Researchers have told us that American parents are too child-centered. Is making our kids happy eclipsing our determination to teach them responsibility? According to the cited study, “Parents intend to develop their children’s independence, yet raise them to be relatively dependent, even when the kids have the skills to act on their own.” (Wall Street Journal, 3/13/2012). As a result, kids generally are growing up less prepared to take care of themselves and others than ever before. We call this problem “entitlement,” meaning kids who do not feel inclined to be responsible and helpful as part of daily life. Lynne and I have encountered this issue time and again in our own work coaching families.
Not so long ago it was different. For all of human history, until the last 60 years or so, kids were expected at young ages to do what they could do to help their family survive. In other words, their contributions were necessary to keep others afloat. Faith and values were passed naturally through this process as children and parents shared in the responsibilities of day to day life. Every child was an asset because every child was another worker in the labor force of the family/clan. Kids felt significant not just because parents said ‘I love you’ at bedtime or sent notes in their lunchbox, but because they knew that if they didn’t do their part others would suffer.
This concept of being needed is absent in most American homes. Instead of growing up to believe they are here for others, kids grow up to believe that others are here for them. Add to the mix a child’s selfish, sinful nature, and we’ve got a real problem on our hands.
Welcome to what some sociologists call the Age of Entitlement. Once upon a time it was normal for kids to say, “please” and “thank you”, and they were conscious that they were contributors to the welfare of others. They now generally say, “I deserve what I want, when I want it, without earning it, and I’m bitter if I don’t get it”. They believe the world is theirs to manipulate for their own pleasurable purposes.
Your family can be different!
The way to change this cultural epidemic is to change what happens in our homes. The first thing Lynne and I suggest for countering this trend is to give your kids meaningful jobs as early and often as they are capable of carrying them out. Give them jobs that if not done will negatively impact other people. As much as possible, set up systems and structures that truly depend on the child’s participation. Being needed gives kids a healthy sense of significance and purpose.
Practically, are you willing to take the time now to train your two-year-old to set the table? Are you willing to give a five year-old the responsibility of preparing and serving breakfast, or your ten-year-old that of mowing the lawn?
Of course, if you’re in your easy chair scrolling through your phone while he works, your child will likely become bitter. But if you use that time to bless someone else – even someone outside the family – and then tell stories about how everyone’s contributions blessed others, you’ll be well on the way to developing a strong sense of the value that your family is blessed to be a blessing.
So get to work inviting your kids to join you in being a blessing to others. It may be the most important thing you can do to combat selfish entitlement and grow a healthy sense of significance.
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