Esther Earl died at age 16 from cancer. Her parents have published a collection of her writings.
Does your child always ask for the latest toys and gadgets? Does he or she seem to think that a weekly allowance is a right, instead of something that’s earned?
In their book “The Entitlement Trap,” Utah couple Richard and Linda Eyre say that the way to get children to feel less entitled to stuff is to make them earn the money to buy it. They advocate creating a “‘family economy’ where kids choose, earn, save, and budget, and where they begin to feel the pride of real ownership of their spending money, their toys, their clothes, their electronic gadgets.”
The Eyres say in doing so, children value their belongings more, and can practice making decisions about how their money is spent. They say that this principle of ownership can extend to their schoolwork and their relationship with their siblings.
By: Richard and Linda Eyre
QUESTIONS PARENTS ASK US
For the last decade or so, as a result of the interest in some of our books, we have traveled the world speaking to parents about their kids, about their families, and about their parenting. We have given hundreds of lectures and seminars in virtually every state in the United States and in more than fifty other countries to parents belonging to every religion and political persuasion and every economic and social demographic you can imagine.
And in this often divided and polarized world we live in, here’s something very cool: Parents everywhere are much the same. No matter where or how they live, parents want to give their kids good values, a good education, and a chance to reach their full potential. And no matter what their philosophy or creed or politics are, they want to keep their children safe and protected from the world. One dad in Indonesia told us that his definition of a conservative was “a flaming liberal with a teenage daughter.”
So we don’t have to change our presentation very much when we are with a group of Hindu parents in India, or Buddhist families in Vietnam, or Muslim moms and dads in Saudi Arabia. Their hopes and worries for their children are essentially the same, so our message to them is pretty much the same.
Let us repeat that thought, because it is quite amazing! Whatever other differences they may have, political, economic, or religious, when it comes to how they think of their children, what they hope and dream for them, and their most basic concerns, all parents are essentially alike. They love their kids, and that one thing gives them more in common with each other, and with us, than all the differences combined.
Ironically, while parenting is perceived by the majority of parents everywhere as their most important job, it is a field in which we get very little instruction. Most parents don’t lack the desire or the commitment to be good parents, they just need a guiding philosophy and ideas about how to implement it. And they need them fast, because parenting, after all, is a fairly short- term proposition. In about eighteen years, about a fifth of our lives, a child is grown and gone, leaving too many of us wondering what we could have done better while they were here. By the time we figure parenting out, we are pretty much done doing it! Since we don’t have time to work it all out for ourselves, to learn entirely by trial and error, to come up with our own completely self-discovered set of ideas that work, one goal of this book is to do some of the discovering for you! We know you will adjust and adopt the whole ownership approach to your particular situation and to your unique and individual kids, but the basic structure will be there for you, as a start and as a proven foundation.
Since all parents everywhere basically have the same parental aspirations and face the same parenting challenges, their questions to us are always much the same:
Why won’t my kids put in the effort at school to reach their full potential?
Why won’t they pick up their clothes or put away their toys?
Why do they sometimes make such obviously bad and foolish choices?
Why do they think they need to have everything their friends have?
Why is it so hard for me to influence my kids . . . and so easy for their peers to influence them?
Why can’t I get them to set some goals and to start feeling responsible for their lives? Or to work and to follow through on their tasks?
Why can’t I get them away from games and gadgets, from cell phones and headphones?
Why is it so hard to communicate with my kids? And to teach them responsibility?
Perhaps Amy Chua and her “Tiger Mother” devotees would disagree and say that these are only the questions of indulgent Western parents who are raising spoiled and entitled kids, and that other parenting models, such as her “Chinese” one, are much more demanding and produce much more disciplined and accomplished children. But our experience suggests otherwise. These are the questions that parents everywhere are asking, including middle-class parents in China and the rest of Asia, and the vast majority of them do not want to give their children perfection-demanding discipline at the expense of love and self-esteem and a real childhood.
But the interesting thing is that these questions, shared by today’s parents all over the world, were not the prime questions of parents one or two generations ago. Yesterday’s kids had a much greater sense of personal responsibility than today’s kids do. Think how things have changed: When your grandparents were young, children often worked for their parents; now parents work for their kids. When your parents were children, it took more work to keep a household going than it does now, and kids did a lot of that work. And even when you were a child, there was some sense that kids owed a lot to their parents; now parents seem to think they owe everything to their kids.
TWO PARENTING EPIPHANIES: THE PROBLEM OF ENTITLEMENT AND THE SOLUTION OF OWNERSHIP
Frankly, we were a little slow to see the picture clearly— the picture of what is happening to this generation of kids. We had been writing and speaking to parents about responsibility and values for more than a decade, and then one evening, as we heard those same questions about laziness and messiness and bad choices and lack of motivation for the umpteenth time from another large audience of parents in another large auditorium, we had a parenting epiphany: We realized that all the questions hinge on the same problem— and the problem is entitlement.
“Entitlement” is the best name we know for the attitude of children who think they can have, should have, and deserve whatever they want, whatever their friends have— and that they should have it now, and not have to earn it or give up anything for it.
And it goes beyond having to behaving. They think they should be able to do whatever they want, whatever their friends do, now, and without a price.
This sense of entitlement contributes mightily to sloppiness, to low incentive, to boredom, to bad choices, to instant gratification, to constant demands for more, and to all kinds of addictions (including the addiction to technology).
Perhaps the biggest problem with entitlement is that under its illusions, there seem to be no real consequences in life and no motivation to work for anything. Someone will always bail you out, get you off the hook, buy you a new one, make excuses for you, give you another chance, pay your debt, and hand you what you ask for.
Entitlement is a double-edged sword (or a double-jawed trap) for kids. On one edge it gives kids all that they don’t need— indulgence, dullness, conceit, and laziness; and on the backswing, it takes from them everything they do need— motivation, independence, inventiveness, pride, responsibility, and a chance to really work for things and to build their own sense of fulfillment and self-esteem.
As we worked with our own children on the problem of entitlement, and as we focused more attention on it in our lectures and seminars on teaching values and responsibility, we had a second parenting epiphany: It was simply that feelings of entitlement are always connected to a lack of work and sacrifice and ownership. When people (adults or kids) don’t work for something, or give up anything for it, they never feel the pride of owning it or the will to care for and develop it. We began to understand that a sense of ownership is the antidote to entitlement, and from that point on, we have been developing methods to help children feel the responsibility of ownership.
CROSSING THE GAP
There is a gap between being a child and being an adult, a space, a breach, a journey . . . and how and when it is crossed will make all the difference in your own happiness and in that of your child.
In many parts of the world, particularly the third world, kids are forced to jump the gap too fast or too soon. Because of poverty or the absence of parents, they have to play the role of adults while they are still children, missing out on much of the joy and learning of childhood.
But in most of contemporary society, it is the opposite— children seem never to grow up because parents do everything for them, give everything to them, over- serve and overindulge, allowing them to avoid responsibility, to “move back in,” and to essentially continue to be children.
Modern parents in America and Europe and most other developed countries unwittingly promote the worst of both worlds by giving their children license too early and responsibility too late. They allow their kids to do many things before they are emotionally and socially ready. And yet at the same time, parents (and the society around them) give kids a sense of entitlement that allows them to avoid most of the accountability and ownership that would help them become responsible adults.
It is because of this environment of entitlement that parenting is a bigger challenge now than it has ever been.
TONE AND INTENT
We are going to be blunt with you in this book. We are going to answer the question of where this sense of entitlement comes from— and most of the answer is you! We are going to tell you what to stop doing. But we are also going to tell you what to start doing and how to replace your child’s sense of entitlement with a sense of ownership and responsibility. It is not an easy transition, but it can be an enormously enjoyable and worthwhile one that will affect your child’s whole life (not to mention yours!).
It’s not all bad in this modern world of parenting. Many parents work harder at the job and think about it more than any past generation. Though we paint a pretty bleak picture of the entitlement trap in chapter 1, you will be pleased to find that not all the entitlement problems mentioned in the pages ahead apply to you, and your kids may be wonderful and motivated in many ways. But we all must recognize the new paradigm of entitlement that surrounds our kids, and take steps to immunize and protect them from it.
The first two chapters present the problem and the solution in broad strokes, and the remaining nine chapters are all “how to”—how to give our children the responsible pride of ownership rather than the demanding laziness of entitlement.
The bottom line for all of us as parents is results. So this book will not waste your time with anything that does not produce them. You may have noticed that we promised some results for each chapter right in the table of contents. We will do the same thing at the start of each chapter— results for your child, and results for you!
We include stories and personal incidents extensively to explain and illustrate various points. Writing this book has taken several years, and the process of coming up with ways to help kids develop responsibility and cast off entitlement has involved working with thousands of parents around the world. We have taken the liberty of amalgamating some of their stories and combining some of their experiences for brevity. We sometimes relate our own family experiences (with our kids’ names changed— to protect the not-so-innocent) and sometimes merge what we have done with something another family has experienced. But rest assured that every idea we mention is based on real-life experience, and every method we suggest is tried and proven.
Copyright Avery Trade of Penguin.