Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Breaking the Entitlement Cycle

I recently read this wonderful article in M: for the woman in every mom magazine here on the peninsula. I loved this article so much I called the author Jennifer Rhodes and asked her if I could post it on our blog. She and I had a wonderful chat and she gave me permission to post it here. I especially liked her reference to the 'self esteem' movement and how the repercussions of that style of parenting are morphing into the entitlement parenting and how these children are faring once in and out of college. Thank you Jennifer for a great article and for your insight as a professional that works with children and families.

Breaking the Entitlement Cycle

by Jennifer Rhodes, Psy.D.

Maggie comes home from school and says she needs a cell phone.

But she doesn't want just any cell phone-it has to be an iPhone 4.

After all, she's in fourth grade and all of her friends have one. Maggie

is relentless. She wants a phone. She needs a phone. Over the

course of a month, Maggie does not miss an opportunity to inform

her parents of how unfair they arc being by not giving her one.

Matthew is a second grader who is crazy about sports. He does

well, maybe even a bit better than other kids in his peer group, but

he struggles with sportsmanship and boasts that he is "clearly the

best." While sports come more easily than other things to Matthew,

he struggles when his coach pushes him to expand his skills. Rather

than seeing an opportunity, he gives up or blames others for the

failure. In Cub Scouts, when he doesn't win the pinewood derby,

he is devastated and yells, "It's not fair the track must be broken!"

Jenna is a college freshman. All through elementary, junior high

and high school, she got her schoolwork done on time, participated

in multiple sports and extracurricular activities. But away

from home, she can't handle the stress of having to choose her own

classes, make her own schedule and structure her own time. Her

parents or her counselors had always given her deadlines, helped

her choose her activities, and followed through to make sure things

in her life were done. Now in college, she is anxious and stressed

out because the pressure is too much for her to handle on her own,

and for the first time in her life, her grades begin to slip.

As parents, we hear a lot about entitlement. Here in Silicon Valley,

where the accumulation of wealth or the perceived accumulation of

wealth surrounds us, it feels especially noticeable. While the notion

of entitlement is often thought to be related to wealth, it is actually

an attitude and a way to perceive oneself ("I expect to receive ... ")

and can be influenced by how we parent, with or without great

amounts of money. Entitlement is not simply buying a child too

many things. It is a process of parenting that promotes giving children

too much, too soon or doing things for children that they can

do for themselves. The consequences are often that children experience

a false sense of self-esteem, an expectation of life being "easy"

and/or an insatiable need to be validated by others. The danger is

that these children can fall apart later in life when they realize that

they may not be as fabulous-smart-talented as they have been told

all their lives.

Entitled parenting interrupts a child's normal development

including learning the skills to help cope with disappointment

and developing the ability to accurately assess one's own strengths

and weaknesses. Kids who do not develop these skills later have

difficulty understanding how to cope with everyday srtessors and

using their knowledge to make healthy personal decisions. Entitled

children often have difficulty learning that all people have weaknesses

and no one is perfect.

Entitled parenting has been greatly influenced by the self-esteem

movement over the past 20 years. This movement sought to use a

strength-based approach to promote the healthy development of

children. But it has largely been misinterpreted by well-meaning

professionals and parents. Kids no longer keep score while playing

tee-ball for fear that the competition is harmful. Every child

in a classroom now receives a gold star whether they earned the

star or not out of fear that someone's feelings may be hurt. The

consequence of the idea that everyone is equal regardless of his

individual achievements is that our culture has started to interfere

with a child's natural and evolving understanding of his abilities

and strengths. Without this skill, children do not develop adequate

coping skills that may help them later in life.

Providing children with material possessions, even with the good

intention of trying to make them feel better, fuels the sense of

entitlement and does little to help their self-esteem. Giving in to

a child's desire to be like everyone else and have the same things

as his friends may seem like a good idea, especially to protect him

from being the only one who doesn't have something. But it actually

can teach a child that working for something or earning something

is not necessary to getting what he wants. That can become

dangerous when it comes time to be an adult and the hand-outs

from employers do not exist

Trying to raise a child in Silicon Valley can be tough-not only

because of the academic pressures and the current economy, but

because of the wide diversity of social pressures as well. Even if

you feel that you are doing your best to ground your child with

the understanding that certain privileges should be earned, how do

you help your child cope with the peer pressure that other entitled

children and their families promulgate?

1. Work on your relationship with your child. Provide age appropriate

structure, limits and boundaries. When your child

is young, work on building a solid foundation of trust and

responsiveness in order to help your child cope with stress and

disappointment. For school-age children, work on increasing

impulse control and a sense of responsibility. For teenagers,

promote age-appropriate money management skills and

encouraging them to volunteer or take on other work-related

activities. These strategies will help you develop a better

ability to understand your child and lead to a happier and

healthier relationship, which is the foundation for a healthy

and successful child.

Matthew's parents, for example, could help him build a true sense

of himself by praising him for participating in the sport and his

sportsmanship, not just for winning. They could talk about other

ways to help out and to work as a team member, such as with setup,

clean-up or uniforms, so that he can see that being involved

as part of a team is not only about winning or losing-it is about

responsibility to other peers as well.

2. Promote age-appropriate autonomy by avoiding doing too

many things that your child may be able to do for himself. For

example, over-scheduling your child for after-school activities

will not teach your child how to manage his time. Instead,

weigh the pros and cons of different activities or determine

which activities he likes best. For example, if your 8-yearold

is engaged in too many after-school activities without

any thought or input (because you have made the choice), it

becomes more difficult in high school for him to prioritize

activities and make appropriate scheduling choices.

Jenna could have benefitted from her parents allowing her to make

some choices about classes and activities while in junior high and

high school so that her transition to college would not have been so

fraught with anxiety. Choices teach valuable skills in decision making,

prioritization and coping with frustration.

3. Understand that your child's questions, concerns or demands

about how he differs from his peers in terms of dress or

other material things is not only a typical part of your child's

development; it is an opening for a more important conversation:

What are your family values? How are these values the

same or different from other families? How did you earn the

nice things in your home? How do you define success? Maggie's

parents could tell her that her family believes children don't

need a smart phone of their own until 8th grade. It is their

family rule. When she keeps asking for one, they have a firm

answer that promotes their values and teaches Maggie that

privileges increase as children are able to handle more responsibility

By having an open conversation with your child about the differences

he notices and what your rules and boundaries are, you will

not only prepare your child to cope with entitled children and

families, bur will also promote his success in the world by building

his social competence. If successful, your child will easily transition

to college while the entitled children will be struggling to come to

terms with the meaning of hard work, dedication, and reward.

Dr. Rhodes is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Menlo Park and San Francisco. She specializes in working with issues related to divorce, entitlement and relationships between parents and their children. Dr. Rhodes also maintains a psychotherapy and assessment practice for children and adolescents. She can be reached at 415.509.5616 or at drjenniferrhodes@gmail.com.

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