Culture challenge of the week: Taking things for granted
We live in a culture that is all about “me, me, me.” Take a stroll through the mall and you will see children whining when they can’t have the latest toy or video game, while discouraged parents shrug their shoulders and give in. Hang around any retail store, and it may seem like the “gimme” generation is running the show.
Overindulging children is a big problem. It creates an unrealistic perception of life, turns our sons and daughters into “brats” and even weakens our nation and economy in the long run. If our children don’t learn the meaning of earning through practical experience, adulthood will hit them like a slap in the face. They will feel like they were thrown into a pool before they learned how to swim. Some will drown, and some will cling to others and cause the great swimmers who feed the economy to be bogged down and maybe even drown too.
Creating a sense of entitlement ruins individuals, and if we as a society create too many of them, the nation can come to ruin too.
Childhood, while a time of joy and innocence, is also a time to plunk children in the shallow end and teach them how to swim basic strokes. That way, when they get to the “deep end” of adulthood, they are strong swimmers and able to handle turbulent waters and obstacles.
Helping children learn the value of earning provides real life skills and gives them a deep sense of satisfaction. As humans, we were created to work. We love to see the fruits of our labors, whether that is a life accomplishment like building a company or everyday tasks like finishing a project around the house. We were not created to lie around slothfully.
Perpetual laziness creates unhappiness every time. Working toward a goal and feeling pride in our efforts is a huge motivator — and we must continually allow our children experience it or we are unwittingly denying them much happiness. Children who work hard and feel the satisfaction that comes with completing that work will have a deeper sense of self-worth than children who are merely given the things they desire.
In a 1981 article in the American Journal of Psychiatry, Dr. George Vaillant reported that the single biggest predictor of adult mental health is “the capacity to work learned in childhood.” Men described as “competent and industrious at age 14” were twice as likely to have warm relationships, five times more likely to have well-paying jobs and 16 times less likely to have suffered significant unemployment.
There is a direct correlation between combating an attitude of entitlement in your children’s youth and their happiness and success later in life.
How to save your family: Teach your children the beauty of work
Dealing with attitudes of entitlement is easy if you start when they are young: Identify privileges and material goods your children value and link them to some sort of quantifiable tasks.
Find ways to teach them about entrepreneurship — whether it’s opening their own lemonade stand, lining up baby-sitting jobs, or taking on a paper route. These time-honored “classic” kids’ jobs still teach skills and give children a sense of accomplishment when done well.
We all know how much fun it was to earn our first dollars as children. But if no one is there to guide and encourage us to earn honestly, spend wisely and give to others freely, the “gimme” culture soon takes over. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Humans are hard to satisfy, but we feel much more satisfied when we know that we have earned what we have. Teaching your child how to have that sense of satisfaction is a lesson that cannot be learned too early.
There are a few keys to remember when opening your child’s eyes to the value of earning:
1) You must be consistent and true to your word. When you promise your child something if he or she fulfills an assigned task, you must follow through. I cannot emphasize that enough. Children have short attention spans, and it is very important to make the connection between work and reward as clear as possible.
2) Thematically link the task you give your child to the reward he or she seeks. For example, if your daughter asks for a prom dress that costs $100, tell her she can earn it by working 10 hours at a community center that helps underprivileged women who will likely never wear a prom dress. Not only will she gain some perspective and realize what a privilege it is to dress up in expensive clothes, she also will attach value to something she would have otherwise taken for granted.
3) Make the task straightforward and quantifiable. Give it a clear beginning and a concrete conclusion. Both my sons had to earn the rank of Eagle Scout before acquiring their driver’s licenses. That hard-earned privilege bears a lot of responsibility, including making what could become life and death decisions. It was crucial for my husband and me that our sons understood the responsibility they would have with the increased freedom in becoming drivers. Being rewarded with their driver’s licenses at the completion of the years of hard work it took to become Eagle Scouts, our sons also attained the lifelong rewards that come with that honor. Everybody won — and today as men in their mid-20s, our sons continue to reap the benefits of their dedicated work.
If you realize you have erred in overindulging your children or maybe in not understanding the beauty of work yourself, there is a fantastic organization that can help all of us make the connection between satisfaction, prosperity and work. A life well-lived means being able to accomplish, to give to others, to know you have not been a burden to someone else. The Institute for Faith, Work and Economics has an inspiring blog called “Creativity. Purpose. Freedom” that has postings to remind you that real joy and satisfaction come from being able to give and contribute — and to enjoy the fruits of your labor. You can sign up at TIFWE.org.
• Rebecca Hagelin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.