Strategies for Combatting Entitlement in Kids and Teens

Photo of Caucasian teen wearing a black t-shirt with his head tilted slightly back and rolling his eyes. Photo could represent his sense of entitlement and need for online anxiety counseling for kids and teens in Illinois and Florida.

We’ve all seen it. Entitlement in our kids and teens. We ask our children to do something, and they respond with an eye roll, a heavy sigh, or the “I’m busy right now” go-to. When we have to repeat ourselves a few minutes later, a meltdown ensues.

If you’re a regular reader of my blog posts, you know that I typically write on all matters anxiety and kids. However, this week I’ve decided to write about something a little different: entitlement in kids. Now before we go and cast stones at “those parents”, let’s admit that ALL of our kids have the potential to act entitled in varying degrees. It comes with the territory.

Entitlement is actually a growing concern among parents today and can hinder the overall development of kids in several ways. As parents, it’s our role to address this issue early on and equip our children with the right tools to develop a healthy sense of responsibility and gratitude.

So, let’s dive in and explore the definition of entitlement, examples and causes of entitlement, its relationship to anxiety, how unchecked entitlement can lead to victim mentality and some strategies that can effectively combat it and foster personal growth.

What is Entitlement and What are Some Examples?

Entitlement is the fact of having a right to something. And every child does have the right to feel loved, protected, cared for and provided for by their parents. Where problems arise, however, is when kids and teens believe they have the right to things well beyond their basic needs.

It’s safe to say that every family is different and what may feel like entitlement to one family is not the case for another family. But overall, there are common themes that most parents can agree constitute entitlement in their children:

  • Expecting to receive expensive gifts or privileges without working or earning them.
  • Feeling entitled to have their parents or guardians cater to their every need and want.
  • Displaying a sense of entitlement towards good grades without putting in the necessary effort or studying.
  • Acting entitled to special treatment or privileges in school, such as expecting to be exempt from rules or policies.
  • Believing they are entitled to immediate gratification and becoming frustrated or upset when they don’t get what they want right away.
  • Showing entitlement in relationships by expecting others to constantly prioritize their needs and wishes over their own.
  • Feeling entitled to access technology or material possessions without showing responsibility or understanding the value of these items.
  • Expressing entitlement in sports or extracurricular activities by expecting playing time or special treatment without putting in the required effort or commitment.
  • Demonstrating a lack of gratitude or appreciation for the efforts and sacrifices made by parents or others to support them.
  • Acting entitled to financial support or allowances without understanding the importance of financial responsibility and budgeting.

What Causes Entitlement in Kids and Teens?

Any number (or combinations) of factors can cause entitlement in kids such as:

Parenting style

Overindulgent or permissive parenting, where parents do not give clear boundaries or explain consequences for their child’s actions can lead to a sense of entitlement. When children are not taught the value of hard work, responsibility, and empathy, they may believe they deserve to receive special treatment or rewards without any effort.

Lack of hardships or adversity

Growing up in a privileged environment without facing significant challenges or hardships can contribute to a sense of entitlement. When parents readily solve every problem for their kids and teens, they may develop the belief that they deserve entitled treatment in all aspects of life.

Materialistic culture

Our consumer-driven society perpetuates the idea that happiness and self-worth are tied to material possessions which can foster entitlement in kids and teens. Some communities may prioritize materialism or status, which can fuel a sense of entitlement.

Media and social media platforms often reinforce and glamorize material possessions or unrealistic expectations of success without highlighting the hard work and effort that is usually behind it.

Peer influence

Peers who display entitled attitudes can influence children and teens to adopt similar behaviors. Peer pressure and the desire to fit in can contribute to a sense of entitlement when they begin to believe they deserve special treatment or privileges simply because others in their social circle expect or demand it.

Lack of perspective and empathy

Entitlement often stems from a lack of understanding and empathy towards others. If parents do not teach their children to consider the perspectives and needs of others, they may struggle to recognize and appreciate the privileges they have. This can result in a self-centered mindset where they believe they deserve more than others.

Instant gratification culture

Instant gratification is everywhere and can also contribute to entitlement. With technology providing immediate access to information, communication, and entertainment, children and teens may develop an expectation that their desires should be satisfied quickly and without effort. When they encounter situations where instant gratification is not possible, they may become frustrated and entitled.

Is There a Link Between Entitlement and Anxiety in Kids?

There is some research suggesting a possible link between entitlement and anxiety in children.

This makes sense to me. Entitlement can contribute to anxiety in kids by setting unrealistic expectations and fostering an inability to cope with life’s challenges. When kids feel entitled and believe they should always get what they want, they may become anxious or frustrated when facing situations where things don’t go as planned.

In addition, entitlement may also hinder the development of necessary coping skills. Children who feel entitled may not learn how to deal with disappointment, failure, or setbacks, leading to increased anxiety when they encounter obstacles or uncertainty in life.

However, it’s important to note that the relationship between entitlement and anxiety is not fully understood, and more research is needed to draw definitive conclusions. Additionally, anxiety can arise from various factors, including biological, genetic, and environmental factors, so entitlement alone may not be the sole cause of anxiety in children.

Unchecked Entitlement Can Lead to Victim Mentality in Kids

What is a little clearer is that unchecked entitlement can contribute to the development of a victim mentality. People with a victim mentality feel as though bad things keep happening and the world is against them. Even though there might be things that they can do to help fix the situation, they don’t take responsibility for anything and feel as though everything is out of their control.

Here’s how it can happen:

  1. Unrealistic expectations

When kids grow up feeling entitled, they may develop unrealistic expectations for what they deserve or are entitled to. They may believe they should always receive special treatment, rewards, or privileges, without necessarily putting in the effort or considering others’ needs. When these expectations aren’t met, they may begin to feel like victims.

  1. Lack of responsibility

A sense of entitlement can lead to a lack of personal responsibility. Kids who feel entitled may believe that the world owes them something and aren’t willing to take responsibility for their actions or failures. Consequently, they may blame others or external factors when things don’t go their way, reinforcing the victim mentality.

  1. External validation

Entitled kids often seek external validation and constant approval from others. They may believe that they are special or exceptional, deserving of constant attention and praise. When they don’t receive this validation, they may feel like victims, perceiving themselves as being unfairly treated or overlooked.

  1. Difficulty coping with setbacks

Entitlement can make it challenging for kids to cope with setbacks and failures. When they face obstacles or experience disappointments, their entitlement mindset may prevent them from taking responsibility for their own actions and accepting the consequences. Rather than viewing setbacks as opportunities for growth or learning, they may feel victimized by the situation, blaming others or external circumstances instead.

  1. Lack of resilience

Entitlement tends to undermine resilience in kids. As they grow up with a sense of entitlement, they may struggle to develop the necessary resilience and adaptability to deal with life’s challenges. Instead of finding ways to overcome obstacles or setbacks, they may adopt a victim mentality, seeing themselves as helpless and powerless in the face of challenges.

It’s important to note that entitlement in itself doesn’t guarantee the development of a victim mentality in kids. It’s a complex interaction between various factors including parenting styles, societal influences, and individual traits.

Strategies for Combatting Entitlement in Kids and Teens

Now that we’ve looked at entitlement in depth, let’s turn to some strategies we can use to combat it in our kids and teens.

Model gratitude and empathy

Kids and teens often learn from observing their parents’ behaviors. By showing gratitude and empathy in our daily lives, we can instill these values in them. Express appreciation for what you have and acknowledge the efforts of others.

Encourage your child to offer their gratitude by asking them to identify something they are thankful for every day. Additionally, encourage acts of empathy, such as helping others in need. By modeling these behaviors yourself, your child is more likely to adopt them, creating a positive environment for combating entitlement.

Set clear expectations and consequences

Establishing clear expectations and consequences is important to prevent entitlement. Clearly communicate what behavior is expected of your child and set age-appropriate tasks and responsibilities. This helps them understand that certain privileges come with responsibilities.

Reinforce the idea that privileges are earned through effort and demonstrate the consequences of not meeting expectations. For example, if they fail to complete their chores, they may lose certain privileges until they complete the task. Consistency is key in enforcing these expectations and consequences, as it helps our kids understand the direct correlation between their actions and outcomes.

Encourage independence and self-reliance

Fostering independence and self-reliance in children and teenagers can defuse entitlement by teaching them the value of hard work and resourcefulness. Encourage them to tackle age-appropriate challenges and problem-solve on their own. Offer guidance and support when needed, but allow them the space to make mistakes and learn from them.

By developing a sense of personal responsibility, they will be more likely to appreciate the effort required to achieve their goals and become self-reliant individuals.

Teach financial literacy

Entitlement often arises from a lack of understanding about money and its value. When we teach children about financial literacy, they gain a better understanding of the value of money and how it is earned. Introduce age-appropriate concepts like budgeting, saving, and spending wisely.

Encourage them to save a portion of their allowance or earnings toward a specific goal. Teach them about the importance of delayed gratification and the consequences of impulsive spending. By equipping children with financial skills, they learn to appreciate the value of money and become more responsible with their financial resources.

Promote a culture of giving back

Create a culture of giving back within your family. Volunteering can expose kids and teens to different cultural, social and economic backgrounds, allowing them to develop empathy and understanding towards others. They learn to see the world from different perspectives as well as the needs of their community and their role in addressing those needs.

Volunteer opportunities can include helping out at a local animal shelter, tutoring or mentoring younger kids, serving at a soup kitchen or food bank, participating in a community clean up or environmental project, visiting and interacting with the elderly residents at a nursing home, fundraising for a specific cause or charity, assisting at a local library, volunteering at a local hospital, participating in a community garden, or helping with a youth sports camp for kids with disabilities. The possibilities are endless.

When kids and teens actively engage in acts of kindness and giving back, they develop a sense of empathy and gratitude, which counteracts entitlement. By focusing on the needs of others and realizing the impact they can make, they learn to appreciate what they have and become more compassionate individuals.

Combatting entitlement in kids and teens is a long-term process that requires consistent effort and mindful parenting. It takes time and consistency to reframe entitlement and promote healthier attitudes and behaviors.

With patience, persistence, and a proactive approach, we can make a positive impact in combatting entitlement, cultivating a generation that appreciates the value of hard work, empathy, and gratitude.

A Final Word on Entitlement

I end with a wonderful example of one’s father’s success in teaching his son about empathy. Author unknown.

“When I asked my 11-year-old son to help me unload dirt from our small pickup into his mother’s new garden boxes, his reaction was typical.

“Ummmm… I’m busy right now,” he said.

He was playing Roblox on the family laptop, wearing sweat pants and an old T-shirt, lounging on the sofa, feet on the coffee table.

“No, you’re not,” I said.

There was a fight, moaning, excuses… the usual.

Moments later, we were next to a wheelbarrow shoveling dirt. He looked at me with flat eyes, his hood up, shoulders slumped, and said, “Why do we have to do this?”

I thought for a moment, because I’ll admit, it was a valid question.

Finally I said, “When you love someone, you serve them.”

I went on, telling him that I want him to grow up to be the kind of man who serves his family, friends, and community.

“This” I said while gesturing to the dirt, and the garden boxes I built the weekend before, and the wheelbarrow and shovel, and the first of many truckloads of dirt we would unload over the next few weeks, “Is what love looks like.”

He didn’t like my answer. I could see it in the way he reluctantly picked his shovel back up.

We finished unloading the dirt. The next day, Mel picked up another load of dirt and before she had a chance to unload it, Tristan voluntarily started working.

When she asked him “why,” he shrugged and said, “Because I love you.”

I’d never been prouder of my son.”

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