Why Can’t I Have What I Want?

By: Jessica Gilstrap, LMHC
More and more these days, we find parents having to justify to their children why all of their wants and wishes are not met. Often we find that the parents are feeling guilty, because so many of our children today “expect”, “feel entitled” and even “demand” that all of their wishes be fulfilled freely.

Many of my discussions with parents often center themselves around the subject of “Entitlement”, and their child’s perception of the world. “I am, therefore I am entitled to my wishes, because everyone else has whatever it is that I want.” This is not a new challenge, but one that has become much more prevalent as our society has become more affluent and financially stratified.

Most of our teenagers today are grandchildren of the Baby Boomer generation. In many cases, our teenager’s grandparents grew up in a society that was just recovering from depression, the Great War, and tremendous opportunity for growth and wealth. A very strong work ethic remained in place, two parent families were the norm, and the middle-class was the dominant class where most folks worked very hard for the basics in life. Most Boomers became inculcated in the traditions of hard work, and their goal was for their children to have the things that they did not have growing up; like new clothes, an automobile, overseas travel, free college, and ample spending money. When we look around, it seems that they were fairly successful in this goal. Our parents today, by in large, have enjoyed more opportunities to go to college, have better paying jobs, and greater opportunities to gain wealth and position. Is this a bad thing? Absolutely not! It is the dream of our parents and grandparents, and the fulfillment of our personal goals and ambitions. So what’s the problem? How does this relate to “Entitlement and our children”?

Teenagers today are being exposed to more affluence than ever before. They are bombarded with the most titillating advertising designed by some of the brightest minds in the world creating a desire to buy or consume. Brand names have taken the place of need. Brand new has taken the place of repair or second hand. Computer e-mails have taken the place of handwritten letters and personal notes. In short, the lives of our children are moving at a far more rapid pace than our grandparents or our parents ever could have imagined. Our children see young athletes, rap singers, computer whizzes making millions easily without the seemingly hard work ethic that parents and grandparents preach. So, what are some things we can do with these societal changes?

First, recognize that this is a phenomenon that is existent within a society that is experiencing great affluence. Also know that because of our affluent society the entitlement issue may have been caused not by what you have done or failed to do, but by what your child has been exposed to on a daily basis.

Secondly, know that the cure for entitlement issues is found in communication, discipline, setting boundaries and adhering to them, and in some cases tough love.

Thirdly, know also that you can work through this challenge if you are consistent when dealing with your children on this very hard issue. It requires your close attention.

What steps should I take?

This all depends on the age of your child, but in principle the rules apply at all ages. First, begin to discuss the financial impact of today’s life. Permit the age and maturity to be a gauge for specificity. When a challenge comes up, discuss the alternatives and the costs associated with each alternative. Work with your child to make a choice on which alternative will fit yours and the child’s budget. Recently I was discussing this with one of my own childhood friends, and he was commenting on how his mother took him shopping and gave him a specific amount he could spend on clothes for that month. Instead of selecting several cheaper shirts, he chose one very expensive name brand shirt. To make the point, his mother caused him to wear that shirt every day for a month. To this day, it is a great lesson to him. This is the communication piece that we discussed earlier. Communicate clearly what the boundaries are that you are willing to commit to, and stick by them.

Each child should have jobs or chores to complete around the house on a scheduled basis. Remember that entitlement is a state of mind that exists without the realization of cost. When you have your children working for their money, it is much easier to discuss alternatives. Help your child develop a budget. It should be simple, and designed for their age bracket. They must learn to relate cost to wants. When we do a budget, the selection of alternatives become an easier decision for your child. This is the part that demands discipline. You must work with the child to maintain this budget. When you place emphasis on this area, children will recognize the importance for themselves. Set a goal for that want your child has in mind. Celebrate their success when they meet that goal that they saved for.

Finally, remember that in our affluent society some child will always have a newer car, better clothes, more money, and a bigger home. This is the tough love part. Do not cave in! This will teach your child a life lesson that work produces alternatives from which we can choose. We can never have everything. If we did, we have nothing to work for.

In closing, do not become discouraged. This is an issue that all parents face. Be determined to give your child all you can, but do so in a way that they realize that it is through hard work, savings, and wise decision making that we realize our dreams.

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