By Gretchen Williams
A 2012 commercial for Coke Zero begins with a little boy being handed an ice cream cone. Before taking it, he looks blankly back at the server, responding with one word: “And?” The server apologizes, adds sprinkles and a cherry, and hands it back to the smiling boy. The following scenes depict the boy expecting more and more from others in his life as he grows up, including a new employer who throws in stock options onto his hiring package to satisfy his demand.
While this example is fictional, the sense of entitlement it implies is a very real issue, causing growing concern among parents and educators of teenagers. At home it surfaces in defiance of authority or expectations of material gain; in the classroom, students are blaming teachers for their poor grades and discipline problems. So why is this happening? And is it really a new problem, or just a version of an old one?
Our culture is more consumer-driven than ever, and kids are not immune to the influence. The material wealth of our country, where we are accustomed to every convenience, has disconnected many of us from the experience of doing without. Advances in technology have reinforced our drive for instant gratification, making it possible to do everything from recording our favorite TV shows to ordering dinner right from our smartphones. Teens wade through hundreds of photos and updates on social networking sites daily, convinced that everyone else “has what I don’t” with every tweet, tumble and post.
The root problem of entitlement is really a matter of the heart. And teens aren’t the only ones carrying around a feeling that they deserve better. Don’t many parents think their children should behave well, win the award, or get into that college like their classmate? Don’t we all think that we deserve a better break, or a better life, because we have “done everything right”?
In the familiar parable about the prodigal son in Luke 15, the younger brother, feeling entitled to his father’s inheritance before the father is even dead, takes off and squanders it recklessly. The older brother, however, reveals his own sense of entitlement when he refuses to celebrate his brother’s return. His deep resentment of his brother’s lavish welcome by the father reveals a stubborn and self-righteous heart.
When we live out a sense of entitlement, we are basically saying that God is not enough for us, and we don’t agree with the way He is running things. We choose to live in bitterness that He hasn’t played by our rules, miss out on the joy of His presence and forget His promise: “everything I have is yours” (Luke 15:31). Resting in God’s provision is one of the hardest, but most rewarding, experiences of the Christian life.
The best way to prevent your teen from developing a sense of entitlement (or help to unravel it) is to repent of it yourself. If you cultivate an atmosphere of contentment in your home, your kids will follow suit. Here are some other concrete ways to offer your teens a healthy perspective on what’s really important in life.
ENCOURAGE YOUR TEEN TO SERVE OTHERS. When teens spend time with the poor or disadvantaged, they lose their natural self-focus. They realize the abundance of what they’ve been given, gain a broader worldview and grow in their relationship with God. If your teen hasn’t had the experience of a mission trip or service project, encourage him or her to jump in, even if it’s just visiting a local nursing home or tutoring at a low-income elementary school.
When it comes to praising your kids, remember the quality is more important than quantity. While positive affirmation is important, studies have found that it is much more effective when it is directed and specific. For example, recognizing your teen’s effort and perseverance in studying for a test may be more effective than frequent exclamations of raise that either have little real meaning or convey sky-high expectations.
“Rescuing your teens from hardship or difficulties actually doesn’t serve them well in the end; it only leads them to believe that they aren’t capable of handling challenges on their own.”
Let your teens experience the consequences of their decisions. Failure is a great teacher. It’s how kids learn and build resilience. Rescuing your teens from hardship or difficulties actually doesn’t serve them well in the end; it only leads them to believe that they aren’t capable of handling challenges on their own.
Teach your teen how to handle money and material possessions. If you have the means, buying your teen a smartphone or a tablet isn’t a bad thing in itself. However, immediately replacing it for him every time it’s lost or broken rewards irresponsibility and instills an expectation that you will always give him what he wants. Whether it’s a part-time job or payment for extra chores, hard work can help your teen learn the difference between what is earned and what is a gift – and there is a place for both.
If you feel like your teen has a sense of entitlement, don’ t be surprised. It is natural for teens to challenge authority from time to time, or lament about the unfairness of life. It’s part of growing up, testing their independence, and figuring out who they are. But if left unchecked, a sense of entitlement can be a destructive path. Modeling humility and an enjoyment of God’s abundant grace toward you will demonstrate how to receive His gifts – both tangible and intangible – with a grateful heart. With or without sprinkles on top.
Gretchen Williams is a Licensed Mental health Counselor, currently working with middle and high school students as a guidance counselor in Orlando, Fla. She is a freelance musician and also enjoys traveling and photography in her spare time. Article taken from Parenting Teens Magazine, June 2013.