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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, Peter DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. Former superintendent Michael Nelson is a frequent contributor. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Are U.S. Children Too Entitled?

By Peter DeWitt — July 26, 2012 4 min read
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A friend of mine was on the train from N.Y.C. to Poughkeepsie and watched as a few young children began jumping around the seats and doing pull-ups on the luggage bars. As much as most adults would prevent their children from doing these activities in the first place, these children were fortunate enough to have parents and relatives who cheered them on. Apparently they must be training for the Cirque du Soleil.

Some passengers on the train stared in disbelief and others tried to ignore the spectacle. Using her 21st century skills, my friend posted a comment about it on Facebook and a few people chimed in saying a number of things I am not able to write. Mostly, it boiled down to the idea that kids and parents have changed. This is not the first time most of us have heard these comments. Actually, “kids have changed” is a phrase that has been around for decades.

Parenting in the U.S. seems to be churning out a population of overly indulged kids that act like Augustus Gloop from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. That is, if you believe everything you read on Facebook. It has been said that children in the U.S. score low on international comparisons in math and ELA but are number one in self-esteem. Is that such a bad thing? Only when it prevents children from seeing that life is filled with successes and failures, and that they are not entitled to everything they want.

It is important to mention that not all parenting has changed. There are still many parents who expect their children to behave while they are on public transportation, in a restaurant or at the mall. However, there are also helicopter parents who want to bubble wrap their children and expect them to get a trophy every time they show up to a competition. They want their child to get the best seat at the movies, the best table at a restaurant and the most gifts at their birthday party. That sense of entitlement will only get worse as the child grows older.

Failure Happens
I wonder why some parents want their children to get a trophy for everything or why they want to shield them from hardships or failure. Sure, no one wants to see their child go through a tough experience but it’s often those tough experiences that shape us and make us who we are today. It’s when we don’t get what we want that we truly understand what is important. In a society where the slogan that “second place is the first loser,” we are at risk of raising children who only look out for number one and neglect the people around them.

I was fortunate growing up. Although my dad passed away when I was young, my mom was there to support me and she never made me feel as though I should expect the best of everything. Life is hard, and for many of us, we achieve success through hard work, not because we are entitled to it. As a former long distance runner, I won some local races, finished in the middle of the pack for most of them and finished near the end at some of them, but my family was there to cheer me on during each one. They did not say the other guys cheated because I didn’t win. Sometimes my one of my brothers would look at me and say, “Wow...I came to watch you and that’s the best you could do,” as he smiled and we walked away from the competition.

The reality is that we do not always win and sometimes we come in dead last. Winning is great but you learn a lot about yourself from coming in dead last. To act like that is not a part of life is doing a disservice to all children and it makes them feel as though they should be entitled to a trophy for every match when they really aren’t. They grow up to be adults who think they should get thanked for showing up to work. We truly get thanked for showing up to work on pay days or when we complete a successful project. If you’re fortunate enough to work in a school, we get thanked every day that the students enter our classrooms.

In the End
Our job as educators is to teach students about ELA, math, science and a variety of other liberal arts subjects. However, it is also about teaching students that they are not entitled to everything they want. Life is not only about take, it’s about give and take. Not all students get A’s and not all students can win races. Sometimes we try really hard and still end up short.

Most adults cannot walk into work and say, “I don’t like my boss, so I would like a new one.” (Actually, they can they just may end up with a new one because they’ll be looking for a new job). We live in a society where people buy houses they can’t afford and then blame someone else for selling it to them. There are people who rack up huge credit card bills because they want what they want when they want it, and then get upset because they can’t pay their bills. To quote John Stossell...”give me a break.”

In the long run we need to make sure we are preparing students for the future. The best part of life is when we do things for other people and do not put ourselves first. If you want to see a great example of that, read Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters by John Steptoe. Children, and some adults, need to understand that they cannot have everything they want, and it starts by telling them they can’t swing on the luggage bars on the train.

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Peter will be doing a free webinar for Corwin Press on August 7th at 1:00 p.m. PST where he will offer resources on how to safeguard LGBT students and create an inclusive school environment. Click here to register.

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.