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From Entitled to Empowered: Building Four Virtues in Students to Combat Entitlement in the Classroom

Professors from universities across the U.S. have all told me the same story. Their students are increasingly portraying feelings of entitlement toward good grades, adjusted deadlines, class perks and special treatment. One professor said a student told him, “I pay your salary, so you have to do what I want.”


In the response section to a 2012 Chronicle of Higher Education article, educators discussed incidents that are shocking in both their frequency and similarity:

  • “I attend class regularly and do all the readings. I deserve at least a B.”
  • “I had a big stats exam last week, so I should be able to turn in my English paper a week late without a penalty.”
  • “I worked hard, so I should receive an A on this project.”

Young people’s unprecedented level of self-infatuation was revealed in a new analysis of the American Freshman Survey, which has asked students to rate themselves compared to their peers since 1966. Over the last thirty years, narcissism and entitlement has risen sharply among university students.

In a survey of corporate recruiters by the Wall Street Journal and Harris Interactive, college students were told that there was an “E-word” that employers felt described them best, then were asked to guess what that word was. The young people guessed a lot of words — excellent, entrepreneur, energetic, enterprising — but none of them guessed the right one: entitled.

Where Does Entitlement Come From?

Obviously, this challenge isn’t limited to college students. It’s in K-12 education, too.
The National Institute on Media and the Family and the Minnesota PTA have even launched a statewide campaign encouraging parents and teachers to start saying no to young people more often. They are begging parents to read David Walsh’s book,No: Why Kids — of All Ages — Need to Hear It and Why Parents Can Say It. The campaign blames DDD (Discipline Deficit Disorder) for students’ inflated expectations and feelings of entitlement. So, where does it come from?
A Sense of Entitlement Stems From a Variety of Factors:

  1. The New Parental Report Card 
    The new gauge says the more you give your kids, the better parent you are.
  2. Over-Praising for Performances
    Ribbons, trophies and excess praise cause them to expect rewards for average, or minimal, effort.
  3. Portable Technology 
    Social media sites enable them to build a me-centered platform — 24/7.
  4. Media and Society
    The message is: be dissatisfied — you deserve more; you need more.
  5. A Celebrity Culture 
    We’re exposed to the Hollywood lifestyle and poor behavior of celebrities, and accept their acts as the norm.

Four Ingredients in the Recipe

So, what can a teacher or coach do? Well-adjusted students emerge most often from a healthy classroom and home. It works like a cake recipe. Several ingredients, mixed together in the right amounts are delicious. It may sound old fashioned, but the recipe for healthy students, who don’t act “entitled,” requires an environment that cultivates the following timeless virtues:

1. Patience — I can delay gratification. 
Patience flies in the face of a sense of entitlement. If I have to wait on something, it forces me to delay my own gratification, to see a larger perspective and to not put myself first. This is why past generations have called patience a “virtue.” It’s a tangible sign of maturity. So — what if teachers talked about the lost art of patience in all of us, and in response, challenged students to initiate a project requiring them to wait on a pay-off, without seeing immediate results. Discuss the results.

2. Gratitude — I am thankful for what I enjoy.
Cicero said, “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.” Several high schools have experimented with the art of gratitude and what it does for students. These schools have done experiments asking students to keep a gratitude journal and to express thanks to people in their life. It has been transformational on their satisfaction, health and optimism, and has lowered their sense of entitlement for what they don’t yet possess by changing their focus.

3. Responsibility — I must “own” the outcomes of my conduct.
Consider this contrast. When I feel entitled, I look to someone else for something I want or need. When I take responsibility, I look to myself to earn what I want or need. Discuss this contrast with your class, then for one week, challenge students to hold each other accountable to not blame anyone for what’s gone wrong, nor look to anyone else for their contentment. At the conclusion, discuss the power of refusing to be a “victim” of circumstances. Talk about how liberating it is to not depend on someone else to make you happy.

4. Humility — I don’t see myself as more deserving than anyone else.
Humility is an enemy of entitlement because it maintains perspective: I am no more deserving of special treatment than anyone else. It doesn’t mean thinking less of myself, but thinking of myself… less. Try this experiment. After discussing this truth, challenge students to choose humility in at least one interaction each day. Say in your self-talk: This person is just as important as I am. Then, serve them in some way. Choose to practice servant-leadership with that person.

Ashley was a junior at the University of Georgia when she heard how residents of Athens, her hometown, experienced the third lowest poverty in the state. Immediately, she felt compelled to act. Feeling gratitude and responsibility, she began to save money by riding her bike to class and to work, and going without groceries for a month. Then, she entered the Fuller Center Bicycle Adventure. She raised money to end poverty by riding 3,600 miles from Washington State to Washington, D.C. Incredible. She raised thousands of dollars for the poor by doing so.

When I asked Ashley why she did it, she just said, “I knew my gratitude had to show up in responsible action. Doing this just made sense.”

There was not a hint of entitlement in her. May her tribe increase.


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  1. Suzie Hannon on March 4, 2014 at 8:47 am

    I agree with the entire article, but I think you’re missing a bigger ingredient than helping obvious people in need. A bigger problem where we live is that everyone is front and center for the big altruistic acts, but the daily acts of respect and humility are missing. It is easy to help a family with sick children or someone who is starving, but just as easy for the same people to run to the principal if their kid gets a deserved B. Our high school had 7 valedictorians last year, a number absolutely inflated because they don’t have weighted grades. So kids who are capable of getting B’s in honors classes take non-honors classes to get A’s. The true honors students who get A’s in AP and college courses share the stage with the average students parading as elite. Parents of these “valedictorians” insist that straight A’s are straight A’s and their kids deserve elite status. One of our valedictorians did not take a single honors English or science course in four years, but they readily accepted an elite academic award. What’s missing today is not only being grateful for what you have, but acknowledging what you don’t and letting others garner the respect they have earned. There’s a little shame missing now a days.

    • Tim Elmore on March 11, 2014 at 7:26 am

      Thank you for sharing Suzie. Your comment reminds me of the “Every kid gets a trophy” mentality. Hopefully our adults can soon see the longterm effects of today’s decisions.

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From Entitled to Empowered: Building Four Virtues in Students to Combat Entitlement in the Classroom