My Facebook feed was recently awash with links to articles about entitlement in children, such as this one by We Are That Family. Based on such articles, it seems that a lot of children these days have the “I want”, “Give me” or “Buy me” mentality that concerned parents must address. Contentment, where art thou?
Whether the assertion is true or not, the thought scared me enough to make me pause, think and ask my husband… “Uhm, do you think our kids feel entitled?” After a long pause, he said not without a bit of uncertainty, “Uhm, I don’t think so?”
Like all parents, we struggle between wanting to give “the best” to our children and teaching them that they can’t have everything they want without working hard for it and actually earning and deserving it.
Where and how do we draw the line?
Materialism and entitlement in children
There are definitely many causes of entitlement in children. One that’s obvious to me is materialism, as it’s what most parents hear from young children – “I want”, “Give me,” “Buy me”, sometimes with a screeching “Right now!”
When kids are used to getting what they want (and what others have!) and start believing that it’s their right to have those things, that’s entitlement. When kids become resentful of their parents for not giving in to them, that’s entitlement. When kids grow up making up stories and stealing in order to get what they want, that’s entitlement.
As a parent, I find this scary. And I pray everyday for wisdom so that our kids will grow up unscathed by the mistakes that my husband and I are sure making, right this very minute, in raising them.
When my husband said that he didn’t think that our kids have an entitlement issue, it was definitely said with fingers crossed and a lot of hope in his heart. After all, we can only know the fruits of our parenting labors when our kids are grown.
But that’s not to say that our small efforts everyday are not helping. As my husband and I thought it over, we realized five things that we are doing that are hopefully helping our kids grow up without a sense of entitlement and a whole lot of contentment in their lives.
1. We seldom bring our kids shopping
We seldom bring our kids to the mall to shop simply because I don’t like going to the mall. I shop online when necessary and don’t really ask them for what they want. I simply pick what they need and what I think suits them, and that is that. Because of this, they do not have a lot of opportunities to see the myriad of products that they could potentially want.
This, in retrospect, did not train them to buy and buy. After all, they only see that shopping is for buying what’s important. They are not at all aware of the importance that people put on brand names. Items are described by how they look and not by brand.
2. We accept hand-me-downs
My sister has a son and daughter about five to eight years older than my own kids. Every so often, she would call me to pick up clothes, books and toys (all in mint condition) that my niece and nephew have already outgrown.
My kids don’t expect new things all the time, and my daughter loves the hand-me-down clothes more than her new ones because they’re very soft and comfy. So, our closet is always full of clothes several years away from being worn. Thankfully, the clothes are not too trendy!
3. We borrow things
As I wrote in a blog post about the 7 kinds of toys worth keeping, my big weakness is hoarding books, toys and educational materials. Other than that (hah!), we borrow things such as newborn baby clothes for Baby Bumblebee and a high chair now that she’s six months old. The message is, we don’t have to own everything and we don’t have to have new things all the time. Returning things in proper condition, is of course, also emphasized.
4. We limit exposure to TV
When my husband and I agreed to ban and limit screen time for our children when I was still pregnant with our first child, we definitely did not see the added benefit: our kids are not exposed to shows and commercials that peddle products to children. (Read this fact sheet about Materialism and Family Stress.)
Now that they are five and eight, they still only watch TV on weekends… sometimes. This limited exposure familiarizes them with some of the popular characters but not enough to brainwash them to pine for related products.
5. We have the perfect answer to “But ___ has it/can do it”
We’ve been asked in our parent education workshops (particularly on Positive Discipline) about what we do when our kids say, “___ has it/can do it” in hopes of persuading us to give in to what they want.
I was at a loss when I first heard this from my daughter. Through the years, we’ve perfected several versions of our answer, which immediately stop the pleadings:
- Every parent/ or family is different. That’s how they do things and this is how we do things.
- Her Mama thinks it’s okay for her. Your Mama doesn’t think it’s okay for you.
- He is older and can already do _____. Maybe when you’re older you can do it too.
These five things eschew love for and attachment to things promoted in mainstream culture and media. Hopefully, these things, along with other intentional efforts, will indeed help our children avoid the trap of entitlement.