Entitled

Category: Weekly Columns

Where and when did it seem that everyone felt entitled? Entitled to an education, happiness, college, a home, every new tech toy, and a new car now and then, etc. I know the answer, as it was an evolution and change in attitude that began in the sixties, in my opinion. Some might say it began with Lyndon Johnson and his “Great Society” and that may also have been a starting point. But, the sad fact is that Americans have a higher quality of life than any generation, anywhere, any time, in world history.

Yet, I would assert that the happiness and satisfaction scales are not near as high as the quality of life now available to the vast majority of us, especially our children. Don’t we all know extremely spoiled children? Don’t many of us indulge our children far too much while reminiscing about our own struggles in life? This is not a good change.

Feeling entitled makes a person ungrateful for all that they may have in life. Feeling like the world owes you something only encourages laziness. Getting something for nothing instills nothing good in human beings. And, when it starts in childhood, it can become a very bad lifetime expectation and habit.

I tried to offer my kids the balance in life that I thought was appropriate. I got a rude awakening when my older son got accepted to an expensive college and simply expected that he could go and I would pay for it. His younger brother was appalled at the notion that there was even a question that he or his older brother would go to whatever college they wanted to go to!

That reaction from my boys was a harsh wake-up call to this general notion that I fear is quite prevalent among their generation and many older Americans as well. Again, I think this is a lousy development.

While I could not fully correct the apparent mistakes I made in spoiling my boys to the degree that they would think they were entitled to go to any college of their choosing, I did make quick amends and adjustments.

As described in an earlier column, My Boys Would Be Better Off If I Abandoned Them, I had learned that because of our relative economic well being, we did not qualify for any financial aid for college. Private loans carried exorbitant interest rates. I chose to give my older son a loan – at the prevailing rate and terms of financial aid – for one year of his college education.

We had a family dinner in which these ideas and expectations of college entitlement were frankly discussed. My younger son, at first, expressed outrage that he might have to carry one-year’s worth of college debt. My older son quickly got the reasoning behind his loan. He was now invested in his education and it wasn’t going to be just a fun lark for four years.

While I tend to avoid politics, there is no question that the evolution of entitlements, across the spectrum of society, has created an expectation that these gifts would go on forever. We can see the damage this thinking has wrought in Europe. We can see it at home, where so many cities and states are in fiscal crisis.

This mind-set must change. It is changing in my home. I am teaching by teenage boys more about money all the time. They already do chores for allowance and get docked if those chores are not done. Included in their allowances is an annual clothes budget so they are now buying their own clothes with what seems to be their own money. Amazing how Target all of a sudden became a store of choice!

Their entertainment expenses – except when we go out as a family – also come out of their monthly allowances, as do any other purchases. My DVD-obsessed younger son now waits for a DVD to go on sale rather than expect to get it the day it’s released. Delayed gratification is something that should be taught almost literally from the day a child understands money and can count.

I know my justification for spoiling my boys had a lot to do with my feelings that they had been hurt so badly by my divorce and their mother abandoning them. I felt overwhelmed in those early years when I became a 24/7 single dad. It was easier to be their buddy and indulge those little things now and then. The problem, of course, is that “now and then” really became all the time.

Thankfully, I did shift course and began instilling a greater sense of the value of a buck. I did resist their declarations that a particular friend got something they wanted and therefore they should get it too. I learned that being the best parent I could be meant not always being my children’s best friend (see column, Best Friend or Best Parent).

My older son is going off to college in the fall. He has a loan from me for ¼ of his college tuition. He will get a budget and he will learn. He plans to get a job so he can buy the extra things he wants – specifically drum equipment – and knows he’s expected to get a job after he’s acclimated to his new school/environment, by the beginning of his second semester.

Being a good parent means expecting good things from our kids. Spoiling them spoils them for life. I’ve been blessed in life to have so many things I’ve wanted, to see and go to so many amazing places, and to have relative financial independence. I earned it; I didn’t expect it. Now, it’s my kid’s turn…

  • http://www.jungleoflife.com/ Lance

    We’re right there with you, Bruce (well…maybe you’re a year ahead!).  Our oldest is a junior in HS this year, and we’ve just begun that road to visiting colleges and talking about “what’s next” after next year.  And it’s been fun visiting schools – and seeing what they offer.  The other side, though, is the $$ that go along with that – including out of state – public schools. 

    So, we’ve began those frank discussions, too.  Mostly, I would say, they have went well.  Of course, we’ve just started, too. 

    While we haven’t just handed everything to our kids – it does feel like they have had more “given” to them than either my wife or I did growing up. 

    I know that when I suggested my son get a job – he , at first, felt like he should just continue to “get” from us.  Now – after we’ve gotten beyond that – I think he’s starting to see that not everything is going to be always given to him (this wasn’t an instant thing, though).

    Great thoughts – and I agree completely.  There’s something about earning it yourself (whatever “it” is) that makes it so much more meaningful…

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Lance. We can help each other along the journey. My older son has been “looking” for a job for a couple of years. Not sure how hard he’s been “looking!”

  • http://twitter.com/BarryBirkett Barry Birkett

    We can point our fingers elsewhere but if our children feel entitled to big things now there is a good chance we fed that by making sure they had everything they wanted when they were younger. It was easier then when the ticket was smaller but can we blame them for wanting similar treatment when the price tag balloons?

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      There is NO doubt that the fingers should be pointed inward – but, the problem is now SO BIG that we all must do something and, while I hate to talk politics, that has to start with D.C. – a BIG change there!!!!

  • http://www.thindifference.com/ Jon M

    Some of this may be self-correcting, given some of the economic challenges occurring (and will continue to occur, until reasonableness, civility, and problem-solving returns to DC). Having said that, as always, it begins at home in setting the right mindset, beliefs, and consistency. It is about doing the things we expect our kids to do; in other words, we need to live as an example.

    We are also beginning the college discussion, as our oldest is a junior in high school. More fun to come in the next 12 months!

    Great discussion, Bruce.

    Thanks!

    Jon

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      I’m NOT sure “fun” is the operative word, Jon! LOL

  • http://brianvickery.com Brian Vickery

    Outstanding and applicable graphics as always, Bruce. You know how I struggle with how our society and kids feel entitled. We did teach our kids about budgeting…but we did still give them just about everything they asked for. The key is that they rarely asked for things that were non-essential. We just got lucky a bit, and we modeled a frugality while still taking family vacations, etc.

    Most of their friends had bigger houses, but the Vickerys had the most parties and accessible “cool” parents that still managed to be the most “strict” regarding movies/curfews/etc.

    Best way we taught our kids about money (besides modeling good stewardship) started with three envelopes and a $10/week allowance:

    1st Envelope – 10% tithe
    2nd Envelope – 50% for short term expenses/treats
    3rd Envelope – 40% for long term purchases/goals

    Anything that didn’t get spent in that 2nd envelope after a couple weeks then rolled into long term. Amazing how often they had money left over to throw into that long term envelope, and they loved making the bank runs to deposit that money. They bought bikes, camaras, dresses, etc with that long-term money.

    Now, we do plan on paying for the girls’ college – we committed to doing that, and we’ve made it clear throughout their high school years that their grades were their jobs. One caveat – we would cover the equivalent of in-state tuition. If they go private or out-of-state, they are on their own for coming up with the difference.

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      I love the envelope thing, BV – have heard many good versions of it over the years. We applied that concept to Hannukah, where there are eight nights and potentially eight gifts for the kids. They were taught to give one to those in need, one to mom, one to dad, and maybe another to grandparents (when they were alive), and that still left HALF for them!

  • Mmeforte

    I know this will sound glib.  Please know that it’s not meant to; this is just the person I am.  Whenever my daughter does the “gimme, buy me, take me, I want” thing (which really isn’t often), I say, “Let’s review what the state says I owe you.  Three hots and a cot, sweetie, and clothes on your back.  That’s it.  Everything else is extra.”  We take care of her food, clothing, dance tuition, school needs, etc., with no problem, but if she wants, say, ice cream on the walk home from school, that comes out of her allowance, birthday money, whatever.  What’s important to me is that she knows that her father and I work for every dollar we spend on her and her brother; that she knows the difference between a want and a need; that she knows that the world does not owe her a living; and that she acknowledges that she’s NOT the only person in the world and the rules DO apply to her.  I love my children more than life itself, but I would be doing them a disservice if I let them grow up thinking they are owed anything.

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      Doesn’t sound the LEAST bit glib to me – just wise! TY…

  • http://www.daddymojo.net/ Trey Burley

    Good timing considering what happened in France today.  Personal responsibility should over-ride political parties.  We have a couple years before the school and job issues start to become conversation for us.  I’ll take notes. 

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      And, in Greece…Europe is going to hell in a hand-basket – we MUST stop it from happening here, too!

  • http://chopperpapa.com Kyle Bradford

    “I know my justification for spoiling my boys had a lot to do with my feelings that they had been hurt so badly by my divorce and their mother abandoning them.” 

    Bruce, I’ve come to realize that most parents manage their kids from one of two perspectives…. guilt or detachment. Far too many married parents have an almost disregard when it comes to their children opting instead of simply give it because it’s easier. While so many single parents parent their children through the lens of guilt for many of the reasons you referenced in your own story. 

    In the end it will be our own undoing. 

    As a side, a child who’s never told ‘no’ ends up in his parent’s basement. 

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      Kyle, we both write from THAT experience…of divorce and the guilt associated with it. I know I made a ton of mistakes during the initial years of that horrible transition for all of us. But, we’re doing better – I’m doing better. I’m sure you are, too!

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  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/annelizhannan Anneliz Hannan

    This post should be part of a graduation package for millenials..how many read your posts?

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      Thank you so much, Anneliz! Help it go viral and maybe it will get read by many!

  • Sharongreenthal

    What a great column, Bruce. I think our children have grown up in such a unique time…first it was all good, all the time, and then the bottom fell out (just as my daughter was starting college!). We indulged them partly because we were able to, partly because, let’s face it, it was kind of fun, too. Over the past four years both of my kids have learned – sometimes painfully – that it’s not as easy as they thought. 

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      Sharon, ironically THOSE are the lessons that will stick and mold them into more productive and more content adults! Join us at #DadChat tomorrow as we’re going to continue the discussion of whether WE have spoiled our kids too much!

  • Stephen

    Good post, Bruce.

    It’s always interesting how many parents have well laid plans for birth and school and activities for their children, yet when it comes to money—earning it, saving it, sharing it, and valuing it—too many people seem to be winging it. We are definitely a generation that has more access to more ‘stuff’ than any generation before, but with options comes choices, and with choices should come a plan. Not a plan for what-to-buy, but a plan that supports our values. Parents need to determine how they are going to provide for their children’s needs and wants before the pressure hits—whining in a store, keeping up with the neighbours, fashion vs fashion victim, college of their dreams, etc…—because when we don’t have a plan we react to the situation, usually by doing what’s easy rather that what’s right.

    Respect for money—the opportunities and choices it provides us—is one of the best gifts we can give our children. It’s also one of the hardest, because it means we have to allow our young children to be sad for a moment, before they understand what we’re doing. I admire any parent in a store who is teaching fiscal responsibility to their young children, while quietly praying they don’t give in to the embarrassment of the crying.

    Entitlement also applies to achievement, though, too. The education system is filled with examples of kids expecting to get a good grade simply because they showed up to class or handed in a paper, regardless of the actual work. Grads expect a senior position in a company without proving any practical experience. The value and pride of a job-well-done has to be instilled in children at a young age—it’s the only way we’ll get past this sense of entitlement.

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      Stephen, we are clearly on the same page. There’s another irony in that parents rarely teach their kids to be good. They just expect it. Learning goodness is no different than learning a musical instrument. You may have a knack for it – genetically – but you still need to be taught. 

      Excellent points and valuable comment – thank you so much for your insights!

  • http://twitter.com/profkrg Kenna Griffin

    Bruce,

    I recently asked students in my media ethics class to address whether they think the media fairly/ethically represents Millennials. You can take a look at the post I wrote about it afterward over on my site. As part of the classroom exercise, we first brainstormed a list of attributes most commonly associated with their generation. Then I had them identify those they thought were accurate and vice versa. It was enlightening to me. Two things that stuck out. First, they almost all agreed that the majority of their generation does feel entitled. Second, they thought it was crazy that people assume they’re tech savvy. So, there you have it.

    Kenna

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      Kenna, I’m interested to read that post…please share it here. What did YOU take away from their responses? While they agreed that the majority of their generation felt entitled, was there any judgment about that?

  • Qdetail

    Bruce, as always: “well said”!

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      Thank you! I speak from the heart – whether it’s PC or not!

  • Michele from FamilyViewed

    You are right on the mark!!  It’s even not too early for a toddler to start learning about helping out around the house.  Shortly after that it’s time to try to start teaching them about budgeting and  saving.  The earlier kids learn to help out and not expect “stuff” just because they want it, the easier time they’ll have when they are college ageds and beyond.  Sounds like you have done a great job as a father.  

  • http://twitter.com/CrossBetsy Betsy Cross

    A few times while our family was young (we’ve had 3 waves of 3) we’ve pulled out the Monoploy money and the bills. After all the bills are paid with the money they’re always amazed at how little is left over. So over the years, even though they wanted more, they knew they’d have to earn it themselves. It took a lot of “no’s” for it to sink in that that’s how the world worked. But they often comment about how disrespectful a lot of their friends are to their parents, and how they whine if they don’t get whatever they want at the moment. I just keep my mouth shut and smile when they call them spoiled and wonder about their friends not getting a job.
    A sense of entitlement is a strange beast though. I have a few children who own it like a full-blown disease, whereas others are very humble. They get so frustrated with me, thinking I don’t care about them. I’m more than happy to help them until I realize they don’t want help at all. They want me to prove that I love them by doing for them what they should be doing for themselves!

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      You’ve done a good job, BC…is my math correct? “3 waves of 3” = NINE kids?

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  • Leila

    You know, I would completely agree with making students pay for their own tuition, but of course like all things, there are different circumstances to every little thing. First of all, if college were a complete option or simply a prerogative rather than a necessity, yes children should pay for their college. However, in today’s market I’m sure most families believe college is an automatic step you have to take, and it’s unfair to impose upon them lifelong financial slavery when the parents can definitely take care of the bills WITHOUT lowering their standard of living.

    I myself am a college freshman (about to finish the spring semester), and although I got accepted to private schools (with tuition ranges of $50,000-$64,000 per year WITHOUT room and board) which probably would have impressed people had I gone, I didn’t. Instead I chose a state school (tuition rate between $10,000 – $30,000 per year with/without room and board). Don’t get me wrong, I love my school now. I can’t imagine having gone anywhere else. Still, it’s very disheartening to know that my cheaper option would’ve cost me a total of $150,000 worth of debt for just ONE year. Even my mother thought it was cruelty to impose such a high interest rate.

    Since my parents are high up in terms of tax brackets/socioeconomic status, FAFSA did NOT approve my family for any government/subsidized loans. Instead, I got $1500 worth of work study (which means I apply for a job somewhere in campus and get the check from FAFSA).

    I can’t even begin to explain how grateful I am for my parents to lower their standard of living to make sure my sister and I (who are only one year apart) could go to college debt free. Especially as a violinist/music major, who has to devote at least 5 hours a day to practicing for orchestra, ensemble, and solo performances on TOP of the liberal education and college of liberal arts requirements I have to fulfill to graduate. Had I been left the burden of paying for my tuition, I would have had to give up my one love and passion in life (music) to settle for a more practical major which would not have made me happy. That’s the important part according to my mother. We left a third world country for America to pursue what we never thought was possible, one of them includes making a living with what you love most.

    That being said, it’s important to clarify that my parents do NOT spoil me. In high school, I had to work part-time jobs in order to buy things I wanted. I never expect my parents to help me in that area and never will. I think families who are able shouldn’t shut out the possibility of paying for their kids’ college. Full circumstances have to be considered. Agreeing to do so isn’t spoiling your child when you make sure not to do so early on. If you want your kid to pay for his/her college, at least give a fair warning. Not at the moment they get acceptance letters. I would say at least 4 years in advance so they can spend their high school careers working on scholarships and part-time jobs. 

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      Holy Moly, as my wife would say, Leila – THAT is a comment. It’s late and I’m too tired to properly reply – will do so in the morning. Thank you for taking the time to express yourself in such detail (I’m being totally serious)…

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      So GLAD to hear from a college student, Leila. With my first cup of Joe, I can now respond with some clarity. So, in no particular order:

      1. College is NOT a necessity. Read “The Millionaire Next Door” and see the comparisons between MDs and plumbers. A trade can earn you a LOT of money; you can begin sooner, and start with NO debt. MANY current majors prepare the student for NOTHING, except teaching other students nothing of value, like certain “Ethnic” studies programs!

      2. Most of the reason for the steep rise in tuition is DUE to government entitlement programs – do the homework – so they are NOT working. WHAT is wrong with going to a local community college for your first two years, working, and maybe really knowing where and what you want to do?

      3. Cruelty to impose “such a high interest rate?” To whom? Taxpayers whose kids are not going to college?

      4. We agree about the stupid standards to receive loans. We are eligible for NOTHING so my taxes go to helping the same people who couldn’t afford their mortgages, got rescued, and shouldn’t have been approved for a loan in the first place. Talk about UNFAIR!

      5. I have a music major son, so I appreciate the passion for music. But, how realistic is it to pursue that dream vs. a more practical one? Do you plan on moving back home to live with your parents – OFF of them – after graduation as more than 80% of graduates now do (real statistic!)?

      6. I completely agree with your last point about preparing your kid AHEAD OF TIME for the financial realities of college. I failed in doing so with son #1 but am making up for that with son #2.

      TY Leila for a great comment. While we don’t agree, you were articulate, passionate, respectful, and clearly smart! That is how we should have discourse. If I came on the campus of your college to espouse ANY conservative view, would that be the same? Or would I get shouted down and disparaged?

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  • David Weber

    I would say entitlement has its roots in Republican Herbert Hoover’s “chicken in every pot” campaign slogan.  

    Seriously, the concept of entitlement didn’t just spring up fully grown in the mind of LBJ, nor were U.S. Americans instantly thinking of themselves as entitled to x, y or z thanks to the policy-making of a Democratic administration.  What we might generally think of as an entitlement orientation runs throughout U.S. history.  

    I think its roots are not ideological as much as they are religious.  For decades before the war of independence and the framing of the Constitution, Europeans who transplanted themselves here, and their offspring born here, promoted the idea that God had blessed this land profusely and loved those who settled here more than other peoples.  Therefore we could get away with doing things that those living in less beloved (by God) lands could not–we would be forgiven or indulged more readily by God.

    This philosophy is at the root of what has been called American exceptionalism.  That term, though, in the the past decade been hijacked primarily by media commentators positioned on the right.  Limbaugh and Palin are two that come to mind immediately.  They set up a straw-man argument that “libs” and “the Democrat party” don’t think America is an exceptional nation, and that in contrast they (Limbaugh, Palin and their audiences) appreciate American exceptionalism–as if THAT is what the concept of American exceptionalism has always been.

    But you can consider the U.S.A. “exceptional” — and certainly it is in many ways — yet NOT believe in the doctrine of American exceptionalism.  

    Anyway, I have gone WAY off on this tangent to say that it is not a great leap to cultivate a belief in exceptionalism and from that point embrace an entitlement consciousness.  That consciousness is running wildly through all levels, nooks and crannies of society.  I see it all the time in my students, for example.  They will earn a “C” in my class and email me to ask how that’s possible, since they turned in every assignment and attended every class session.  The issue of how well or poorly their performance on the assignments was, or what kind of contribution they made to the learning process during class, is irrelevant to them…they are “entitled” to a good grade because they turned something in and showed up in the classroom.  I might add that these students are positioned all along the ideological spectrum…they are not just left of center.

    Personally, I think that the rampant entitlement consciousness, and our inability to deal in any honest and effective way with the issue race, will together be the death of this country.  Add to that the specific contemporary problems of economic travail and the jobs problem, I’m about as pessimistic as one can be about what the U.S.A. is going to look like, feel like and be like during the next decade or two or three.  

    In a way, I can afford to be a pessimist because I am not a parent…I think becoming a parent is one of the most optimistic actions a human being can take.  I would not like being a parent today, however, and have to try to counter the entitlement sickness affecting my offspring.

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      I wouldn’t care either if I didn’t worry about my boy’s futures! Thx for an incredibly interesting, informative, and thoughtful comment, David!

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