The Birth and Death of Entitlement in Students

It’s not a new topic. Almost everyone I speak to agrees that American students in today’s middle class are just a tad bit spoiled. They act “entitled,” say school principals, faculty, deans and athletic coaches. In fact, the term “entitled” is the number one word employers use to describe recent graduates on the job.

Step back and reflect for a moment. If kids act entitled, it’s usually because we adults have allowed them to do so. Someone didn’t curb that attitude early on, and now as adolescents, they are in full throttle. But where did it begin?

According to research, a sense of entitlement in people tends to happen when two realities collide:

  1. When a person doesn’t comprehend the big picture.
  1. When a person has not experienced life’s normal hardships.

According to a report by Don Tennant, “A lot of what contributes to a sense of entitlement appears to take root very early in life—early childhood experiences in school and with parents … the mentality of ‘if something bad happens, it must not be my fault; if something good happens, it must be because of me.’”

Further, “Comprehensive studies of large swaths of different generations … [have] found higher levels of narcissism in the millennial generation.” One of the reasons we see such a high rate of entitlement among youth today is the rising levels of narcissism among them. Adults (parents, teachers, coaches, youth workers, administrators) have contributed to this mammoth sense of entitlement because we feared being the “bad cop,” providing both a big picture perspective on how most of the world lives and exposing them to real life experiences that reveal how life really works. So, let me share an old legend with you about a father who decided to fix this problem for his son. The story goes like this:

There once lived a rich businessman who had a lazy and fun-loving son. The businessman wanted his son to be hard-working and responsible, to realize the value of labor. One day, he summoned his son and said, “Today, I want you to go out and earn something. If you fail, you won’t have your meals tonight.”

The boy was callous and not used to any kind of work. This demand by his father scared him and he went crying straight to his mother. Her heart melted at the sight of tears in her son’s eyes. She grew restless. In a bid to help him, she gave him a gold coin. In the evening, when the father asked his son what he’d earned, the son promptly presented him the gold coin. The father then asked him to throw it into a well. The son did as he was told.

The father was a man of wisdom and experience and guessed that the source of the gold coin was the boy’s mother. The next day, he sent his wife to her parent’s town, then asked his son to go again and earn something with the threat of being denied the night meals if he failed. This time he went crying to his sister, who sympathized with him and gave him a rupee coin out of her own savings. When his father asked him what he had earned, the boy tossed the rupee coin at him. The father again asked him to throw it in a well. The son did it quite readily.

photo credit: Dinesh Cyanam via photopin cc

photo credit: Dinesh Cyanam via photopin cc

Again, the father’s wisdom told him that his son had not earned the rupee coin, so he then sent his daughter to her in-laws’ house.He then asked his son a third time to go out and earn something, in order to have something for dinner that night.

This time, with no one to help him out, the son was forced to go to the market in search of work. One of the shopkeepers there told him that he would pay him two rupees if he carried his trunk to his house. The rich man’s son could not refuse and was drenched in sweat by the time he finished the job. His feet were trembling and his neck was aching. There were rashes on his back. Returning home, he produced the two-rupee note to his father. This time, when the boy was asked to throw it into the well, the horrified son almost screamed. He couldn’t imagine throwing his hard-earned money away. Amid the sobbing, the boy stammered, “Father! My entire body is aching. My back has rashes, and you are asking me to throw the money into the well? I don’t think I can do it.”

At this, the father smiled. He told him that one feels this pain only when the fruits of hard labor are wasted. On the earlier two occasions, money was given to him. Therefore, he felt no pain throwing the coins into the well. The son had now realized the value of hard work. He vowed never to be lazy and to safely keep the father’s wealth. The father handed over the keys of his shop to the son.

Perhaps we need to introduce a relevant experience to our students that illustrates both big-picture perspective and real-world reality to them. I’m just sayin’…


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The Birth and Death of Entitlement in Students