Saturday, October 21, 2006

The Entitled Child

Here is a scary question for Halloween weekend: Are you raising an entitled child?

No parent sets out to raise a child that feels any or all material possessions should “naturally” come their way. Ideally, it would be best if our kids understood that things need to be earned or deserved based on merit, and that it is better to give than to receive. There are children half a continent or half way around the world who have nothing or who have lost everything, so get out there and help raise money or clothes or books for them! New Canaan CARES is featuring the author of “Raising Financially Fit Kids” next month, so this topic is certainly timely, and although I am not an expert, I do have frightening tales of entitlement-minded children to share.

When my second oldest son, Kenny, was a pre-teen and early teen, his favorite mantra was that he needed-- fill-in-the-blank -- because it was “pivotal to my success.” The first time he said this I laughed and promptly went out and bought him whatever small piece of technology he had requested. And then it happened a second and a third time; I was becoming brainwashed to the phrase “pivotal to my success.” The kid was a behavioral nightmare, but I wanted him to be good, to be a success and so I robotically dashed to the store, whipped out the checkbook or the credit card and got him what he wanted. If he asked to stay up a little later at night, or have a friend sleep over, or drink Capris Suns until the cows came home – boom! – his wish was my command. It was “pivotal to his success” and I felt I had to help make that happen. It was pivotal to my success as a parent.

Oh, was I so very wrong, and Kenny and I both paid the price fairly dearly, and I mean price both financially and emotionally.

Flash forward to his senior year at New Canaan high school. After winding up deprived of all material possessions and more the year before, he went out and got a job at the late Ritz Pastry Shop to pay for anything that might be a want rather than a need. Despite feeling that he was entitled to us paying for college, he secured student loans. (If he messed up in college it would be on his dime, not ours) The results? He graduated valedictorian last spring and anything that is still pivotal to his success is primarily bought by money he has earned. He has become entrepreneurial rather than entitled, a solid citizen rather than a self-seeking one.

And now there is Janet, who not only shares Kenny’s birth date but his “pivotal to my success” philosophy. Still reeling from Ken’s teenage years, we are determined to nip her wants in the bud. As Jon reminds her and Jack all the time, “’I want’ gets nothing.” (And yes, I get that from him as well on occasion.)

Just because we can afford to buy X,Y, or Z doesn’t mean we are going to buy it. We are trying to encourage her to think beyond her own needs – “$60 jeans? Really?” – to those of others, known and unknown to her or our family. That just because it’s the weekend doesn’t mean she can stay up until midnight or that Jack can continue not to eat what the rest of the family is eating just because he doesn’t like the food. The only two people entitled to do anything are mom and dad – we are entitled to try and raise children who have some sense of dollars and cents and right and wrong.

Spooky thoughts, right?

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