Curbing the Youth Entitlement Epidemic

by | Aug 8, 2009 | Character and Moral Intelligence

Michele Borba

REALITY CHECK: Research shows that our children are born with the marvelous gift to care and be concerned about others. But unless we nurture those glorious virtues they will lie dormant. A new study shows we may not be doing such a great job. San Diego State professor Jean Twenge (author of a must-parent read: The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement) has conducted a longitudinal study on college students for narcissistic patterns and finds a troubling trend. Narcissism has steadily has steadily increased  in our youth per decade. Another must read by Twenge: Generation Me: Why Today’s Youth are More Confident and More Miserable Than Ever.

 Do you have a Little Princess or Prince in your house who feels entitled to luxury and privilege?  If so, you’re not alone. In fact, national surveys show most parents feel they’re raising selfish kids. One thing is for sure: selfish kids are no joy to have around. These critters always wants things their way, put their needs and concerns ahead of others, and rarely stops to consider other people’s feelings. And that’s because they want you to believe that their feelings are “more important” than the feelings and needs of others.  The truth is kids don’t arrive in this world selfish. And yes, young children are by nature exocentric because they’re trying to figure out the world. But our role is to gradually help our children move from that Me-Me-Me stage, focus more on others and adopt more of a “WE” attitude.

So let’s roll up our sleeves to squelch this obnoxious bad attitude, and make sure our kids have the virtues of selflessness, generosity, and consideration. And here are five essential solutions for a successful makeover that will squelch those selfish attitudes. 

Step 1. Censor Selfishness. A major step in squelching kids’ selfish attitudes is simply not tolerating it. You’re right: it won’t be easy. After all, especially if your kid is used to having his every whim catered for a long time, But if you really are serious about changing this attitude, you must stand firm and be consistent. STart by clearly laying down your new attitude expectations: “In this house you are always expected to be considerate of others.” Then loudly state your disapproval each and every time your child acts selfishly. 

Step 2. Nurture Empathy. Kids who are empathic can understand where other people are coming from because they can put themselves in their shoes and feel how they feel. And because they can “feel with” someone else, they are more unselfish and caring. So nurture your child’s empathy to help him see beyond himself, and into the views of others. You might help him imagine how the other person feels about a special situation. “Imagine you’re a new student and you’re walking into a brand new school and don’t know anyone. How will you feel?” Asking the question often because it helps kids understand the feelings and needs of other people. Then look for daily opportunities to help your child consider others.

 Step 3. Set Limits. One reason kids become selfish is because they are used to getting their way. So don’t. Set clear limits and then stick to them like glue. Don’t give in to whining, pouting, tantrums, and guilt-laced admonishments of “You’re the worst parent in the world!” Hundreds of child development studies conclude that kids whose parents set clear behavior expectations turned out less selfish kids. You may have to have a serious talk with other caregivers in your kids’ life who are guilty of overindulging. Let such individuals know in no uncertain terms you are serious about curbing your kid’s selfish attitude around and must have their cooperation to do so. 

Step 4. Halt the Accolades. Parents who raise selfless, caring kids don’t do so by accident. They intentionally make sure that their kids are aware of the rights, feelings and needs of others. This means you need to fight that tendency of trying to make your child feel as though the world revolves around him or her. You’ll be much more pleased with the outcome: a more considerate, caring kid. 

Step 5. Reinforce Selfless Acts. Of course, one of the fastest way to increase selflessness is by “catching” your kid doing considerate and unselfish acts. Always remember to describe the deed so she clearly understands the virtue and point out the impact it had on the recipient.  Doing so will also help her be more likely to repeat the same generous deed another time.  “Did you see Kelly’s smile when you shared your toys? You made her happy.”  Or: “Thanks for giving your CDs with your brother. I know you don’t listen to rap anymore but he just loves it.”

Of course, the key to any successful makeover is your consistent commitment to help your child become his or her personal best. So don’t give up until you see the kind of behavior you envision. No, it won’t be easy. Yes, you may want to throw in the towel. But hang in there: this is serious work. This is all about nurturing your child’s character and reputation as a human being, so nothing is more important. All the best!

Just remember: Using simple parenting solutions can make real differences on your children’s lives—especially when you choose ones that matter most in raising good kids then commit to making them become a habit in your daily parenting.

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Portions of this article are adapted from Michele Borba’s latest book, The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries (Jossey-Bass) which is available for order now: