or to push you uphill. That’s what you’re for. And it may be as simple as letting kids choose whether they clean up now or later; whether they go to a park or stay home and play a game; or whether they stand in a corner for a time out or lose a toy for a week. The point is that they learn that they don’t get an absentee pass from life; they have to step in and do something.
As they get older, these choices should reflect more consequences of real life. If they break something, they work to earn money to fix it. If they want to be chauffeured somewhere, they have to help get dinner on the table so you have time to drive them. If they want to stay over at a friend’s house this weekend, they have to do their chores first if they want their allowance. It teaches them that there are no free rides. And most of all it teaches them what real life is.
You can’t raise kids who will be Christians if they think they are entitled to things. Grace is the antithesis of entitlement: it says that you don’t deserve anything, but God is giving it to you anyway. A child growing up with a sense of entitlement will not know what to make of grace. They may give it lip service, but the magnitude of the sacrifice won’t hit home because they don’t realize they are ultimately and fundamentally sinners. How can you have an understanding of sin if you simultaneously think that everyone exists to make your life easy, because you deserve it?
Your kids are not entitled to their entitlements, and it’s time they learned that. And it’s not that hard, either! Just use allowances. Give kids choices. Follow through. Stress responsibility and shared work in the family. And you just may raise kids who are so different from the average that they soar above, simply because they know that their effort and work matter.