So where exactly is the problem? When our children have the attitude that life owes them – everything. All that does is breed resentment and anger, when the expectations are not fulfilled. Take the thirteen-year-old who says she “needs” a cell phone (not a want but a need). If she does not get a cell phone, her feeling of this is unfair can lead to anger and very often acting out.
Another area where people have a sense of entitlement is in the realm of appreciation, which has the tremendous power to bond two people. Those who care and show their caring by giving, usually want to see some form of appreciation. What happens when we do something for someone else? Don’t most of us want to be recognized for the well-meaning act?
How do we teach children to feel, and show, appreciation? Only by showing them the difference between a true need and what is only a desire, a want. In fact, do our children even know what appreciation is? Do they know the importance of appreciation in their relationships with others? Why they should show appreciation and why not? Once you answer these questions you are on the road to knowing how to teach children to show, feel and appreciate.
The attitude of entitlement is often compared to narcissism whereby one is egotistic, conceited, vain, and perhaps even selfish. It’s like saying (and believing) that, “I want what I want because I want it – and I deserve it.” As we said, we see more and more examples of this sense of entitlement from kids and teens. They expect things from their parents, their teachers and even their peers. And if they don’t get what they want, they feel victimized – which again, almost always leads to anger and acting out.
Where does it say that we are entitled to anything? Are we entitled to a happy marriage, good children, wealth and having all our desires met? Obviously not. So, if we can teach our children, and ourselves, to embrace gratitude and eliminate the “its coming to me attitude,” we would all be less frustrated and happier people.
Gratitude can be defined as being grateful and appreciative of what we have. Rather than expecting everything, we change the attitude of expecting to one of being grateful for what we have received. This would be like recognizing everything I have as a gift. For example, my happy marriage, my good kids, my wealth, my appreciative boss, my eyesight and other senses – all wonderful gifts that have been bestowed on me by the Almighty. To being given these wonderful gifts mean we are receivers, not just givers.
Rabbi Dov Heller in his article Mastering The Gratitude Attitude relates the story of Bruriah, the wife of Rabi Meir. Bruriah and Rabi Meir, had two sons who both died on Shabbat. Bruriah decided not to tell her husband of the tragedy until after Shabbat since Jewish law prohibits public mourning on Shabbat. As nothing could be done until after Shabbat she kept the information to herself and allowed her husband to enjoy the day. When Shabbat was over Bruriah approached her husband with a legal question: What is the proper course of action if one person borrows two jewels from another and the original owner requests the jewels be returned. He replied that one is obligated to return the loan upon demand. She then took her husband to where their two dead sons lay and said, “G-d has requested that we return the loan of our two jewels.”
In a powerful manner, Bruriah teaches us a potentially life transforming lesson: Everything we have is on loan from the Almighty! Let’s strengthen our values of appreciation, realize that nothing is coming to us and that everything we have is a blessing. Our children learn from us. We, and our children, shall merit from such a change of beliefs and attitude.