It's not easy raising considerate, selfless, empathic kids in a consumerist, capitalist, tech-obsessed society. If you feel like your child is acting spoilt, self-obsessed and entitled, you're not alone. And it may not be entirely your fault. Dig around in twenty first century culture and it's not hard to see why kids of all ages feel like it's all about them.
Here are five things that could be creating a sense of entitlement in your children:
1. Child-centered families
A generation or two ago, kids were just part of a family. Family life didn't revolve around them. They played in the back yard (or the local park) with little or no supervision. They had less organized activities to get to, and were prepared to walk or take the bus to those they had. Teenagers did their own thing. It was fine to ask your parents for a ride occasionally, but you didn't see them as a full-time, always on stand-by, "text and they will come" taxi service.
Modern day parents tend to arrange their schedule around the children, even if that requires a complicated, ever-changing, two-sittings-on-a-Tuesday dinner schedule to accommodate three sets of extracurricular activities. You don't have to do it that way, but it's become the new normal and most of us don't question it. But maybe we should. Kids can entertain themselves, at least some of the time. Teens can take a bus to the mall, especially in broad daylight.
2. Helicopter parenting
Helicopter parents have been around for a while. The term was first coined in the book, "Between Parent and Child" by Dr. Haim Ginott in 1969. But there's no doubt that the practice is becoming more common. If child-centered parents arrange their own lives around their children, helicopter parents micro-manage their child's life to the point they're almost living it for them. They'll do everything for their kids, advocating for them when they have issues at school or get low grades (even into their teens), running their social and academic diaries, and even writing their college applications.
Helicopter parenting makes children and young adults feel entitled, but it also interferes with one of their most important developmental stages. Kids want, and need, to be independent. It's hard to do that when we don't even let them manage their own homework schedule. If you think you might be a helicopter parent, it's time to step back and let them make some decisions.
3. Instant gratification
Services like Netflix, iTunes and Spotify may be spoiling your child almost as much as you are. Millennial kids are used to being able to stream favorite TV shows, download new music and find any information they need faster than you can say Wikipedia. But all this instant gratification prevents children from learning to wait for it, and work for it.
Kids no longer have to wait a week between episodes of their favorite show, go to the mall at the weekend to buy a new record, or go to the library to look something up in an encyclopedia. And that's fine. Technology is useful, but sometimes it sends a message that doesn't translate well to real life. Often we have to be proactive to get what we want. Not everything arrives in our hands at the click of a button. In real life, if you want something you usually have to take action.
According to a report in The Atlantic, there's evidence that a child who can't handle delayed gratification will have long-term impulse control problems, so it's probably worth trying to instill a few practices in our family lives that teach delayed gratification.
4. Social media
There are many reasons why social media is both a good thing and a very bad thing in our family lives, but there's one aspect of it that can encourage an unhealthy level of self-obsession. Social media is about being the star of your own life. It's about being able to share a carefully edited selfie, a cryptic update or a complaint about how unfair the world is, and get instant response, approval and sympathy.
Social media is frighteningly effective at sending a dangerous and inaccurate message about how the world works. It's yet another modern day phenomena that tells our kids it's all about them. It's hard to counter this, but make sure your children have plenty of opportunity to develop real world social skills to balance out the time they spend on social media.
Saying something negative about your child's ability has become unacceptable in polite parenting circles. You have to pile on the praise to protect his self-esteem. Praising your child isn't the same as spoiling him, of course, but if you rarely give him any constructive criticism, don't be surprised if he sulks when you do, even if you're clearly trying to help him.
According to a recent article in The Huffington Post, some kids are now so sensitive that schools have to give them the option of a fake report card with higher grades than they really obtained. While this may protect delicate egos, it's hard to see how these kids will reach their potential without honest feedback that reflects their actual strengths and weaknesses.
If you feel you're raising a spoiled brat, take some solace from the fact that it's partly just a sign of the times, and then try to make a few small adjustments that counteract some of the things you can't control.