Last week I wrote about a 22-year-old college student who blew through a $90k inheritance she was supposed to use for college, and then blamed her parents for her failures. You probably don’t even have to read the article to think what an entitled ungrateful brat she is, right?
As I listened to that interview I kept thinking how much I wanted to make sure my children never turned out like her or so many other kids I hear about today.
Growing up it really wasn’t hard to be grateful for what I had, because we didn’t have a lot. No, we weren’t starving (partly because my mother was a garden goddess) and we never went without necessities, but we also weren’t lavished with expensive toys or gifts. We didn’t take European vacations (like Kim from last week’s piece) and we certainly weren’t wearing designer clothes, either. In fact, remind me some time to tell you about getting kicked out of Nordstrom by an employee after my father found out the price of a pair of Guess jeans. I can’t imagine what my parents would have said if I’d have asked them for the equivalent of a $700 iPad!
I don’t know if there’s an increase in spoiled brats, or if I’m just noticing it more, but I’ve read several pieces lately about entitled children, and apparently there’s even a prescription for raising one. It made me wonder, do we have too much as Americans and does being abundantly blessed make it harder to be grateful?
The fact is that the vast majority of children in America are rich compared to the rest of the world. Even most of the children that fall below the Federal Poverty Level and are considered “poor” by our government’s standards have air conditioning, a car, satellite TV, and even an Xbox or other game consoles. And please, don’t get me wrong — I want us to be affluent, to have savings, to be able to bless people with our wealth. Having wealth doesn’t mean you’re automatically going to be ungrateful or raise entitled children.
But are there things we can do as parents to help raise grateful children in such an entitled world? I think there are. Here are just a few suggestions, I know there are dozens more:
1. Don’t Overindulge Your Children
This is probably the hardest lesson to learn as a parent. If you’re anything like me, you save all year to buy all the perfect Christmas gifts and birthday presents your angel could possibly want — only to realize they’re oftentimes just as happy (if not happier) playing with the box or the bubble-wrap your expensive gift came in. Years ago we we began drastically reducing the number of gifts we buy and the money we spend on our kids for any occasion. There have been several years now where our kids have opted for no birthday presents, but instead have chosen just to have a small party at the house with pizza and movies. At Christmastime our children have even suggested giving some of the money we would spend on them to buy gifts for orphans or donating it to the church.
2. Help Your Kids Learn the Value of a Dollar
I know, I sound like my grandmother, but children have a hard time understanding just how long it takes you to earn the money needed to pay for all their wants and desires. One way we’ve taught our kids this lesson is by having them earn the money they need for something that’s outside what we would normally spend. Of course, we make sure they’re clothed and fed and have a bit for extras, but big items that aren’t in our budget have to be earned.
For example: when my daughter wanted $125 concert tickets, we had her do about 14 hours’ worth of work around the house and yard to earn it. We explained to her that at minimum wage it would take someone over 14 hours to earn that kind of cash. Of course, with younger children, this isn’t as easy to do. Keeping them on task for 14 hours would be impossible, but assigning smaller tasks that equal smaller rewards is a great place to start. If your child wants a new iTunes download or something extra at Target, decide what they’ll need to do to earn it.
We have also never had an allowance in our home. Just the term “allowance” assumes that they’re given something. Instead of giving our kids money for existing, we’ve allowed them to earn money for a job well done and for showing initiative. We have a list of chores posted with the amount for each job listed next to it. The children can write their names next to the jobs they’re going to do. Once they’re completed and checked off by a parent, they get paid. If one child wants to do all the work and earn more money, that option is available. If they don’t want to do anything, that option exists too, but there’s no pay day, no extra cash and no “fun money.
3. Open Their Eyes to the Truly Needy
Part of being grateful is realizing how much you really have and how desperately others need the bare essentials. How do you accomplish this in a society inundated with advertisements about the next upgrade to the iPhone 6 or the latest perfume from the Kardashians?
Service can come in many forms and obviously, you want to make sure you’re exposing your children to service in an environment suitable to their ages and understanding, but here are a few suggestions:
- For young kids, local food pantries are a great place to help out. When our kids were little we bought carts full of groceries and then delivered them to the food pantry at our church, explaining to our kids that there are hundreds of families in our community that didn’t have money to put food on the tables. It puts a whole new perspective on “there are children starving in Africa so eat your brussels sprouts.” They began to realize that kids right in their schools were going without. If you have a garden, you can also carve out an area to grow veggies especially to donate. Kids love to show off what they’ve grown and who better to receive it than someone in need?
- Putting together toiletry bags for the homeless shelters is another way to help your kids understand how much they have. You can buy travel size soap, shampoo, shaving cream, etc. and fill plastic bags with the items to deliver to your local shelter. If your kids are older, have them spend time there with the occupants when they deliver the bags.
- Donate old jackets and blankets to rescue missions in the winter. I know it sounds so simple, but you’d be amazed at the conversations this starts.
- Send your kids on a mission trip. By far, one of the most impactful experiences my children have had is going to other parts of the world and living with those in true poverty. They come back incredibly grateful for all they have. After serving for seven days in Belize (and returning with a broken leg), I asked my son about his favorite part of the trip. He responded with, “Mom, these kids have nothing. Like nothing. Not even more than one set of shoes, and they’re the happiest kids I’ve ever seen. How is that even possible?”
Maybe it’s possible because those children have so little that they are forced to value every bit of it. It’s like that old adage about toilet paper: the last square seems a whole lot more valuable than the first because you have to use it wisely.
Hopefully, this gives you a few ideas on how to raise grateful children in an entitled world. We still struggle with it in our home and we’re always looking for new ways to teach our kids these important lessons.
How do you teach your kids gratefulness?