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 email@example.com.