Parents are naturally inclined to protect their children from disappointment and failure. But in modern America, it seems the inclination has become quite a problem. A team of UCLA researchers has recently concluded that American parents are far too child-centered, and that far too many kids are “spoiled.”
They found in a study of 32 middle-class families that parents put far more effort into making kids happy and keeping them comfortable than in teaching them responsibility. As a result, kids in these families are growing up less prepared to take care of themselves and others than ever before.
It’s our experience at Connected Families that this study is a fairly accurate depiction of families everywhere.
Not so long ago it was different. For all of human history, kids have been expected at young ages to do what they could to help their family survive. In other words, their contributions were necessary to keep others afloat. Faith and values were passed naturally through this process as children and parents shared in the responsibilities of day-to-day life.
Every child was an asset because every child was another worker in the labor force of the family or clan. Kids felt significant not just because parents said “I love you” at bedtime or sent notes in their lunchbox, but because they knew that if they didn’t do their part, others would suffer.
Until the past few decades.
The concept of being needed is now absent in most American homes. Instead of growing up to believe they are here for others, kids grow up to believe that others are here for them. Parents’ well-intentioned efforts unwittingly reinforce this. Add to the mix a child’s selfish nature, and we’ve got a real problem on our hands.
Welcome to what some sociologists call the “Age of Entitlement.” Once upon a time it was normal for kids to say, “Please” and “Thank you,” and they were conscious that they were contributors to the welfare of others. They now generally say, “I deserve what I want, when I want it, without earning it, and I’m bitter if I don’t get it.” They believe the world is theirs to manipulate for their own pleasurable purposes.
Your family can be different!
The way to change this cultural epidemic is to change what happens in our homes. The first key to countering this trend is to recognize the God has built all humans to work for the benefit of others. So give your kids meaningful jobs as early and often as they are capable of carrying them out.
Give them jobs that if not done will result in consequences for other people. Help them understand those consequences both before and if (or when) they occur. As much as possible, set up systems and structures that truly depend on the child’s participation. Being needed gives kids a healthy sense of significance and purpose.
Practically, are you willing to take the time now to train your 2-year-old to set the table? Can you make it fun and enjoy the results? Are you willing to give a 5-year-old the responsibility of preparing and serving breakfast or helping with the laundry? Are your pre-teens involved in and needed for household maintenance and repairs?
These are all developmentally appropriate, but very few kids are expected to fulfill these kinds of responsibilities.
Of course, if you’re in your easy chair reading the news while the kids do the work, they will feel more enslaved than involved. So roll up your sleeves with them as an example of working to bless others or taking responsibility for yourself. And if you work together to bless someone else—even someone outside the family—be sure to tell stories about how everyone’s contributions blessed others. Make a practice of these things, and you’ll be well on the way to developing a strong sense of the value that your kids are responsible, and that they can be a blessing to others.
So get to work inviting your kids to join you in being a blessing to others. It may be the most important thing you can do to combat selfish entitlement and grow a healthy sense of significance and responsibility in your kids.
— by Jim Jackson
Jackson is the co-founder of Connected Families, author, speaker and parent mentor. Learn more at www.connectedfamilies.org.