The phrase “entitlement mentality” gets thrown around a lot as emblematic of today’s younger generation. Merriam Webster defines entitlement as:
- the fact of having a right to something. “full entitlement to fees and maintenance should be offered”
- the amount to which a person has a right. “annual leave benefits.”
- the belief that one is inherently deserving of privileges or special treatment. “no wonder your kids have a sense of entitlement”
I don’t see a problem with the first two definitions. Kids, for example, have the right to feel loved, secure, important, and special. God created them with these needs and He designed the family to fulfill them.
What we want to avoid, as parents, is raising kids who think they deserve privileges and preferential treatment because they have a me-centered view of reality. This is where training of their heart-attitudes has to come in.
Here are some practical ways Edric and I are trying to weed out the negative sense of entitlement in our kids:
Learn to Wait
Between Edric and me, I tend to give in more to the kids’ wants so I am thankful that Edric insists on being firm about training our kids to wait.
Last Christmas, Cetaphil, a brand that we endorse as a family, gave the kids GCs for Toys R Us. The kids were thrilled since we didn’t buy them expensive gifts for Christmas. We asked them to purchase presents for each other and gave them a fairly small budget per person to do so. When they received their GCs, the kids shrieked with joy, expecting to be able to troop to the toy store soon after. However, Edric encouraged them to postpone their urge to do so until such time as he deemed favorable.
At first, I felt badly for the kids. During Christmas we told them we would focus on serving an underprivileged community rather than make our celebration about presents. They didn’t complain when they received simple gifts. Therefore, my impulse was to reward their good attitudes.
Yet, I trusted Edric’s leading on the matter and he was wise to mandate that the kids wait once more. A few weeks ago, he finally allowed each of our kids to pick out something at the toy store. We had another photoshoot for Cetaphil where they obeyed and listened to instructions very well so Edric wanted to bless them for their positive character.
In keeping with our emphasis on learning to wait, I asked the kids not to open their purchases till the day after. Once again they complied. There was some resistance from our younger two who came up to me grasping their new toys hoping that they could persuade me to change my mind by batting their pretty eyelashes. But I didn’t cave in and insisted that tomorrow wasn’t very far away. They understood and eagerly anticipated waking up the next morning. Exercising self-control allowed them to thoroughly enjoy the moment when they opened their toys.
Whenever parents express concern about their kids being entitled, Edric and I ask them to think through what sort of environment and values they are perpetuating at home. It’s not our children’s faults when they grow up feeling like the “world owes them.” Most likely, it’s due to the way we are raising them.
One problem may be too much too soon. For example, many parents feel upset about their kids’ addiction to gadgets but they supply their children with devices to begin with. Furthermore, these gadgets are usually given when their children are too young to self-regulate the amount of time they spend on these.
We made this mistake with Catalina when she was younger. Needing to appease her and keep her preoccupied, we would hand my phone to her. However, this had a detrimental affect on her personality. She began to resort to whining when she couldn’t use my phone, thinking it was her right to have it as a form of entertainment. So we had a season of “unplugging” for her.
Now, when I tell her, “Catalina, you can’t play with that or you can’t have that,” more often than not her reply is, “Okay, mommy.” Before, she would arch her head back and cry, sulk, or roll around on the couch or bed to emphasize her disappointment. By God’s grace, she has improved a lot!
Humility and Service
Philippians 2:5-7 reads, “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.”
Jesus was God but did not insist on being treated like God, nor did he demand the privileges that belonged to Him. He did not appear in His glorious form but in the form of man whom He created. As if this wasn’t humbling enough, He regarded Himself as a servant, not just any servant, but the lowliest of all — a bond servant.
The word for bondservant in Greek is Doulos which implies slave, one who gives himself up to another’s will, or to be devoted to another to the disregard of one’s own interests. (Source:http://www.biblestudytools.com/lexicons/greek/nas/doulos.html)
“The King of the Universe, the Lord of glory, voluntarily became a pauper for our sake. He had to borrow a place to be born, a boat to preach from, a place to sleep, a donkey to ride upon, an upper room to use for the last supper, and a tomb in which to be buried. He created the world but the world did not know Him. He was insulted, humiliated, and rejected by the people He made. (Source: Ken Boa, Reflections Newsletter, May 1988.)
Our children have inherent worth as people created in the image of God, but like Christ, they don’t have to insist or demand to be treated as special. Neither should they expect the “world to revolve around their needs and wants.”
Instead, they can copy Christ’s example. He set aside His privileges and position to serve our needs. This act of humility didn’t diminish His worth, instead it allowed Him to accomplish the purpose for which He came to earth — the sacrifice of His life on the cross to pay for our sins which met our greatest need — forgiveness. Similarly, are we teaching our children to seek the highest good of others? Are we exemplifying this ourselves?
Edric and I have five kids with five different personalities, and all of them manifested a self-centered perspective early on in their lives. By two years old it was usually full blown in its ugliness and without intervention and consistent training, all of our kids would have been out of control by now. While they continue to struggle with selfishness (who doesn’t?), they understand that as a family we are committed to serving the Lord and others. We are on this earth to be a blessing.
In order to emphasize this, we expose our children to ministry activities where they must serve and think of the needs of others. When our kids minister alongside Edric and me, they experience what it is like to go outside of their comfort zones and channel their God-given talents towards caring for others. In the process they realize that they can live purposefully, beyond the pursuit of self-gratification.
This usually happens when our kids are at the age when they can express their personal reflections and insights. At about nine or ten years of age, we give them opportunities to stand in front of audiences to share what God is teaching them.
Elijah was more natural at this but we asked Edan to participate as well about three years ago. We avoided forcing him. But when he finally got to experience speaking along side us his heart attitude changed. He now says, “I want to be a blessing!”
Edric and I have also learned from my brother and sister-in-law who are part of the sports ministry of our church. They include my nephews and niece in their outreaches whenever possible. At present, their kids also disciple other children and lead bible studies for them. Edric and I asked our kids to do this as well but they got discouraged when their first few attempts didn’t produce desired results. The kids they were teaching preferred to play! However, we have challenged our older children to get these studies started again.
Our desire is to instill in our kids what it means to be contributors rather than takers. Whether it is serving in ministry or helping out at home, we want our kids to take initiative to meet the needs they see and learn the value of work.
Edric recently required the boys to take care of the yard with him. At first our kids resisted, especially Edan who prefers to be indoors. However, after our kids experienced mowing the grass, taking out the big shears to trim plants, shrubs and branches, sweeping and collecting dead leaves (and then burning them to roast marshmallows), they realized that doing chores together can be a lot of fun! Our yard is still in dismal shape and needs a lot of beautifying!
Since we have household help we don’t want our kids to feel like someone is always there to pick up after them, straighten their rooms, and respond to their every request. They are able-bodied enough to fix their beds, clean their mess, and be responsible for their toys and belongings.
During our trip to Dubai, Edric had the boys sort through all their clothing and pack their own luggage. I usually prepare all their clothes and shoes, but Edric forbade me from doing so this time around. He reminded me that the boys are old enough to exercise independence in this area, that it was necessary for them to do so, too. At first, I hesitated to agree with him for fear that our sons would forget important articles of clothing.
However, I praise God that I listened to Edric because I haven’t had to micromanage how they pair their outfits or keep track of what goes into their suitcases. They have taken the initiative to put away their clothes and select what they will wear every day which makes it a lot easier for me since I only have to worry about the girls’ luggages.
Even if our kids technically have material possessions that belong to them, we tell them they don’t own anything. God owns everything we have as a family. We are just stewards of these blessings, therefore our response needs to be one of appreciation and conscientiousness about taking care of what is the Lord’s. Since we don’t own anything, it becomes easier for our kids to share as well. No one is allowed to say, “This is mine!”
Frugality and Thriftiness
While we don’t want our children to worry about money, we don’t want them to think it comes easily either. It starts with us, as parents, modeling simplicity. When our kids observe us demonstrate restraint it motivates them to do the same. When we don’t exercise discretion they tend to think they can spend indiscriminately, too.
My older boys hold me accountable now. Elijah will challenge me in a polite way by asking, “Mom, do you really need that? Mom, that’s kind of expensive…”
Since Elijah and Edan earn money when they do jobs for Edric, they understand that a lot of effort is entailed in saving and accumulating wealth. It probably helps that we don’t give them allowances since they are homeschooled. Instead, they get paid when they do actual work. As a result, they exercise caution when spending their money, too. They prefer to invest their funds in stocks in order to grow it for future use.
Elijah and Edan both have individual stock portfolios. Their investment philosophy is invest in companies with a healthy track record, give good value for money, and are aligned with their personal convictions. For example, they prefer not to put their earnings into companies that sell junk food. Good call, boys!
Giving children a vision for what they can accomplish if they can save and invest money also keeps their impulses at bay. For example, when Elijah was eleven years old, he bought himself an IPad to increase his productivity. His rationale was, it was a “business investment.” He paid seventy-five percent of the cost of an IPad Air after researching and bidding for the best deal. We didn’t just hand him a new device even though he was old enough to responsibly handle one. We let him save up for it and go through the trouble of finding the best deal. As a result, he has taken very good care of his IPad and he uses it to learn about coding, program, track his stocks, and communicate with.
One of the best cures for entitlement is gratitude. This past week Edric had the kids memorize, “In everything give thanks.” (1 Timothy 5:17) Since we are in the Middle East, meeting with old and new friends, visiting different sites and learning about a unique culture, our kids may not always appreciate every experience we have. Furthermore, they may forget to express their sincere thanks when people treat us or take us to places. Church friends have been so hospitable and accommodating towards us that our kids can become spoiled, too! (We feel spoiled!) So we have repeatedly reminded them to be grateful, to avoid being demanding or upset when their expectations are not met. After all, we don’t deserve the kindness being showered upon us.
Gratitude also helps to guard our hearts from greed, one of the symptoms of entitlement. I don’t know how many of you are from Chinese families but here’s something that I appreciated about what my father did in ours. (I am half Chinese, my father being the Chinese parent and my mother being the American one.) Growing up, my father didn’t raise my siblings and me to bank on inheritance. So my siblings and I avoided planning our lives based on the expectation that our dad’s businesses, investments, and properties would be handed down to us. Instead, my dad assessed whatever needs we had through the years and blessed us when he saw it fit to do so.
He decided what was fair and still decides what is fair because he is still alive. In the process, he also gets to enjoy whatever “gifts” he gives us.
More importantly, my parents emphasized and continue to emphasize faith in the Lord as the unifying identity of our family. They still disciple us as their grown up children (as well as our spouses and children). As a result, we share the same values and perspectives on family, ministry, work, and wealth, and have a deep love and loyalty towards one another.
Nevertheless, I continue to pray that money will never come between us. I know it happens to the best of families and ours isn’t immune so it is by God’s grace alone that we desire what is best for one another and rejoice when we see each other prosper. Some of us have more than others and even though there may be times when it’s tempting to compare lifestyles and privileges, what safeguards our hearts and minds is the truth that all things come from the Lord’s hand. Whom he chooses to bless materially is in accordance with his pleasing and perfect will.
“Everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil—this is the gift of God.” Ecclesiastes 5:19
At the end of the day, I believe that a negative sense of entitlement boils down to a theological issue. It may be hard for kids to grasp this when they are young, but as they grow up, we need to remind them that every person is a recipient of grace. All of us are un-deserving of God’s grace, yet He forgave us and gave us the right to become His children.
“Yet to all who did receive him (Jesus Christ), to those who believe in his name, he gave the right to become children of God…”John 1:12
If we understand grace then we will be gracious when we aren’t treated the way we hope to be, when we don’t get our way, or when we fail to receive what we think we deserve to have. Why? Jesus Christ has met our desperate need for forgiveness. Our Heavenly Father has satisfied our deepest longings for love and acceptance. The Holy Spirit gives us the power to break away from the pain and bondage of sin. And our best life is yet to be, in heaven. Therefore, any good thing bestowed upon us today is a bonus! So we, and our children, can learn to wait, be humble and servant-like, contribute (work hard), be good stewards, practice thriftiness and frugality, and remember to say thank you!