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A Sense of Entitlement

FINDING THE BALANCE between protecting children and enabling a sense of entitlement can be challenging. No one wants to raise an “entitled” child, but in our society, it isn’t easy to discern ways that might be happening. It’s natural for young children to be upset when they don’t get their way, and it can be hard to know if we are supporting their abilities to handle disappointment and understand the needs of others.

Becoming aware of these issues as a parent is important because there appears to be an emerging connection between serious depression in adolescence and young adults and being conditioned to feel that they are “entitled” and “special.” In our social-media-heavy culture, where people try to portray every aspect of their lives as perfect, a feeling of entitlement often masquerades as self-esteem and empowerment – a ticket to success. The danger, now becoming more apparent, is that a wave of “privileged” young people are becoming seriously depressed.

The causes of depression are complex, but psychologists are noting that when children have consistently been shielded and protected from disappointment, and given messages that they have to be exceptional, the normal ups and downs of life – like losing a soccer game or not doing well on a paper– can feel so enormous that life becomes overwhelming. (The perilous journey of outsized academic pressures in our area has been documented in the movie Race to Nowhere.)

The idea that over-accommodating and over-empowering children can program them for depression calls out for exploration. It’s hard to be aware of the ways we are reinforcing an expectation in children that they deserve to have all their desires and wishes fulfilled, and that they need to be treated as special.

In our school community, we try to nurture an awareness that everyone’s needs are equal and worthy of respect, and being able to handle not getting what you want or not winning the game are signs of strength and maturity. Indeed, moments of “failure” and “disappointment” can strengthen resilience, teach creative problem-solving skills, and build empathy. We teach children to find joy in trying their best rather than in the specific results of their efforts.

Incidents in which your child hurts or is disrespectful to someone offer opportunities to teach empathy and equality. Have your child ask . . .

How did my behavior affect others?

How wonderful when a parent hearing that their child hit or hurt someone verbally immediately shows compassion for the victim. It shifts everything to ask “How is the other person feeling?” rather than defending their own child’s actions. By focusing on the victim, we teach children that their words and actions have an impact, and their wants and wishes in the moment don’t override others’.

How do I feel entitled?

It’s not helpful to shame children for wanting to be first in line or for wanting their way or for acting entitled. We want to respond matter-of-factly when they demand things they can’t have and pay significant attention instead when they do show concern for others. We can also become better role models by reflecting on all the ways we demonstrate entitlement. “I should have had that parking place.”

We can all benefit for by looking for examples of those who approach the world with humility and gratitude.


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