Culture Challenge of the Week: Taking Things for Granted

Rebecca Hagelin
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Posted: Aug 21, 2014 12:01 AM
Culture Challenge of the Week: Taking Things for Granted

We live in a culture that is all about “me, me, me.” Take a stroll through the mall on any given day and you will see children whining when they can’t have the latest toy or video game, while discouraged parents shrug their shoulders and give in. Hang around any retail store and it may seem like the “Gimme" generation is running the show. You hear an “I want this” and the register replies with a hearty “ch-ching!"

Overindulging children instead of teaching them the value of earning what they receive is a big problem. It creates an unrealistic perception of life, turns our sons and daughters into "brats" and even weakens our nation and economy in the long-run. If our children don’t learn the meaning of earning through practical and real experience as children, adulthood will hit them like a slap in the face. They will feel like they were thrown into the pool before they learned how to swim. Some will drown - and some will cling to others and cause the great swimmers who feed the economy to be bogged down and maybe even drown too. Creating a sense of entitlement ruins individuals, and if we as a society create too many of them, the nation can come to ruin too.

Childhood, while a time of great joy and innocence, is also a time to plunk children in the shallow end and teach them how to swim basic strokes. That way, when they get to the “deep end’ of adulthood, they are strong swimmers, and able to handle turbulent waters or whatever obstacles may come their way.

Helping children learn the value of earning provides real life skills and gives them a deep sense of satisfaction. As humans, we were created to work. We love to see the fruits of our labors, whether that is a life accomplishment like building a company or everyday tasks like finishing a project around the house. We were not created to lie around slothfully. Perpetual laziness creates unhappiness every time. Working toward a goal and feeling pride in our efforts is a huge motivator - and we must continually allow our children experience it or we are unwittingly denying them much happiness. Children who work hard and feel the satisfaction that comes with completing that work and earning its reward will have a deeper sense of self-worth and capability than children who are merely given the things they desire.

We shouldn’t treat our kids’ desires as bad things. Instead, our task is to teach our children the link between their desire to have privileges and possessions with strong work ethic.

In a 1981 article in the American Journal of Psychiatry, George Valliant, the director of the study, reported that the single biggest predictor of adult mental health was “the capacity to work learned in childhood”—In other words, the development of a work ethic. Men who Valliant described as “competent and industrious at age 14”—Men who had developed a work ethic during the Industry Stage of human development—were twice as likely to have warm relationships, five times more likely to have well-paying jobs and 16 times less likely to have suffered significant unemployment.

There is a direct, positively correlative relationship between combating an attitude of entitlement in your child’s youth and his or her happiness and success later in life.

How To Save Your Family: Teach Your Children the Beauty of Work

Dealing with attitudes of entitlement is actually easy if you start when they are young: Identify privileges and material goods your child values and link them to some sort of quantifiable task. You can start the next time your child asks for something.

Find ways to teach them about entrepreneurship early in life —whether it’s opening their own lemonade stand, lining up babysitting jobs, or taking on a paper route—these time-honored “classic” kids’ jobs still teach great skills and give children a sense of accomplishment when done well.

We all know how much fun it was to earn our first dollars as children. But if no one is there to guide and encourage us to earn honestly, spend wisely, and give to others freely, the culture of “gimme, gimme” soon takes over. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Humans are hard to satisfy. But we feel much more satisfied when we know that we have earned what we have. Teaching your child how to have that profound sense of satisfaction is a lesson that cannot be learned too early in life.

There are a few keys to remember when opening your child's eyes to the value of earning:

1) You must be consistent and true to your word. When you promise your child something if he or she fulfills an assigned task, you must follow through. I cannot emphasize that enough. Being true to your word is always critical - and that includes in earning your child’s trust and establishing a regular pattern of work followed by just reward. As adults, we know that we do not always feel the immediate fruits of our labors. But children have short attention spans, and it is very important to make the connection between work and reward as clear as possible.

2) Thematically link the task you give your child to the reward he or she seeks. For example, if your daughter asks for a prom dress that costs $100, tell her she can earn it by working 10 hours of community service at a center that helps underprivileged women—women who will likely never wear a prom dress. Not only will she gain some perspective and realize what a true privilege it is to dress up in expensive clothes with friends and have fun, she will also attach value to something she would have otherwise taken for granted.

3) Finally, make the task straightforward and quantifiable. Give it a clear beginning and a concrete conclusion. Both my sons had to earn the rank of Eagle Scout before acquiring their driver’s licenses. That hard-earned piece of plastic bears a lot of responsibility—including making acquiring the ability to make decisions that end up being life and death decisions. It was critical for my husband and me that our sons understood the responsibility they would take along with the increased freedom that becoming a driver would bring. In the process of being rewarded with their driver’s licenses at the completion of the years of dedication and hard work it took to become Eagles, our sons also attained the life-long honor and rewards that come with being an Eagle Scout. Everybody won in this scenario - and today as men in their mid-20's, our sons continue to reap the benefits of their concentrated, dedicated work.

If you realize you have erred in over-indulging your children or maybe in not even understanding the beauty of focused, quality work yourself, there is a fantastic organization that was formed to help all of us make the connection between satisfaction, prosperity and work. A life well-lived means being able to accomplish, to give to others, to know that you have never been a burden to someone else. The Institute for Faith, Work and Economics (IFWE) has an inspiring blog called, "Creativity. Purpose. Freedom" that you can receive postings from to help remind you in today's "gimme" world that real joy and satisfaction comes from being able to give and contribute - and to enjoy the fruits of your own labor.