Sunday, March 15, 2009

Me, Myself and MINE: 3 Year Olds and the Entitlement Crisis

Good driving rewards you with lower insurance rates. Good work on your job means that you probably deserve a promotion. Good grades might earn you 20 bucks. Being a three year old, however, earns you, at best, an afternoon snack and a new toy. Agreed? So, why then do the classes of 3 year olds that I work with have such a strong sense of entitlement? They can't even spell it for God's sake! Let's dig deeper. One could blame this on a number of factors: new age "let's talk to and rationalize with 3-year old's until they understand action and consequence" parenting; decline of the institution of family and traditional family roles; the inflated, 21st century "me, myself and mine" mentality that has clearly spilled over into the next generation. I'd like to blame it, in part, on what I call the Educated Parent Syndrome....and what me and my co-worker have so politically correctly termed EPS.

While the educated parent is socially, upwardly mobile, has a great job and can provide their children with far more material possessions than their parents ever could, they often fail to provide their children with the one thing that they desperately need to lead healthy, balanced lives.....DISCIPLINE. Let's spell it. D-I-S-C-I-P-L-I-N-E. I find that this happens mainly because discipline and rules, were the one thing that they felt they got enough/too much of when THEY were kids. But I mean really folks, we could give our kids the moon, but what a disservice that we do them by allowing them to think that everything they touch is theirs simply because they exist. The day school where I work has a selection of these types of kids. Most, extremely privileged. Some have nannys. A few have parents that have sense enough to discipline them. A nice ratio I suppose. While most days teaching 3 year old have their challenges, I gotten used to them. What I cannot, however, get over are persistent outbursts like (at snack time): "I DON'T WANT CHEESE NIPS!! I ONLY EAT WHEAT THINS!!" Part of me wants to give them the punishment that their parents never did...the other part of me wants to mourn the years of their lives that are to come, the parents that will have to deal with them and the world that will have to teach them hard lessons.

I know, I know. You are thinking to yourself, GEEZ JONAE! They are kids! Why are you being so hard on them? They don't know any better. But, I ask, when do they learn?!?!? The world is soon to endow them with a great deal of personal responsibility. Black kids, especially, are given this responsibility very early on, leaving little room for error. When one does not address the idea of personal responsibility and hard work at an early age the list of failures in adulthood become endless. When we fail to discipline them and teach them the right way to go, we basically hand them over to be raised by the world, the most selfish, entitled beast of them all. I've seen far too many cases of this. Really, indignant, entitlement-ridden 3 year olds are the least of our concerns. The real issue is that these kids become adults with the very same attitude. You might have met them before. You might be friends with them. You might even BE them. They think the world revolves around them, their wants and their timing. Wouldn't you take this idea of childhood entitlement more seriously if you knew exactly how it impaired the development of a child and an adult. And honestly folks, I really did refrain from blogging about this until it became overwhelming irritating...and it did.

As a reference, this USA Today article was particularly interesting to me because it explores the intersection of these issues: education, parenting, and culture. Have a read. It really brought home some of the things that I have observed in the classroom and assumed about new age parenting. It says (if you haven't the time or attention span to read it) that while the trappings of well-educated parents provide a multitude of OPTIONS for their kids, the article cautions these parents that these OPTIONS are not a substitute for the work-ethic and discipline that we should be instilling in our children. Translation: Scrap the entitlement and teach them how to clean their rooms and study. It will take them much farther than the occasional temper tantrum over white instead of wheat bread.

Lastly, in my typical disclaimer like fashion, I'd like to stress that I am not blaming well-educated, well-to-do parents for the plethora of 20 something brats that populate the earth nor am I saying that the presence of OPTIONS in a child's life is a bad things. I, like USA Today, just want you to be careful and intentional about balance. My sincere belief is that at least part of a child's rearing has to involve corporal punishment. I know this sounds one-sided from girl who got her behind whooped (wh-oop-ed) (a standard, cultural synonym for a black parent "spanking") regularly and turned out fine. And I know that spankings don't solve everything in the way of discipline. They merely show a child that action and consequence will always trump the luxury of options and secondly that the world does not revolve around petty, individual need; most importantly, that there are consequence if they think that they do.

So folks, let's take hold of this startling realization: we came into this world with nothing and will leave with just that. Ok. Now, tell your local 3-year old :-)

1 comment:

Saumya said...

WOW. I could not agree with you more. The world seems to be increasingly populated with spoiled rotten toddlers. And not that I am an authority on this by any means, but it seems to always stem from the parents. It's almost as though the kid has all the control in the parent- child relationship. Parents are afraid to discipline their children. And every parent seems to be in a contest with the other parents for which kid will be at the more expensive school, have the nicer clothing, better toys, more attention, etc. For crying out loud, whatever happened to traditional upbringing? These kids are a hop, skip, and leap away from being the subject of MTV's Super Sweet 16 in the future.