When I was 16 my parents gave me a small hatchback car for Christmas. I was so excited, I didn't even wait to open other presents. I jumped in my tiny used car like it was a magic carpet and sped down the ice laden streets at 4 a.m. After the Christmas break was over, I proudly drove my little car to school, parked next to my friend's Jaguar and locked the doors. When I turned around I saw a group of boys sniggering and pointing at my tiny prize. "What's that Symonds, a jalopy?" I was shocked. I knew what it had meant for my parents to buy this car, I was intensely grateful. But their comment instilled shame in me, shame I knew I shouldn't feel.
My sister complained because her friends were given brand new very expensive vehicles for birthdays and Christmas. Every teen wants to be the one with the nicest gift. What I didn't realize was that my parents gave us a great gift. They taught us to work hard for what we wanted and allowed us to feel the true joy of finally achieving a goal, like the joy I felt when I bought my first nice car on my own.
Entitlement is rampant today, comparing what you have to what others have, never makes anyone feel happy. So what can we do to teach our children that comparison gets us nowhere fast? Someone will always have more than they do.
Be the example
If you have ever said, "I wish I had a boat like John" or, "Wouldn't it be nice if we could buy a house like that," understand your children are listening to you. They are learning how to feel, and live, from your example. Try instead to make comments like, "I am so glad we have this car paid off, and I get the opportunity to learn how to fix it" or, "Isn't it nice to make small improvements on our house, one step at a time?"
Expressing gratitude for what you have can teach your children that more is not better. Sometimes more is simply deeper in debt or more to clean or care for. Being happy when we have enough for our needs teaches children to appreciate life no matter what home they own or car they drive.
Have a family economy
Allow your children to earn money, or free time, or even objects through work. Teaching them they have the power to earn certain things, and the work involved, will teach them that everything comes with a price. They will soon learn the price they are willing to pay.
I remember when my 7-year-old son wanted a toy, I gave him chores he could do to earn it. It was fairly expensive and took him three months to earn. When he finally took his money to the store and bought the toy, he was ecstatic. A few days later he didn't look very happy. I asked him why. He said, "I'm not sure this toy was worth the money." I was so happy he was learning value.
Allow older children to manage a budget
Teach children that money and lifestyle is earned — not an entitlement. Allow them to experience adulthood in a safe environment.
One mother took the money she would have spent on school clothes, toys, entertainment and sports and put it in a bank account. She gave each of her children a fake checkbook. When they did chores they earned money. If they spent all their money at the movies and didn't have enough for school clothes she didn't rescue them. She encouraged them to keep a budget and taught them about budgeting. She also let them suffer the natural and logical consequences of breaking that budget.
This gave the family many opportunities to discuss entitlement and to appreciate earning their own way.
Help your children find a cause
Stepping outside themselves to work for a greater good can have a powerful effect on your children. When your children work hard to collect donations for the local homeless shelter, or raise money for a sick child or hospital, they get to see the gratitude expressed from the receiving party. This will teach your children the power of giving, and serving others.
Correct the problem
If you see your child bullying, or teasing another for what they don't have, stop it. You, the parent, have the power to help your teen see others in an empathetic way. Set the example. If you see someone begging or in need, be aware of what you say and how you respond to them.
Parents are the solution to the entitlement epidemic. You can be the change. Take some time this month to help your children understand the poison of comparison, and the blessing of gratitude.