Entitlement often gets a bad wrap. We constantly hear about how entitled millenials are, and about the “me, me, me” generation. We hear about how people want something for nothing, don’t value hard work, and are quick to accept consolation prizes. But can a sense of entitlement in children be healthy?
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First of all, what is entitlement?
Let’s take a look at what the Oxford Dictionary has to say:
1. the fact of having a right to something.
2. the amount to which a person has a right.
3. the belief that one is inherently deserving of privileges or special treatment.
What do most people consider entitlement in children?
You might notice that from the 3 definitions above, taken from the Oxford Dictionary, there is nothing inherently bad about entitlement. Believing that the mere fact of you existing makes you deserving of certain privileges/special treatment isn’t necessarily wrong.
But what do most people consider entitlement in chiildren? For this, I did a simple Google search, “entitlement characteristics”, so that I could get a wide variety of views. Let’s look at some of the character traits of entitlement:
- Thinking about one’s self first
- Thinking you have the right to others’ things, but you should not share your own things
- Expecting privilege above and beyond the norm
- Being an angry person, and feeling justified to be so angry
- A woe is me attitude, self-pity
- Having expectations of other people (and punishing them when they fail to meet those expectations)
- Asserting superiority
- Thinking you are better than others
- Small social circle
- Unwillingness to compromise
- Not valuing relationships with others (using others for what they can do for you, treating others as competition, no regard for others)
- Lack of morals/ethics
- Thinking you deserve happiness, and working to make that a reality
- Being manipulative
- Creating drama
- Craving praise and admiration
- Believing you should go to any length for success in life
- Attention-seeking behavior
As you can see, that is a huge list of negatives! Obviously, through time the word entitlement received a huge negative connotation!
The world believes that an entitled child expects too much of the world, leading to self-serving behavior that makes him or her an anathema, a total social pariah.
But is it really that simple?
Are there benefits to a sense of entitlement in children?
Over the past decade, studies have surfaced showing that there are definitely positives to having a sense of entitlement.
“Our results suggest that people who feel more entitled value being different from others, and the greater their need for uniqueness, the more they break convention, think divergently and give creative responses.”– Lynne C. Vincent (study)
The benefits of a sense of entitlement in children include:
- Self-agency – having the self-confidence to believe they have some control over what happens in their lives
- Growth mindset – believing that abilities can be developed and improved upon through dedication and hard work
- Creativity – thinking “outside of the box” to make things happen
- Negotiating skills – being able to think critically and have logical discussions to get what they want
- Practical intelligence (Robert Sternberg) – knowing what to say to whom, knowing when to say it, and knowing how to say it for maximum effect
- Assertiveness – having the self-confidence to speak up for one’s self (and others!)
- Guts – the ability to think for one’s self, take calculated risks, and question authority
None of these things I listed are bad things. In fact, in the book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell details that these are things that middle-class and wealthy parents encourage in their children, whereas poor parents do not.
Where does a sense of entitlement in children come from?
Quite simply, it comes from the parents and other authority figures in their lives.
As parents, we all want what’s best for our children. Many of us often joke that we would go to any extent for our children. We feel entitled that they deserve the best in life. We feel that they are entitled to opportunities for success.
And we try our best to make it happen.
So, there really shouldn’t be a question as to where a sense of entitlement comes from, or if it is a detriment to our children.
Annette Lareau states that concerted cultivation, or a parent’s effort to shape their child’s life through meaningful experiences and dedicated time and encouragement, leads to a sense of entitlement in children.
The white and Black middle-class children in this study also exhibited– Unequal Childhoods (Chapter 1, page 6)
an emergent version of the sense of entitlement characteristic of the
middle-class. They acted as though they had a right to pursue their own
individual preferences… to actively manage interactions in institutional
settings. They appeared comfortable… were open to sharing information and asking for attention… it was common practice… to shift interactions to suit their preferences. [They would expect a] teacher to accommodate [their] individual learning style… [They] learned (by imitation and by direct training) how to make the rules work in their favor… Additionally, those in authority responded positively to such interactions. Even in fourth grade, middle-class children… made special requests of teachers and doctors to adjust procedures to accommodate their desires.
Here we see that upper class parents encourage these dynamics in children. We also see that a sense of entitlement is not necessarily synonymous with all the negative connotations I found and listed above.
So, I believe that the question shouldn’t be “is entitlement in children healthy?”
Instead, we should be asking “how do we encourage a balanced sense of entitlement in children?”
How do we encourage a balanced sense of entitlement in children?
We can foster a balanced sense of entitlement in children by exposing them to many situations, positive and negative. We need to ensure that they know not everyone is dealt the same deck of cards in life.
We can help them understand the importance of being helpful and cheerful givers by modeling and including them in charitable work.
We can read them parables from the Bible and fables that teach a lesson.
We can expose them to people, through books and film, who achieved great success and used that success to help make the world a better place.
We can focus on teaching other behaviors that will help bring balance such as gratitude, kindness, patience, how to deal with disappointment, team work, self-respect and respect for others, boundaries, the importance of rules and responsibility.
It is important to be able to ask for the things we want in life, and to feel empowered to work towards achieving those things for ourselves. Otherwise we are less likely to be heard, and less likely to get the things we want. How many moms can identify with that?
If you don’t think you should get help from your spouse and children with house work, laundry, dishes, etc., you’ll likely never ask. And what is the result? They’ll probably think you’ve got it and don’t need their help.
Likewise if you don’t feel like you deserve a raise, or if you are too shy to speak up that you do think you deserve one, you may not receive it and harbor feelings of resentment.
There’s no harm in asking for what you want. There’s no shame in working towards your dreams.
We can’t always get what we want, but there’s value in setting goals for what we want and striving to achieve the desires of our heart.
Judging entitlement in children is a bit of a tricky subject. The word entitlement has a very negative connotation, and it has come to encompass many negative behaviors that have and deserve labels of their own.
Children deserve happiness, opportunities, and love just for being alive.
A sense of entitlement is not always a bad thing, and actually leads to productive behaviors that we want to encourage in our children. We just need to find the balance in life and ensure that they use their beliefs that they are inherently deserving for good.
We want them to know that the world is their oyster, and we want them to have a strong sense of self that propels them to move forward in life.
I guess you could say that a sense of entitlement in children is necessary for their ultimate success.
Books For Further Reading
Some of these books are available on Audible. If you’ve never used Audible before, you can get one month for FREE!
Thanks to audiobooks, I am able to consume more books as a busy mom than I ever thought possible. I love listening to audiobooks while driving, cooking, walking the dog, working, and even while putting little ones to bed!
Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
Unequal Childhoods: Class, Race, and Family Life by Annette Lareau
SUCCESSFUL INTELLIGENCE: How Practical and Creative Intelligence Determines Success in Life by Robert J. Sternberg
Practical Intelligence in Everyday Life by Robert J. Sternberg, et al.