When a five-year-old child enters a room where guests are conversing and announces,“You have had too much adult talk, I want you to stop and be with me right now,” that is entitlement.
When an eight-year-old girl says, “Why should I vacuum your room, it’s not my room,” that is entitlement.
When a mother has to abruptly end her phone conversation with her friend because her four-year-old son insists,“You’ve been on the phone long enough, you talk too much, stop and play with me right now,” that is entitlement.
When a child opens a gift and refuses to say thank you and, when challenged, responds, “But it’s not what I wanted,” that is entitlement.
When a child throws a tantrum when they do not get their way that is entitlement.
Entitlement flourishes in the disrespectful demands we hear too often from too many children, including our own. It is fed by the media and nourished by the overindulgence that many parents perpetrate on their children in the name of love.
Often “good” hearted and “good” intentioned parents who truly love their children unwittingly set their children up at very early ages to behave and respond in very entitled ways. They focus on serving the wants of the child and feed their children’s need for immediate gratification. They ask their children for permission to discipline or parent them. An example of this might be when a parent asks “Is it okay for Mommy to dress you now?” This should not be a question, and this decision should not be in the child’s control.
When children are small they need for parents to regulate and organize their schedules and routines. This develops good habits. Instead of “Can we brush your teeth now?” Parents should state in a firm and loving way, “It is time to brush your teeth.” Or “It is time to get dressed.” By giving young children too much control before they are developmentally ready, and expecting too little obedience, respect and contribution from them, the seeds of entitlement can be sown as early as eighteen months to three years of age. That is how entitlement creeps undetected into our homes, our communities, our schools, and our country.
Entitlement disguises itself as love and generosity when all the while it is a thief, out to steal all that is truly valuable in our lives and the lives of our children. As the cancer of entitlement grows ever stronger in our culture, it threatens to extinguish what we want most for our children—genuine happiness and success—while it simultaneously succeeds at tearing our families apart. Entitlement is clever, disguising itself as a friend pretending to bring more to our lives—always more. But entitlement is no friend of humanity, business, or family. It is a lie that exists for only one purpose—to steal our happiness, our respect, our appreciation, and our joy.
Entitlement is one of the major reasons why over half of the marriages in this country end in divorce, and why at least a fifth of intact marriages are unhappy.Entitlement is the reason our schools are in shambles, our families are falling apart, and our children are less motivated to succeed than they have ever been. It is the reason why suicide among school-age kids continues to increase at dramatic and alarming rates. And only we can do something to stop it.
There is much confusion in this country about entitlement. I believe it stems from our misunderstand-ing of the pure intent of our founding documents. Many believe that the Declaration of Independence entitles all citizens to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Let’s begin by examining what the Declaration of Independence actually states:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Notice that the word ENTITLED does not appear, nor is it implied. Instead this revered statement tells us that we are ENDOWED by our Creator with certain inalienable rights. Endowedmeans “to provide with some talent, quality, etc.” So let’s look at these important sentences once again.
We hold these things to be true, that all men and women are created equal under the law, they are generously provided by their Creator with qualities and talents that cannot be legally or justly taken away or transferred to another. It is their right as citizens to develop and use these talents and qualities of life in the pursuit of liberty and happiness. Clearly our forefathers thought of these rights as gifts and that we should recognize their value and choose to be responsible for developing and using them.
The word entitled, on the other hand, means: “to be given a right to demand or receive.” Endowed connotes gift, where as entitled connotes right to demand. Within this powerful distinction we discover the difference between happiness, fulfillment, meaning and purpose; and misery, selfishness, greed, and lack. Entitlement causes us to believe that we have a right to demand. We begin to believe that the world we live in owes us something, but the payment is never enough.
When my youngest son was five years old, he collected Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. There were a great number of them and after awhile he had accumulated approximately sixty. Sixty plastic turtles is a large number of action figures, so you can imagine my surprise when he came to me one morning with a picture showing all the turtles. He complained about the fact that there were three that he did not have. He wasn’t making himself happy with the fact that he was very fortunate and blessed to have so many. He was making himself miserable because of his perceived lack.
Perceived lack is one of entitlement’s favorite weapons. Another of entitlement’s favorite weapons is the thought It’s Not Fair. It is especially dangerous when we put them both together and we experience the belief that “it’s not fair that I don’t have all that I should have.”
I explained to my son that I would not consider purchasing another turtle for him until he showed proper gratitude for the ones he owned. I asked him to tell me the names of all the turtles he owned and why he liked them. When he was through with this exercise he was not only tired, but also aware once more of how many turtles he had. He said, “I didn’t know how many I had until I had to remember them.” His Not Enough perspective changed dramatically with the opportunity to count his turtles. He suddenly remembered, or in reality, reminded himself of how fortunate he was. So many times happiness comes from reminding ourselves of what we already possess simply by taking inventory.
William J. Doherty, PhD, tells us in his book Take Back Your Kids that there is a new culture for children. Teachers sadly will confirm this. It appears that our children have become consumers of parental services. And parents are viewed as providers of parental services and brokers of community services for children. We as parents have been led to believe that our job as “good” parents is to serve and provide our children with a multitude of activities and rewards, so that they can have every chance at success in today’s fast-paced, competitive society. This imbalance of services provided on demand comes with a high price tag. It teaches our children that they are to be served, but not how to serve. It causes the concept of benefit or service to become a line that travels in just one direction—toward them! According to Dr. Doherty:
What gets lost is the other side of the human equation: children bearing responsibilities to their families and communities. In a balanced world, children are expected not only to receive from adults but also to actively contribute to the world around them, to care for the younger and the infirm, to add their own marks to the quality of family life, and to contribute to the common good in their school and communities.
When parents see themselves primarily as providers of services, they end up confused and even anxious. Not that providing services isn’t a part of what it means to be a parent, but the key word in that sentence is part. If parents see themselves as only providers of services, they can end up insecure about whether they are providing enough. If they listen to messages from other confused parents, the media, and the inflated and entitled demands of their children, they can begin to feel that no matter how much they do and give, it is never enough. That is exactly how entitlement slyly infects our families. It makes sense that in a competitive, capitalistic economy the service provider must at all costs avoid disappointing the customer. The service provider must strive to offer the newest and best. But when this thinking is applied to the family; it is a recipe for disaster that creates insecure parents and unhappy, entitled kids.
In 2008 Dawn was selected by Oprah Magazine and The White House project as one of 80 emerging women leaders in the nation.
Dawn is the CEO and Founder of The Heart Link Women’s Network, with locations in US, Canada and Australia. She is also the architect of the Primary Colors Personality Test and Insight Tools, founder of OverJOYed Life and creator of the Happiness Curriculum. She also serves as executive director of the Executive Training Resort in Arizona.