I grew up in the 1970’s, which some refer to as the “Me Generation.” In 2013, Time Magazine referred to the millennials as the “Me Me Me Generation” (read more here), noting “they are narcissistic, overconfident, entitled and lazy, but they just might be new Greatest Generation” (read here). It seems a sense of entitlement and narcissism may have increased over the last forty years. Perhaps we need to change our parenting style to avoid producing a “Me-to-the-4th Generation.” Parents help create narcissistic, self-involved children by overvaluing their children—claiming they have special knowledge, protecting them from consequences, and treating them as though the world revolves around them. You can read The Making of a Narcissist to learn an alternative that will help create grateful children instead.
A recent study of 591 adolescents (published in May, 2015) explored the connection between violence and narcissism. This 3-year longitudinal study confirmed that parenting style influences how children think about themselves and the world around them. Specifically, a parenting style characterized by lack of warmth in the first year of the study was associated with narcissistic patterns of thought by the second year of the study. In other words, a distant relationship between adolescents and their parents led adolescents to think of themselves as entitled. This lack of warmth also led to patterns of thought in which the adolescent expected disconnection and rejection. These adolescents then lived out the self-entitled thoughts and fears of rejection. Such patterns of thought even led to an increase in violence toward parents by the third year.
So how can we avoid raising narcissistic children and adolescents? Based on these studies, here are four ways.
- Develop a warm, intimate relationship with your children. This will require time. Make the time to play games with your children. Share activities with your children. Eat meals with your children. Talk with them about their day and their lives. Learn about their interests and engage them in related activities.
- Develop a consistent and predictable home life. Make the expectations clear and the consequences of misbehavior known. Let your children experience the consequences of their own decisions and actions. Don’t bail them out when they make simple mistakes. Let them learn from the negative consequences of those mistakes. And, let them enjoy the positive feelings associated with accomplishments resulting from hard work.
- Accept that your children are not perfect. All children make mistakes. All children misbehave. No matter how talented, how intelligent, and how friendly, all children have limitations. Teach your children that they do not know everything. Teach them to celebrate the accomplishments of others and their talents. Teach them to accept advice from coaches, mentors, and other adults. You can begin to teach these skills by modeling them in your own life.
- Encourage your children to be polite to others. Rather than “looking out for myself” a polite person “looks out for the other guy.” When we teach our children to “look out for the other guy” they will learn to hold the door open for others, let another person go ahead of them in line, say thank you, and learn that it is “my pleasure” to help the “other guy.” Politeness is a far cry from entitled narcissist.
Let’s begin raising a generation of grateful people instead of the next “Me Generation.” Let’s begin today!
Children often act like they believe themselves entitled: entitled to have their needs and wants satisfied immediately; entitled to not suffer, work, or adapt to the rules; entitled to have what others have; entitled to be in control. You’ve seen it in action. Your child wants a cookie and you tell them to wait until after dinner. They complain, “Why do I have to wait? I want it now!” Our son asks for a new bike and we suggest they work to help pay for it. They protest, “But Joey already has his new bike and his parents bought it. Can’t you buy it with your credit card?” Our daughter asks to stay out later than curfew. We explain the curfew and the reason for the curfew but our daughter does not want to adjust to the rules; she wants the rules to adapt to her desires. Yes, our children often seem to have a sense of entitlement. How does a parent respond? How can we help them mature into a sense of gratitude instead of a sense of entitlement? Here are some tips to move our child from entitlement and replace it with a sense of gratitude.
Model Gratitude. If we want our children to develop a sense of gratitude, we have to model it in our own lives. Make it a practice to say “thank you” when others show you kindness and courtesy. Thank your children when they complete a task or show a kindness. Express gratitude for the blessings you receive throughout the day. Spend more time acknowledging the things for which you are grateful and less time complaining about the things you wish you had or the things that frustrate you. Let you children see a grateful person in you. Ultimately, they want to be just like you.
Give Generously. Give generously of your material blessings, your time, your energy, and your affection. Let your children see that generously sharing your material blessings ranks above amassing great personal wealth. Let them witness your generosity toward the waitress or other public servants. Let them see you give generous affection to friends and family. Exhibit a generous giving of your time in common courtesies and acts of kindness for your children to see. Meet your children’s needs with an overflowing abundance of generosity. Let your children observe your generous spirit in all circumstances.
Withhold Wisely. Yes, give generously. Meet your children’s needs abundantly and generously. But, when your children make a self-focused request that reveals their sense of entitlement, withhold wisely. When your children demand that you satisfy their every want and desire or expects you to change the rules to alleviate their need to adapt, withhold wisely. Your children will get frustrated and even voice that frustration: “That’s not fair,” “But my friend gets to…,” “You are so mean.” However, they also learn several important messages. They learn the difference between a want and a need, that not every want is a need. They learn that the same person they trust to generously meets their needs will also, at times, deny their desires. Most importantly, they learn that the parents who generously meets their needs and wisely holds back from satisfying every desire, is acting for their benefit. They learn the difference between a want and a true need. They learn to be grateful for all that they have, both out of need and desire.
Build Traditions of Gratitude. Find ways to build thankfulness into the fabric of your family life. Offer thanks before meals. Spend time each day sharing things for which you are grateful. Learn to offer one another thanks throughout the day. Creatively explore ways to thank others as a family—a homemade card, a family song, a poem, or other way to share thanks.
So we have it: four ways to help our children move from a sense of entitlement to a sense of gratitude. You know what they say…practice makes perfect. So, when it comes to developing a sense of gratitude: Practice, Practice, Practice!