Maybe We Should Stop Entertaining Our Kids So Much

15 hours. One way.

That’s how long it took us to drive to New Mexico on Spring Break. Getting there, my children were delightful. On the long drive, they occupied themselves with reading, drawing, watching a couple of movies and asking questions about the change of scenery, and they got along well.

Clearly, we were amazing parents.

And then we piled in the car a few days later to come home. We arrived in the Land of Enchantment with one set of children and discovered they had morphed into entirely different ones for the long road home. Because all their books had been read, movies watched, pictures drawn.

There was squabbling and bickering and mostly, a lot of boredom.

While I wasn’t looking forward to the drive home either, the getting home part is sort of unavoidable, you know?

The complaining heightened to an all time high and at some point a kid from the backseat actually demanded, “Give me something to do.”

In other words, entertain me.

And this is the price we pay when we constantly entertain our kids: They cannot entertain themselves.

maybeweshouldstopentertainingourkidssomuch

Remember when we used to play outside for hours?

Now we have half a dozen screens to choose from between ipads, ipods, iphones, iii-yii-yii

Remember when kids used to use their imaginations?

Now we over schedule them with extracurriculars. .

Remember when going to the park, zoo, circus, playplace, you-name-it-in-kid-entertainment used to be reserved for a special occasion?

Now we do something every other day because our kids aren’t the only ones who are bored. Parents are too.

Maybe we should stop entertaining our kids so much.

Maybe they will start creating fun instead of depending on us to manufacture it.

Because it’s really way more about entitlement than entertainment.

Now, I have done it all. I’m a guilty parent entertainer. But I’ve realized the more I do, the more they want and the less they do for themselves. 

We live in a culture that thrives on entertainment. We crave the thrill of it. And that’s great for special days, but maintaining it constantly is doing more harm than good.

If we stop doing it, they will stop expecting it.

Because sometimes we have to wait.

Sometimes we don’t get our way.

Sometimes we are bored.

My kids ended up surviving the road trip. There was sleeping and made-up-game-playing and just old fashioned car-riding imagination.

Life isn’t always entertaining.

And the sooner our kids realize that, the sooner they realize they have the power to change that.


I Think We May Be Missing Something Very Important

It was a hot February day in Texas. We only had a handful of volunteers and hundreds of needy refugees had already formed a line, so everybody had a job. Even our kids. Especially our kids.

From across the parking lot, I watched my 14 year old give directions to the handful of kids barely taller than her waist. This small army of children were  in charge of the mound of toiletry and hygiene items we were sharing with refugees in our city.

I blinked back tears as they divided the supplies into over 100 paper sacks.

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They sorted donations, led refugee families around the free garage sale, and collected their vouchers for needed items.

They worked for hours and never complained.

Earlier in the weekend, I felt guilty for roping my family into all this extra work. What started out as a simple yes, ended up being a time-consuming-several-day event that is now an on-going service project.

Volunteers helped us organize and sort a truckload of donations, spread out on our driveway. When my 6th and 8th grade kids got off the bus, their friends asked if we were hoarders.

I think that might be called Junior High persecution.

sorting donations

As I watched my kids work hard in preparation for that day, jump in and serve refugees and navigate a language barrier, I quickly realized they didn’t need an apology for not making the weekend fun! filled with more stuff! just for them! all about them!

It reminded me how healthy a bit of hard work is for all of us and how rewarding it is to serve other people. 

As parents I think we’ve missed something very important in our culture. In an effort to make family a priority and give our kids what we didn’t have, we’ve become a child-focused culture. In many ways, we’ve lost our purpose. The sense of entitlement our kids exhibit is fueled by a parenting model that is obsessed with giving our children what they want and by making our kids the center of our lives.

In a way, we are just too into this parenting thing. We used to have birthday parties where A CAKE made it special and now it’s an EVENT. We used to pass out store bought Valentine cards, now we have them professionally printed with photographs and candy and goodie bags and mylar balloon bouquets. We used to play outside with sticks and get dirty; now kids have a variety of expensive game systems and a lot of technology at their disposal.

This quote by Jerry Seinfeld made me laugh because it’s so true. But then it really made me think.

The bedtime routine for my kids is a royal coronation jubilee centennial of rinsing and plaque and dental appliances and the stuffed animal semi circle of emotional support. I have to read 8 different moron books to my kids. Do you know what my bedtime story was when I was a kid? DARKNESS. My parents would yell “Go to bed!”

We’ve all probably done the bedtime dance. I remember one of my kids had to have a certain color of pacifier to HOLD in her hand before she’d sleep. So, clearly, I’m no expert here. I’m learning from my parenting mistakes, too.

But in centering our world around our children and giving into their demands, we foster entitlement.

Most entitlement begins because we lack the courage to tell our children no or because we don’t exhibit the strength to keep our no a no

We continue to enable entitlement by rewarding our kids for everything they do.

We may be taking away the sense of satisfaction and pride that comes from genuine achievement.” Jason Walsh, a special education teacher in Washington, D.C., witnessed this firsthand during his school’s fifth-grade graduation ceremonies. Some students received as many as 14 different awards. “The majority of the students didn’t know what their awards really meant,” says Walsh. The honors “didn’t reinforce a specific achievement—but a sense of entitlement and of being great.”

Kids don’t need more stars and stickers.

They need more hard work.

Kids don’t need more activities.

They need more unstructured time.

Kids don’t need more stuff.

They need more opportunities to give their stuff away.

Kids don’t need more store-bought or manufactured fun.

They need freedom to create their own.

Teaching our kids about serving

I looked at my exhausted, dirty children who gobbled down sandwiches in the car on the way home after our full day of serving, grinning silly and full and I didn’t feel bad at all. 

Because I realized I had given them something money couldn’t buy. I had offered them something more valuable than the latest technology or hottest brand. I had given them perspective. And opportunity.

A few days later, I wanted to reward my kids. I’m definitely not against a pat on the back. But as I offered a small token for their great attitudes and hard work, it occurred to me they didn’t need a sticker or star or reward from me for serving others. It was time for me to change the way I parent.

Because working hard and serving others was their reward. Just ask them.


What Really Happens When We Give Kids Everything They Want

“I want it.

Why?

Because everyone else has it.”

(Or does it.  Or wears it.)

It’s a conversation we’ve had countless times in our house. It doesn’t matter what it’s about–the newest technology, the latest fad, the most popular shoes- it’s treacherous ground to add it to our want list so we can be like everyone else.

These five dangerous words are turning homes upside down. When we give our children everything they want (because everyone else has it), it speeds up their childhood: We have six year olds addicted to technology, carrying around their own ipods and iphones without limitations; eleven year old sons playing bloody battles of Assassin’s Creed over the Internet with strangers instead of playing ball outside; And 13 year old daughters shopping at Victoria’s Secret, wearing angel wings across their bums, looking far older than they are.

But worse than losing a generation of children, this choice breeds a nasty virus. Because maybe if we keep giving them everything they want, they might just drive a new car intoxicated and kill four people and be diagnosed with affluenza.

What Really Happens When We Give Kids Everything They Want

The psychologist testifying for the 16 year old boy who did just that, defined affluenza as this: children who have a sense of entitlement, are irresponsible, and make excuses for poor behavior because parents have not set proper boundaries.

And when you write a little post about the warning signs of entitlement and it’s shared nearly 800,000 times, perhaps we’re all a little scared of our kids catching the same bug.

“I am an RN working on a psych unit, and I see everyday the effects of entitlement. I see adults in their 20′s and 30′s who always had everything they ever wanted given to them while growing up, and now they just don’t get it. They are unemployed, either living with parents or with one friend or relative after another, or on the street. Having been given everything they ever wanted without working for it while growing up, they don’t feel that they should work for anything now. They were raised to think they could do no wrong, but instead of growing up to have high self-esteem, they have grown up unable to function. They cannot take disappointment of any kind. So we have a generation of kids that don’t want to work and can’t function as adults. Because they have no coping skills of any kind to deal with life, they become depressed and often turn to drugs and/or alcohol to feel better. Then, they end up on our unit, depressed, suicidal, and addicted,” a comment on this post.

Why are we saying yes to our children too early, too soon and pulling in the boundaries? I’m not sure, but I think it starts here:

  1. We don’t understand the future implications of giving them everything they want right now
  2. We want them to have the life we didn’t
  3. We are afraid to tell our children no because we know there will be backlash or because we think they will feel loved if we say yes.
  4. We want them to fit in with their peers because it’s hard to be different.
  5. We feel it’s often easier just to give in
  6. We struggle with a bit of affluenza ourselves

This excellent article shares the symptoms of this nasty virus:

To conquer the affluenza virus, though, one must first recognize it within himself and ask why and from where it comes. Ask yourself the following questions:

Do you frequently buy things you do not really need?

When shopping, are you unable to control how much you spend?

Do you envy the lifestyles of the rich and famous?

Do you feel bad when your neighbors have things you do not?

Do you measure yourself by what others have?

Do you ever use shopping as a means of escape?

Do you use your possessions to impress others?

Do you compare your possessions with what your peers have? If so, do you experience a feeling of superiority that yours are better?

Do you speak often about the things you want?

Do you find yourself complaining about the things you want but cannot afford?

Do you think of spending your money more often than saving it?

Do you often think your life would be more complete if you had more money and possessions?

“Jesus, speaking to the people, he went on, “Take care! Protect yourself against the least bit of greed. Life is not defined by what you have, even when you have a lot.” Luke 12:15

So what’s the cure? 

Maybe it starts with the little word no. We aren’t going to buy, get, do that just because others are. It’s okay to want things, but there’s a big difference in getting something because you love it and getting it because you want to be loved.

Maybe it starts with deciding why you do what you do. Don’t let the culture lead your family. Because it certainly will. I heard this week the most popular word among teens in 2013 was twerking. Do we really want society guiding our children?

Maybe it starts with reality–no, not everyone has, does, gets ____ (fill in the blank). We’ve discovered other people who don’t have ____(fill in the blank), but we’ve had to look for them and pray them into our lives. The world will tell you (and your kids) you’re completely alone. But that’s a lie. There are other families swimming upstream against our society and affluenza.

Maybe it starts with a dab of old fashioned failure (I love what this teacher said below).

“Some parents don’t wish their kids to fail. I admit I want my children to. I want them to fail, so they can learn how to get back up. I want them to not get every gift they want on their Christmas list, so they can appreciate what they have and work for what they don’t. Lastly I hope all of them get at least one or two teachers they hate. That way they will learn that in the real world, they will have to work with people (and bosses) they may not like,” a teacher who left a comment on this post.

Maybe it starts with exposing them to how the majority of the world lives. Affluenza is a first world problem. Hunger is a real world problem. Give them an opportunity to serve others.

Hebrews 13:5 “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

I really don’t think our kids want the latest technology or the hottest name brand as much as they want something else. Oh, they think they do. And they will beg and plead (and drive us crazy) for it. But deep down, they are hungry for something deeper that satisfies and lasts a lot longer than just stuff. Giving them firm boundaries, love and perspective is exactly what we can offer them.


5 Signs Kids are Struggling with Entitlement

5 signs kids are struggling with entitlementI finally wrapped a couple of gifts and put them under the tree. I don’t know about your house, but the minute I do this every year, my kids get really interested in what’s happening under the tree. Curiosity kills my kids. And the cat.

“Mom, when are you taking us shopping to buy gifts for you and Dad?” one of my kids asked.

“Do you have money to buy gifts?” I asked.

Eery silence.

“Well, I was thinking you could give us money. Um, to buy your gifts with,” came the answer.

Every month we give our kids money and it’s up to them to buy things they want (we provide things they need and also many wants). When I reminded my daughter of this, she said, “Oh, I wanted to buy a cute Christmas shirt with my money.”

Ah, choices.

When I polled my other kids, they too, were short on money and big on expectations. Now, I’m not a Scrooge and I don’t want to rob my kids of the opportunity to give gifts to others. But I also refuse to rob them of the privilege of hard work. Because that’s when the joy of giving is revealed.

So, I created a Jobs to Earn Money For Christmas Gift List and stuck it on our family memo board. I mentioned it once and waited to see who really wanted to give gifts this season.

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In our culture, it’s hard not to let entitlement creep into our homes and lives. It’s especially challenging not to fuel the expectations of our kids by our own parenting choices to make life easy for them and give them everything they want. We struggle with the “you owe me” mantra in our home. I’m writing about this because it’s an issue we really battle. But the first step is admitting it.

According to this must-watch Glen Beck segment, there are four cultural trends that contribute to the entitlement movement:

Self Esteem Movement- Raising kids with the “you are special” mantra isn’t healthy for kids. They don’t need to hear they are the best at everything and everything they do is the best (instead of look at me, it should be I’m a person of value that God created. Self esteem isn’t bad, but narcissism is).

Celebrity Culture-Reality TV shows highly dysfunctional people, and celebrates bad behavior. Rich  celebrities are portrayed as ignorant and they are worshipped in our culture.

Emerging Media- The growth of social media has altered reality, enhanced self-promotion, offers a “fake” sense of who we really are, as opposed to who we present online. Technology is not bad. It’s like fire-it serves a good purpose, but it can get completely out of control and dangerous.

Credit Bubble-This culture feeds on comparison. Not only in comparing ourselves to what others have, but also in getting it for ourselves even when we can’t afford it.

In our own homes, these trends can manifest in our children. This is what it might look like:

Five Signs of Entitlement in our kids: 

1. I want it now. Kids are impatient and who can blame them? We live in a drive-thru culture and instant gratification is well, instant. And often we find ourselves living in fear of saying no because our children are used to getting what they want.

2. I don’t want to work for it. Why work when it can be given to you? It’s fosters a cycle of laziness and poor work ethic when we constantly give to our children without requiring any work. We need to create entry points starting at a young age for our children to contribute to household chores and jobs.

3. I don’t have to clean up my mess. We battle this one often. I’m learning to choose my wars. But I believe this is also responsible living. If you make a mess, you clean it up.

4. I want it because everyone else has it. My 7 year old has asked for an Elf on the Shelf every day this week. Why? Because she feels left out that many of her friends have one. And that’s awesome for them, but I don’t want that to be the focus of our season and I honestly don’t have time or energy to create things for the stuffed animal to do. The bottom line for us: it’s okay for you not to have what everyone else has.  I asked my daughter, if everyone had a swimming pool, would you want one too? She said yes. Clearly, we are working on this one.

5. I expect you to fix all my problems. I love to help my kids out. But there’s a fine line between helping and aiding bad behavior. If my child forgets their lunch everyday and I bring it everyday, there’s really not a reason for them to ever be responsible. My kids expected us to give them money for a gift for us. Instead, I found it the perfect chance to teach them about hard work and let them solve their own dilemma.

This week, my son spent about 4 hours raking leaves in our big backyard. He had blisters on his hands and he worked very hard.

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My oldest babysat for five hours and my youngest earned money by cleaning and organizing under all the sinks in the house. When I took them to Target to Christmas shop, they were so proud to use their money. My teen spent more than she planned, “Mom, I love the way it feels to buy for others” she said as she counted out her hard-earned money.

My job here is done.

Not really, but it did make me smile to hear those words. The reality is, entitlement will rear its ugly head more than once this week and probably next. It’s a constant battle to remind our children and ourselves that we aren’t owed anything, that life is a gift and it needs to be appreciated.

So, what do we do about it? We can counteract these negative expectations by expecting more from our kids and teaching them these principals from Empowering Parents:

  • Money doesn’t come easily.
  • People work hard to earn money; it’s part of life.
  • If you want something, you need to work to earn it.
  • You are not entitled to things you haven’t earned.
  • Compassion for others (show them third world problems, so they have perspective on their first world ones)
  • Responsibility for Actions: there are consequences and rewards for our behavior and choices

Parenting is hard. Doing it in our culture is even harder. But it is possible to raise grateful, hard-working kids who put others first.  That’s my goal anyway.


Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World

When my family moved a few miles away to a smaller town last year, we swapped a huge school district for a smaller, more rural one, a push mower for a broken down riding one that my hubby fixed and city sewage for our very own septic system (just don’t play in the sprinklers). And while we are still close to The City (and by city, I mean Target and Chick Fil A), it was time we two-stepped over to the other side–and became a boot-wearing family.

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On the way to the Rodeo a few weeks ago, one of my kids had a nasty, ungrateful outburst and I was half tempted to leave them in tennis shoes (the horror), but grace won out. Outfitting our children in cowboy boots was quite a splurge (hubby and I already had some).

After a fun day, we drove home, and this same kid’s ugly attitude showed up again with a bit of entitlement thrown in and it went downhill from there. There was dysfunctional family activity (so glad my life isn’t a reality show) and my husband asked for the boots back. This sort of broke my country heart, but I knew it was the right thing to do.

We didn’t buy the boots, so we could return them. As a matter of fact, my hubby couldn’t find the receipt at first and I bit my nails because THIS PARENTING THING IS SO HARD. We wanted our child to share the joy down to their feet, but it was the heart that needed the immediate attention.

The said child cried and begged and promised and fretted. And then pulled the grace card: “Why can’t you show me grace?”

I piped up and said, “Buying you the boots in the first place was grace” and then I recounted the earlier behavior.

My husband put the boots back in the box and stuck them on a high shelf in the laundry room and said,”If you want the boots, you’ll have to work for them.” He pointed to the huge mulched areas in the front yard and then the back. “You have 3 days to pull every weed. I won’t remind you, it’s up to you. It’s your job if you want it. It pays in boots.”

And that was that.

I wanted to high five my man and sob with my child, all at the same time. Because, lo, the weeds were many.

Our big yard is muddy and wet and full of weeds and I grimaced at the job, wondering what my child would choose. I was a silent cheerleader on their behalf. And my heart soared when I heard the front door click and I saw my offspring in old clothes sit down for the long hours ahead.

For the next two days, I watched my child work hard and get hands dirty and heart tender.

When my husband handed back the boots and I heard a true apology on my kid’s lips, I knew we had all won. “You earned these. I won’t take them away again.” A certain little cowhand is walking high around here and those boots means twice as much this time around. Hard work pays off and changes us in the process.

We live in an entitled world and whether we like it or not, children in our culture are consumers. It has become a global issue because they are a captive audience and the average kid views up to 40,000 commercials a year and business pour up to 17 billion into that advertising. Source. If you still doubt, just walk down the Easter aisles in your local store. Because only a consumer-driven society could take a Savior on a cross and turn it into a four aisles at the grocery store.

“Marketers want to accomplish two things with our children:

  1. Awaken and amplify their desire to consume
  2. Blur the line between wants and needs.” Source

And this combination is creating a generation of children who aren’t grateful, who expect everything to be handed to them and don’t really know how to work and this breeds the greatest enemy of all: discontentment.

Just look at what our culture has done with holidays. They’ve turned it all into hoopla and not only is it confusing to our kids to live in a world of made-up celebrations, it muddies the waters of the Holy ones and their true intent is lost.

If “true godliness with contentment is great wealth” (1 Timothy 6:6), then discontentment leaves of spiritually bankrupt and completely empty.

Honestly, I don’t blame the kids. As parents, we often foster this mentality with our own actions. We compare ourselves (and our homes, cars, etc) to what others have, we let media (and ultimately, advertising) influence our home by not limiting screen time and we have a hard time deciphering between needs and wants.

Fighting the entitlement battle  in our home is hard, but here are some things we are doing to try and live counter-culturally in this area:

  1. We are Asking for Hard Work- I think many kids in our culture (my own included) don’t know much about hard work. I grew up in a house that worked. We cleaned and did yard work every weekend and everyone helped clean up the kitchen every night. A few weeks ago, we spent most of the day in the yard. And the more my kids complained, the more I realized how much we had neglected giving them hard, dirty work. My kids get their own laundry basket and take over washing, folding and putting away their clothes when they turn 8, they take turns helping clean up in the kitchen and their rooms, but it was clear to me that a little hard work was needed. I’m excited to say a truckload of dirt and rock are sitting in our driveway right now, waiting a few hard workers. Oh parenting, you do come in handy. (Phil 2:14-15)
  2. We aren’t Making Unrealistic Promises-We regularly tell our kids not to expect us to pay for college. While we hope to help in some way, we don’t have plans to pay it for their college education in its entirety. We expect them to work hard now, focus on their gifted areas, get scholarships, part time jobs, etc, to contribute. We try not to make them promises that only enhance the entitlement attitude in our culture or promises we don’t know if we can keep.
  3. We are Sticking to Consequences-If we suggest a consequence, we commit to seeing it thru as often as we can. I’ve come up with some stupid consequences in my day and have regretted my rash tongue. But something clicks in our kid when they understand we are serious about some things.
  4. We are Limiting Media-Hushing the voices of our culture that is telling our kids all the stuff they need comes in part by tuning it out. Media specifically targets our children to want a lot of stuff they don’t need. We have a TV and computers and devices, but besides filtering them, we turn them off. My kids still complain about it, which reinforces exactly why it’s important.
  5. We are Exposing Them to the World-I’m a firm believer that an entitlement attitude is in direct correlation to perspective. When you’re only looking and thinking about yourself, you can only see what you want. But when you remove the blinders and see needs around you and in the world, it alters your perspective. Exposing our kids to other cultures and how most of the world really lives, stirs up gratitude like nothing else.
  6. We are Extending Grace-Living by a bunch of strict rules and do’s and don’ts isn’t the answer. Being flexible with your own rules is not only necessary, it’s healthy for your family. And let’s face it, who doesn’t need extra grace? We are on the same team.
  7. We are Examples in our Mistakes-Ouch. This is the hardest. When I compare and complain, I’m leading by example. When I am thankful and gracious, they are watching. As I make mistakes, I’m offering them the greatest lesson. It’s important to admit when we are wrong and ask for forgiveness when we hurt our kids.
  8. We are Raising them to Be Different- I Peter 2:11 Our society has low expectations of kids. We expect toddlers to get what they want and teens to be rebellious. Instead of helping our kids fit in every area of their lives (an impossibility, really), we are encouraging them to go against the flow, reminding them we’re supposed to be different than the world.  They are normal kids and have longings to fit in-we all do. We just aren’t going to compromise our beliefs or lives to do so in every circumstance.
  9. We are Relying on God- By far, parenting is the hardest job. And honestly, there are so many days, we don’t know what to do. Our kids belong to God. He loves them more than we do. He wants to guide us down the hard roads.

Our family certainly didn’t need new boots, even though we plan to wear them for years to come. But walking a mile in them taught us a great lesson in gratitude. Some days we feel like we’ve lost the battle against entitlement in our home; we are still in the trenches, trying to figure this all out. But as we reflect on Jesus’ sacrifice and turn our attention to The Cross, it’s thankfulness for His sacrifice and our chance at New Life that I want them to grasp the most.