In this age of blowout bar mitzvahs and sweet 16 bashes so over-the-top they rival celeb weddings, it’s no wonder many kids think they should wake up on their landmark driver’s license birthday with hands held out for an obligatory set of shiny new car keys (BMW or Range Rover preferred, thanks).
Dr. Nancy Berk, clinical psychologist and author of College Bound and Gagged and Secrets of a Bar Mitzvah Mom explains the problem. “Most parents want to make their children feel special. Perhaps that’s how the whole ‘everyone gets a trophy’ happened in kindergarten soccer (I’m guilty!). While an inflated sense of entitlement can be socially damaging, in a material world marked by financial challenges, it can also become fiscally dangerous. With respect to special events and milestones like b’nai mitzvahs, special birthdays, holiday gift giving, college search and admission, family communication is critical.
Parents need to practice what they preach. Honesty is the best policy. Keeping up with the Joneses when you don’t have the same priorities or bank account can be dangerous. Discuss your long-term goals, family priorities and financial limitations. Look for ways to find fabulous cost-effective options that are equally as special or good. Demonstrate and remind your children that a great celebration, gift and even colleges come in all shapes, sizes and price ranges. Being proactive is one of the best steps for maintaining family harmony.”
So how does a parent raise a child in this bright-shiny-gotta-have-it age without a sense of entitlement?
Use the Media
Sure, the media is half the problem. The media, and advertisers who promote on it, are the reason many kids feel it’s so necessary to have more and more and that their happiness or worth is measured by the “stuff” they possess. So use the same medium they are comfortable with to show them how lucky they have it. Sit and watch inspirational reality shows like Secret Millionaire together. Exposing your kids to these little forays into a much tougher world than they are used to can help open their eyes to what the world is really like outside of their privileged environment. They might not have the millions the undercover agents of change do, but each segment of the hour centers on different charities where hard workers quietly volunteer to do something to help those less fortunate.
You can also flip through the documentary collections on Netflix and HuluPlus to find age appropriate stories of other cultures where school, food and even water is not a given, but a luxury. Be sure to point out the smiles and positive attitudes of the children and people in these seemingly bleak communities.
Give them Relatable Role Models
Volunteerism and a generous spirit doesn’t come factory standard. You might need to help children develop these interests and qualities by showing them how easy it is to help, even if it’s in a small way. Put role models that are relatable in their line of sight, like the kids on KidsareHeroes.org . Real kids, just like themselves, are featured using their skill and talents (or just plain hard work) to better the world around them. Whether it’s baking cupcakes to send epileptic kids to camp, creating paintings to gift to lonely seniors, or collecting used shoes to keep them out of landfills and turn them into insulation for houses, these kids are making their world a better place and bringing their community together.
Show them the ways you personally contribute to society, and point out how if everyone didn’t do their part things would go downhill quickly. Bring them with you to the recycling center, the blood donation center and the voting polls; being part of something bigger takes the ME-ME-ME down a notch.
Do the Math
Most kids have no sense of what things cost or how pricy the things they are clamoring for might be relative to the big picture. Do the math and break down what each coveted item, be it an iPhone or Nike shoes or a second week of horse camp, costs in relation to what that same amount of money could provide for the family, their future or for someone less fortunate (to put it in perspective, pick up a Heifer International pamphlet to see what small donations can do for buying seeds, goats, chickens, and other means of survival to be sent to needy areas).
Have them choose an item from their wish list and challenge them to truly earn the money for it instead of just slipping them a five here or there. Encourage them to put serious effort and thought into how they can save enough over time to acquire it. This is great for kids who constantly leave behind jackets, books, gloves, and other belongings; once they get a taste of how hard it is to work for something, they’ll likely take a lot better care of their things.
Show a Little Pride
Exchange a sense of entitlement for a sense of pride – and not for wearing the latest hot jeans. Find little ways every day that they can do good in their community. Have them go through their toys and let them accompany you to the charity shop – the workers will surely praise their generosity. Take them grocery shopping for the needy during the holidays instead of just emptying the pantry of things no one will eat. At the store, when they see an elderly person struggling to put a gallon of milk in their cart or reach an out-of-the-way box while using a cane or scooter, have them step forward and offer to help. They’ll soon make the connection that feeling good is not about having the latest and greatest, it’s about being a respected and important member of their community.