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Raising an entitled brat?

Posted: January 7, 2016 7:36 a.m.
Updated: January 7, 2016 7:36 a.m.
Learn the warning signs and what to do to fight the "me, me, me" culture. Learn the warning signs and what to do to fight the "me, me, me" culture.
Learn the warning signs and what to do to fight the "me, me, me" culture.
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As news of the “affluenza teen” has hit the media again, I have been thinking a lot about the problem of entitlement.

In case you haven’t heard of it, “affluenza” is the ridiculous term used during the sentencing of 16-year-old Ethan Couch last year when he drove drunk and caused a car accident that killed four people. The judge only gave Couch probation instead of jail time, and the defense argued the boy had “affluenza,” or basically an inability to take responsibility because of the permissive way he was raised.

Surprise, surprise, the teen couldn’t even take responsibility enough to keep the terms of his probation. He skipped town with his mother recently and was found hiding from his probation officers in Mexico, where people have reported his mother was paying for his strip club visits.

Poor boy. That affluenza is rough stuff.

To me, affluenza is just another way to say that you have no accountability for your actions because you think the world revolves around you. That kind of mentality is creating a generation of entitled children like Couch.

For a long time, I thought I was pretty safe from raising entitled children simply because we don’t really have enough money to spoil them with material things. I figured not being rich would protect them from the affluenza spell.

But as I’ve been reading more about raising entitled children, I learned that money really has nothing to do with it. Entitlement comes not from material possessions but from a warped sense of one’s own importance in life along with an inability to accept responsibility or be told “no.”

So, I’ve been paying closer attention to the signs that maybe a bit of entitlement is creeping into my own children’s lives. I hate to admit it, but I noticed a few disturbing trends. The first was on a recent weekday afternoon when I began heating up leftovers for lunch for my kindergartener. Upon seeing my lunch plans, she threw herself on the couch in despair, wailing, “You know I hate leftovers. I hate them!” She then proceeded to tell me that I was a mean mom and was doing it just to make her mad.

Obviously, I had done as all good mothers do, which is to sit up at night calculating nefarious ways to destroy my daughter’s life. “Yes, leftovers! That will ruin a perfectly good Tuesday and really get her! Bwahahaha!”

Distorted view of one’s own importance? Check.

The Christmas season didn’t help, either, as this same child had a wish-list as tall as she is. To give you an idea, her letter to Santa on Christmas Eve said, “I want everything that I would like.”

Inability to take no as an answer? Check.

The interesting thing was her sister wrote to Santa that she would like a book. And then in smaller letters she wrote, “P.S. I don’t really need a book.”

I took that as a sign that as a parent, I am not a total failure. Just because one of my children is exhibiting some entitlement signs, it doesn’t mean we’re on a one-way track to affluenza city. Right?

Still, a part of me had visions of me in a few years with a daughter stomping her foot like Veruca Salt from “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” saying, “I hate leftovers and I want an Oompa Loompa now, Mommy!”

I started reading up on what exactly I should be looking for to see if any of my children are cultivating a sense of entitlement. Here are some of the signs I found that could mean children may be struggling with entitlement:

  1. Can’t delay gratification and can’t take no for an answer. They want what they want right now, and they’re willing to go to war with you every time.
  1. Won’t work. They always have some reason they can’t help with chores or finish an assignment that is difficult.
  1. Expect mom and dad to rescue them from forgetfulness and failure. They believe someone will help finish their homework, bring them their lunch at school and generally just make up for any mistakes they make in life. Why be responsible when you know mom and dad will bail you out?
  1. Don’t show or feel gratitude.
  1. Are more concerned about self than others.
  1. Pass blame when things go wrong and can’t handle disappointment.

So what’s a well-intentioned parent to do? Wait around until your child becomes a complete brat? Make sure your passport is up-to-date just in case you have to jump the border to avoid your darling child’s latest parole violation?

I think not.

Instead, here are some tips I found to avoid fostering entitlement, or to steer them back on track:

  1. Don’t be afraid to say no. If you anticipate a public fight, address the issue beforehand and make it clear you won’t listen to whining or arguing about it later. And then really don’t.
  1. Give kids specific responsibilities in the family that they must do in order to reap the benefits of being a member of the family. When they do the work, they get the perks.
  1. Let them fail. This is perhaps one of the hardest things parents have to do, but I see over and over again how essential it is to let my children fail. Natural consequences like being hungry after forgetting a lunch or a bad grade for a missed assignment are better reminders than my nagging or rescuing ever could be. If the failure becomes routine, take time to come up with a plan with your child that will help him or her be successful while also assuming the responsibility.
  1. Teach your child to be grateful. Be an example of saying thank you and talk together about the things in life that you are blessed to have.

I imagine fighting entitlement is going to be an ongoing battle for me — and most parents nowadays — because the attitude is simply everywhere. But I’m willing to fight because I love my children. I love them enough to say no. Enough to watch them fail.

Enough to believe that affluenza is not a real thing, but rather the sad result of a parent who let her child believe the universe revolved around him. While my children are the core of my world, they are not the center of the entire world. And I love them enough to tell them so.

Have you seen entitlement signs in your own children? How do you fight it?

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