You may have seen it, or felt it — that phenomenon that seems to have taken over kids in recent years and turned them into entitled, me-centric beings? I call it the “The Me, Me, Me Epidemic,” and believe it or not, it happens in tiny little ways every single day when we’re not conscious of it. The good news? It is totally curable!
We’ve all known kids (maybe even in our own families) who feel entitled to have things go their way, who expect the best of life without rolling up their sleeves and for whom gratitude is not a part of their attitude. While these kids can be hard to live with now, over-entitled kids eventually become high-maintenance employees and demanding spouses with the same childish attitudes, only on a greater scale. It’s a big problem, because kids who feel entitled to call the shots all the time are unable to handle it when things don’t go their way (like here in the real world).
While we can point fingers and blame social media, reality TV, and a host of other outside influences, one of the biggest factors in the spread of this “epidemic” is us — the parents. Of course, we want the best for our kids and none of us intends to raise an entitled child, but often in our loving attempts to do the best for our kids, we over-parent. We over-indulge, over-praise and mow down any obstacle in their path with ninja-like swiftness. And when we do? We rob kids of the opportunity to do for themselves, learn from mistakes, or overcome adversity. For your sake and for your kids, consider these five strategies for turning the tide:
Pay attention at age 14. That's when most kids start to resist peer influence and flex the think-for-myself muscle, rather than simply following the leader, according to a study published in Developmental Psychology. Want to help strengthen that muscle at any age? Put screens aside and circle the wagons every night. Ask, "What's new with your friends?" This will (here's hoping, if he talks) give you a chance to decode what's happening behind the scenes and offer support.
1. Expect more
Give your kids some credit. They can and SHOULD make meaningful contributions to the family. Expect your toddlers to teens to do Family Contributions (not “chores”) on a daily basis and expect them to take on increasing amounts of responsibility through the years. After all, they are part of the family and everyone’s contributions matter. When you hold your kids to a higher standard, they WILL meet it — and often exceed it. What they’ll get in return will be life skills they need to head out into the world as happier, more successful and self-sufficient human beings. And you? You get to know that you helped to make that happen. (Way to go!)
2. Give up on giving in
Do you ever say YES when you really want to say No? Cave at the candy counter at checkout? Pacify with the treat when your kid is throwing a fit? It’s time to turn over a new leaf and have the courage to say “NO” and mean it! You’ll teach your kids that life won’t always go their way and that’s OK. You’ll be establishing — and sticking — to healthy boundaries. And your little ones and big ones will learn that fit-throwing, eye-rolling, and pouting isn’t going to do the trick. Now, for all of you who struggle with this — repeat after me: I’m NOT being a bad guy — I’m being a good PARENT. You can do this!
Julia Roberts (mom to twins Hazel and Phinnaeus): “I try to call my mother, Betty, with more regularity because I think, What if Hazel didn’t call me for two weeks? I’m able to see her mothering now from a different vantage point.”
3. Hand over the reins
4. Shut down the ATM
This is a big one. Instant gratification is king in today’s society. “I want it, I get it. Now.” The best way to fight this phenomenon with our kids is to stop handing over $20 whenever they ask for it. Instead, set a specific allowance amount per week and a list of expenses your child is now responsible to cover. Little kids can use allowance for “treats” when they go to the store, big kids can be responsible for school lunches, school clothing and entertainment. Allowance is an essential tool to teach delayed gratification and fiscal responsibility — how to spend wisely, save, budget, and give charitably. How will our kids be successful with a real paycheck and bigger expenses if they don’t learn those important life skills at home? Teach them the tools and help them flourish.
5. Un-center their universe
The research is clear that those with an “attitude of gratitude” in life are happier, less depressed, take stress in stride, and see life with a healthy optimism. In our over-indulged culture, we know that gratitude takes practice. It’s something we have to teach our kids. Model for them and let them know the world doesn’t OWE anyone anything — and that we all have to do our part to make it a better place. Help kids learn to appreciate their first-world circumstances, (without lecturing about starving kids in Third World countries). When you practice daily gratitude rituals at home, actively seek to do random acts of kindness, and find opportunities to serve others throughout the year (not just during the holidays) — you are helping to set your children and your family on the path to a much more rewarding life.
Put on your own oxygen mask first. In other words, take care of yourself or you can't be a fully engaged parent. Parents who deprive themselves of rest, food, and fun for the sake of their kids do no one a favor. "People feel guilty when they work a lot, so they want to give all their free time to their kids," says Fred Stocker, a child psychiatrist at the University of Louisville School of Medicine, in Kentucky. "But you risk getting squeezed dry and emotionally exhausted." A spa weekend may not be realistic, but it's OK to take 15 minutes for a bath after you walk in the door. (A tall request for a kid, yes, but a happier Uno player goes a long way.) Running ragged between activities? Ask your child to prioritize, says Taylor. She may be dying for you to chaperone a field trip but ambivalent about your missing a swim meet—the ideal amount of time for a pedicure.
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As parents, we hold the key to eradicating this epidemic. There are powerful un-entitling tools we can use every day to turn the tide of entitlement in our kids and help them to grow into responsible, respectful, more empowered adults. Your kids and society will thank you!
TODAY Parenting Team contributor Amy McCready is the founder of PositiveParentingSolutions.com and the author of “The ‘Me, Me, Me’ Epidemic: A Step-by-Step Guide to Raising Capable, Grateful Kids in an Over-Entitled World.”
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This article was originally published on Sept. 16, 2015 on TODAY.com.