Am I Raising Lazy and Entitled Kids?

“You have to do your own growing. No matter how tall your grandfather was.”
-Abraham Lincoln

Ouch! Wake up call! This is a question perhaps many parents have asked time and again. How do I avoid raising the local neighborhood brat? How do I build empathy, respect and a spirit of sensitivity in my child?

This week after bath time in preparing for our upcoming Spring Break trip to Mexico, Daddy was showing the two older boys photos of the pool at the resort where we will be staying. Keep in mind, this is not Disneyland or a massive waterpark by any stretch of the imagination. It is a modest, family hotel with a separate adult and kid section. According to the photos it has a nice kiddie slide with water features and areas on the equipment to squirt each other, dump water and play. About halfway through our family conversation together perusing photos one of my children said to the other.

“That does not look like fun at all, how boring…”

This comment immediately got my husband and my attention as we were distracted from our otherwise fun-filled anticipation of picture gazing and dialogue about our upcoming trip. We turned to our child and addressed his comment, which we felt was a bit rude, disrespectful and had tone of entitlement to it.

His comment didn’t take into account what we sacrificed to afford this trip that he thought would be “boring”, nor did he recognize the gift he had in being able to do something like this with his family when other children his age often times don’t get to go on vacations. Even if he thought the slide was “boring” he needs to learn when to keep those type of comments in his head as a matter of respect for the gift he has been given. How many parents have found themselves in a similar situation with their children? So often we allow these moments to slip past us- unaddressed. As a result, our son was sent to his room to think about his comment.

We all want to raise kids who value and appreciate the sacrifices of others. Even children as young as 2 or 3 years old can- in an age-appropriate way- begin to learn what sacrifice, respect and giving mean. We all want kids who know and understand the value of hard work and how to create a life for themselves while giving back to the world. I have never met a parent who wants to raise a child who believes the world owes him or who feels authorized to have whatever she wants. But in the same manner we do want to bring up children who feel worthy of the blessings meant for all humankind. The blessings of spiritual, emotional health, physical well-being, self-regulation and respect for oneself.

Let’s face it- this parenting stuff is hard- really, really hard. We live in an entitled world with a constantly shifting culture where we are all consumers- our kids included. Parents who are making a conscious effort to take on the “entitlement battle” are choosing to live counter-culturally in this area. These issues, left unaddressed by parents, will definitely be tackled and taught by the world. Without parent involvement society will send children a very different and warped message. The message will be this- you cannot interpret the difference between your needs and desires and you will not be satisfied unless you have what everyone else has.

The entitlement battle is hard. Here are some steps to tackle it head on.

Hard Work

Many kids in this culture don’t understand anymore what is hard work. My husband and I reminisce (as our parents did with us) what it was like when we were growing up. What Saturday and Sunday chore day was like, how many hours it took, how hard it was, etc. Because work was so hard, playtime was that much more valuable, enjoyable and rewarding.

These days, we have abandoned for one reason or another (help in our homes, busy schedules, its easier to do it yourself) to teach our children what real, get-down-to-it hard work is. But it’s a big deal. Children need to learn the consistent, teamwork of start, middle and completion with their parents…and it starts at home. This applies to housework, homework (schoolwork) or project work. When children feel the satisfaction of hard work they will begin to value the margin of playtime in comparasion to relaxing time and what it means to earn something.

Accountability

Everyone in the family is accountable and there are consequences for all of our behaviors and actions. This is true even for us as parents because children may not do what we say, but sooner or later, they will do what we do because we are their primary role models. If we are shoppers or TV watchers and relaxing every Saturday instead of doing household chores (first before we play) that permits the children to desire to do the same and eventually they will develop this habit.

In the same way, if the children deserve a consequence for a behavior that is not in line with a family rule, parents need to stick to the consequences. However, adhering only to the black and whites/ do’s and dont’s is not the only way, all the time. Building relationships with your family is healthy and offering grace is necessary for understanding and peace for the family to function and thrive. Build a healthy balance of relationships, consequences and grace in all areas to establish balaance in accountability.

Support Children in Becoming Self Motivated & Passionate

In a culture where consumption and instant gratification controls our world, take as many opportunities to neutralize the message that happiness can be purchased from a young age. When children realize that buying is an obsession and that material things don’t fulfill their needs after awhile (give examples of the Legos they don’t play with anymore or the Doll they are no longer interested in). Help children to funnel their passions into other areas of creativity, mastery, passion or skill. If your child is involved in science or chess club, basketball or soccer, help him/her to further develop these areas of concentration in replacement of material items/toys.

Control Media

Not only is the media sending negative messages that children need to consume and be instantly gratified but iPads, iPods, Kindles, TV, computers, Nintendo DS and all of the other active and passive devices take away from hard work, accountability and passionate activities that help to develop life-long character attributes that we all desire for our children. These devices are a great “babysitter” when you need to get something done quick- so use them for that. Try not to feel bad and when another parent or adult stares at you- just ignore them. They are judging and that is rude. But do try and limit your child’s exposure to these devices. Most parents already know this. It’s a no brainer.

Be Truthful about the World

This is probably one of my favorite parenting tools. I was raised in a family where my parents always gave me the sincere, honest (age-appropriate) scoop on the world- no sugar-coating- and it really prepared me. There is a lot of commentary out there that shows this is a great way to parent your kids. Related to the entitlement attitude, I am a solid advocate that there is a direct relationship to worldview and ones viewpoint. Exposing children to the realities of our world, to the needs of others, to the suffering of people, to other cultures and how most of the world really lives can be empowering to stimulate gratitude and break down the barriers of entitlement.

Invest in Children’s Functional & Moral Character

Functional character is performance based and needed for the best grit, tenacity and a necessary investment for the best work. Moral character is required for the best overall decision-making, spiritual, emotional health and relationships. Religion has an impact on moral development and character. For families who seek spirituality there are ways to be deliberate with children about matters of the heart and soul. Within the regularity of everyday life, families who reflect on spirituality can become cognizant of what is sacred by inserting components that could otherwise seem insignificant. We often discover that the lines between spiritual matters and what is secular can become distorted. Extending your spirituality by serving others and personal prayers will help children develop a sense of your family values and what is important to you as well as help to clearly define a moral compass and foster a character focused family culture that embodies faith.

After our son was sent to his room, he spent some time “thinking” by himself. My husband and I went to have a follow-up conversation with him about what he said and why he thought he was there. He needed some help from us to understand the values of sacrifice and when it was appropriate to share his opinion and the importance of filtering his thoughts because sometimes, words hurt other people. At the end of the conversation we were able to have resolution between the three of us and come to an understanding that a vacation is a special time for our family. It’s a sacrifice that mom and dad to make financially because we value time together. It is about making memories and not about if a waterslide is deemed “fun or not”.

Teaching the values of sacrifice, gratitude and battling entitlement is a lifelong quest in the journey of parenting. Each child will require a different approach and each family system will be unique in approaching these issues. Some days I feel like I’m in a loosing fight but other days I see light at the end of the tunnel. At the end of this journey my prayer is that I’ve done my best and given it my all in raising three boys who have respect for themselves and others and possess the desire to serve and give to this world with their whole hearts.

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