Following a year without TV, we got cable last month. After weeks of heavy Netflix usage during my husband’s recovery from surgery, we decided a few months with TV would be nice during homebound New Baby Life. My husband, an avid hunter, most enjoys the Outdoor Life Network. Our son delights in watching hunting shows with him – they watch 15 minutes before the rest of the household wakes up – and then shooting his bow in the backyard.
The TV is visible from the landing outside his room, and when he emerges at night after lights-out ‘for a drink of water’ or ‘to use the potty’ (you know the tricks), he’ll scan the downstairs to see if it’s on. “Daddy, you’re not watching hunting without me, are you?” he’ll call from the top of the stairs. But this sweet request of a son desiring to bond with his dad became, in short order, a fairly directive and even commanding query. If the Outdoor Life Network was being viewed in the house, he felt had a right to be in the room.
This scenario – which on its face may seem harmless enough – is one of several similar examples I can cite. As I’ve reflected on these episodes, I’ve realized that our son is displaying a certain sense of entitlement. He simply assumes that he should be able to do certain things – and that this should be obvious to all.
It’s no secret that we Americans have a growing sense of entitlement. We deserveto feel great today – to have a latte, those highlights, that new car or house. These messages, marketed to us through media , are ubiquitous in today’s ‘what-have-you-done-for-me-lately?’ cultural mindset. We are ‘special;’ we are ‘worth it.’ Most of us Christians recognize this societal reality and eschew it – even as, of course, the messages’ lies still impact us and must be rooted out of souls.
Still, I was a bit surprised to see this attitude crop up so blatantly in my son. Our parenting mode doesn’t mimic mainstream America, by which I mean we strive for moderation and simplicity in our activities and material possessions; we’re fairly firm disciplinarians; we frequently identify and thank God for our blessings. I wondered where a sense of entitlement was coming from in him.
Perhaps it comes, quite simply, from having two invested parents who highly prioritize their family… in a culture that’s already much more child-centric than it’s ever been before. Each night after dinner my husband plays with our kids. “What do you want to do,” he may ask, “shoot your bow or ride your scooter up the bike path?” This is, of course, wonderful and as it should be – kids having phenomenal dads, like my husbands, who spend ample time with them and truly enjoy them.
Yet kids begin to feel over time that Dad must spend time with them in this way – that he owesthem playtime. It becomes routine, expected. Likewise we receive fairly frequent packages in the mail from grandparents, as we moved cross-country last year. It’s wonderful that we receive trinkets from family who loves us… yet now my son says “maybe there’ll be a package today” every time we check the mail. Another example: my friend said her sons ask her expectantly each morning, “where are we going to go today?” – and then seem dejected or annoyed if they perchance are staying home rather than going to playgroup or the playground or to visit friends. These fun activities are their norm. Her kids, like mine, can feel they are their daily right. Mom owes them a fulfilling day.
Today’s America is, compared to most places on earth, a lovely, positive, opportunity-filled place to live. There’s far more pleasure and fun than challenge or hardship for most. And consequently we’re basically all getting expectant, spoiled, and self-centered. This is the world we live in, and the world our kids are growing up in too.
And yet… in the context of our culture and these realities, how can we best teach our children the import of Jesus’ words: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul”? For an entitlement mindset is the opposite of “taking up our cross and following Jesus;” it’s the antonym of self-denial.
So part of training our children in righteousness must include the stamping out of an entitlement mindset in our kids – as in ourselves – wherever we see it rearing its head. We must root ourselves in the truths that we’re all unworthy and desesrve nothing (but death) and are lost apart from Christ; that all we have is a gift from God; and that to whom much has been given, much will be expected. These realities must be rehearsed in dozens of ways, in word and through action, in our households each day. Without these deliberate efforts on parents’ parts, our kids will absorb the world’s messages of entitlement.
Looks like I better get going…!