Follow The Apparent Parent by Email

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Age and Entitlement

A kid shouldn't necessarily get everything
he asks for, especially when it's almost
pure fat and gristle.
It seems the older a child gets, the more they feel entitled to. My 3-year-old documents this well with his current fascination with the number three. We made homemade pizza this evening, and when the pepperoni came out he let us know his rights: “I need three pepperonis, ‘cause I’m 3.”

Though he still pronounces 3 “sree,” this is just one bargaining chip the little genius has picked up to help him with his supposed entitlements. I’ll grant the kid “life, love and the pursuit of happiness,” but beyond Constitutional entitlements, the kid’s really not guaranteed a lot.

That doesn’t mean I don’t entreat him to some of his arguments. If I’m in a good mood, and I don’t think his requests are too far off base, I’ll usually grant them. Three big greasy pepperonis? Definitely needs to catch me in the right mood. Three M&M’s? I’ll usually hook him up. When he asked for three pieces of pizza after I sliced the finished product up, I told him no initially before I got my wicked parent grin on and sliced the single piece I’d already gotten him into three smaller pieces. The kid was happy and nothing really changed.

Problem is, he’s smart. For a 3-year-old kid, he puts up some pretty sophisticated arguments sometimes. I just envision myself in ten years when he’s a teenager and sounds like a mini prosecution lawyer when I don’t give him his way like I did when he was just 3 years old.

It’s that mental fast forward button I have that often makes me say “no” even when I think it’s harmless. I think establishing a role as a loving provider who is able to say “no” without questions asked is important when they’re young. If the guidelines are set when the child really has no say in outcomes, the guidelines are much more likely to stick into teenage years and beyond.

Saying “yes” too often to invalid arguments could land you in trouble. Though farcical, I think of a scenario with a teenage boy coming home and saying, “Dad, I need 16 cars.”

Me: laughs.
Kid: “This is serious, Dad.”
Me: “Everything is serious at your age. But fine, I’ll hear the nonsense argument you have.”
Kid: “Here goes. I need 16 cars because,” (bet you know what’s coming) “I’m 16.”
Me: Laughs uncontrollably. “Boy, that argument hardly ever worked back when you were little and cute. It’s not going to get you one car now, much less 16 of ‘em.”
Kid: “You’re ruining my life!”
Me: “That’s what you said when you turned 6 and I told you you couldn’t have 6 baseball gloves.”
Kid: “Really? I wanted 6 baseball gloves? I don’t even like baseball.”
Me: “You should probably stop liking cars too because this argument’s leading down the same road.”

Yeah I’m sure there’s no son that doesn’t belong to Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie that would actually use that argument for 16 cars, but you see my point. A parent has the right to say “no” at any age to any request. By virtue of the fact we have raised the child the best we know how, we’ve earned that entitlement. But no age, whether 3 or 13, comes with an entitlement from parent to child.

So I guess my point is to know when to say “no” to a kid. Yeah, many requests are harmless, especially coming from the innocent mouth of a 3-year-old boy convinced that 3 pepperonis will make him grow big and strong like Daddy. But I don’t want to plant myself behind a wall of precedent where I find I can no longer reasonably say “no” to unreasonable requests from my children.

For a while, when we went to a certain store, we loved to see how our kids lit up when we got them a $1 Hot Wheels car every now and then. Pretty soon, we found we could no longer go to that store without them feeling like they got to walk out of the store with a brand new toy. The magic was lost to the spirit of entitlement. Saying “no” became difficult and I found I was becoming one of those parents I have always abhorred that will let their spoiled brats pick out a toy every time they are in a store.

Let’s just say this is not a pleasant corner to paint yourself into. We have since made severe course corrections, and have devised methods to make sure they know they are entitled to nothing at the store. So maybe next time your child comes to you with a request, ask yourself if it will put you in a scenario where giving in will become habitual. Maybe a “no” should come out, even if the kid is just asking for “sree gummy bears, ‘cause I’m sree.”

How do you combat child entitlement in your household?

No comments:

Post a Comment