From the rights of the first born to gain the father’s inheritance or title to those who hunted or fished receiving first spoils, those who had special abilities or skills, have always sought, expected and received extra or special attention from society. In recent history, CEOs, musicians, athletes, singers, politicians and stars expect more and more money and respect &ndash even if they didn’t earn it. However, this is exactly the opposite of what Christ taught and modeled for his followers. In God’s kingdom, “the last shall be first” and “no greater love has a man for a friend than to lay down his life.”

Indeed, if we truly love Christ, we live to serve others not ourselves. This raises a lot of questions about how we should live and what we should be teaching ad modeling for our children. Are our children entitled to $100 shoes and $115 jeans?

What is entitlement?

Originating from the Latin word in the fourteenth century, entitlement has long been a struggle in society. In this context, Merriam Webster’s dictionary defines “entitlement” as a “belief that one is deserving of or entitled to certain privileges.” Children can grow up feeling as if their parents, grandparents, employer, the government or the world “owes” them certain things.

Debate has raged for centuries as to its origin. Is it learned? Or is entitlement an innate sense that wells up inside a person and displays itself when one doesn’t get his or her own way? Is it the “sin nature” referred to by Paul in the New Testament and exhibited in the behavior of the first child, Cain?

Though we can’t know for sure, we do know that it’s no fun to be around or work with people who have a sense of entitlement. They expect others to bail them out of their messes, give them money they haven’t earned, to get a promotion though they haven’t worked hard or have a sharp chip on their shoulder. Teens and preteens with a sense of entitlement expect privileges and allowances without any responsibilities or rules, such as chores or curfew. Elementary children with it expect to win every game and throw tantrums when their team loses.

What can we do to help our children be appreciative?

Being raised on a farm, my guardians were much stricter than other parents. My life was simple — no TV, no rock music, and I could never miss church under any circumstances. My teenage life on the farm was not consumed by materialism. We worked hard on the farm for food. “Getting stuff” was not the goal. Everyone earned his or her keep. My friends had transistor radios and other electronics but I was not permitted to complain or chase after such things. They were not needed.

And my guardians were right. Hearing the word, “No,” and working for what I desired helped me to internalize self control and maintain strong financial priorities. I believe a person is due pay for work that he or she does. I believe a person needs to work and earn money in order to buy luxuries in life.

I wonder how different I would be if my parents had given me everything I wanted when I wanted it? Would I be selfish, self-centered and expect people to “pay” my way in the world? Would I be lazy? There is no scientific evidence or studies around entitlement, but if there were, I suspect they’d learn that certain things parents do and don’t do contribute to a child’s sense of entitlement, such as:

  • No age-appropriate chores that help a child contribute to the family.
  • Unlimited spending money or too much “stuff.”
  • Accumulation of stuff for the sake of stuff.
  • Bailing children out of messes created by their own mistakes rather than letting them experience painful consequences, such as bad grades.
  • Failure to give children responsibility for their decisions, including the positive and negative consequences.

It’s easy for teenagers to focus on what they don’t have or to feel deprived in a consumer society such as the United States. They’re inundated with advertising that tells them they “must” have the latest gadget, specific brand-name shoes or jeans that are out of our budget. They live like spoiled children while their parents struggle to make ends meet. These teenagers and young adults believe they are “entitled” to rights, privileges and things by virtue of their birth. They don’t have a sense that they need to work hard to earn their way.

The life lesson that all children, teens and adults must learn is that life isn’t fair, and we must learn to deal with that cold, harsh reality. Just because we exist doesn’t entitle us to privileges, nice cars and nice homes. This sense of entitlement can be seen in the grocery line when a child throws a tantrum because mom refuses to purchase a toy or candy bar. If mom gives in, the sense of entitlement is reinforced. If not, the child learns that there are boundaries and eventually, with continued effort, those boundaries will become self control.