| As They Grow |

Ask Rabbi Greenwald: Issue 987

Both of these questions are rooted in the same conundrum: “entitlement”

Q #1:

I have three teenaged boys, and because of their yeshivah schedule, they’re not really in a position to be at home to help with household tasks. During an off Shabbos or bein hazmanim, though, they’re around the house, and I’m disappointed and concerned with their attitudes. I always try to model respectful speech and a calm demeanor, but when I ask for help with simple tasks (cleaning up the dishes and wrappers from the food they brought to their rooms, pitching in with their laundry, taking out an overflowing garbage bag upon which they’ve precariously stacked ten items, etc.), it’s just not getting done. I don’t want to nag, and I don’t want our relationship to be reduced to instructions, but I’m worried that they’re about to turn into young adults without adult life skills.

Q #2:

We were never wealthy, but my husband’s field was badly affected by the economy, and things are tighter than ever right now. We’re struggling to pay bills on time, I’ve had to reduce therapy for two of my children who need it badly, and we’re basically surviving by paying our credit card minimums. My teenage daughter is taking it hard. She wants all the things her friends have, and when we explain the situation in an age-appropriate way, she’s resentful. When I was her age, I did any number of things to earn a little extra money to pay for the things I wanted, but she has absolutely no interest — none of her friends do. I feel bad for her. I know that with this generation, a lot of the “wants” might really be “needs” if everyone around them has them, but even if I had the extra money, I would be paying off credit cards and saving for her wedding, not buying her the boots she wants. How do I explain this to her in a way she’ll accept?



Both your questions touch on one of the biggest challenges our generation faces. While you are describing different aspects of the challenge, both of these questions are rooted in the same conundrum: “entitlement.”

We as parents are not to blame for a social epidemic. That does not mean we cannot do anything about it. Entitlement is the undoing of a society, as a society can only exist through voluntary cooperation. “Olam chesed yibaneh” (Tehillim 89) is not just a description of Hashem’s intent in the creation of the world. It describes the glue that holds the world together. Without each person’s contribution to the pool of kindness, volunteering and taking responsibility, the world’s population becomes a collection of corrupt, egocentric, immature, irresponsible individuals each vying for their own self-gratification.

Britannica Dictionary defines entitlement as “the feeling or belief that you deserve to be given something.” Of course, there are things that a person may be legitimately entitled to. Nevertheless, when a young person grows up with a greater sense of entitlement than of responsibility, we will sense it in almost everything he says and does.

There are no excuses for the behaviors you described; such is today’s world. Nevertheless, it is better to identify the root of the problem and work to resolve it with focused intelligence than it is to complain and criticize. You will not be nagging — but you will need to be consistent.

All of the important principles we try to inculcate in our children when they are young can still be applied when they reach the teenage years — even if they are already somewhat entitled.

Children need to hear the word no. It is often easier to give in than to stay firm. The shortest answer I ever gave in a Q&A session was my reply to the question, “How can I teach my child that no means no?” I responded, “By not saying yes ten minutes later.”

When we cave in, we teach them that no means yes after ten minutes of kvetching. A child who gets everything he asks, begs, or cries for will begin to believe he deserves to get everything he wants. It is often easier to give in than to hold out. It is an investment of time, patience, and endurance. But is the first and most important value for a child to know: that the world does not always say yes.

We need to give children responsibilities at home, and we need to hold them accountable for their schoolwork. As parents, we often find it easier to do a chore ourselves than to demand our children do it, wait for them to do it, repeat this numerous times, and then check the outcome. It is easier to speak with a teacher than to prepare our child to face the consequences of irresponsibility. Of course, we will advocate for our child when necessary. However, we should not over-advocate, smooth things over, and make excuses for their misbehavior.

The second aspect of responsibility is accountability. That means following up and making sure that our children learn to face the consequences when they lack responsibility. You made a mess; clean it up. You were involved in a fight; make peace. You broke a neighbor’s window; go speak to them about how we can fix it.

We can coach them, encourage them, and advise them, without taking over and doing it for them. When a child realizes he has to take responsibility, he is learning that he plays a part in making this world a better place. When everything is taken care of for him, he simply learns that no matter what happens, all will be fine.

Allowance, spending money, and credit cards offer ways of teaching financial responsibility. There need to be expenditure limits; we must present them with ways to learn budgeting and setting parameters on spending. Young people should not be given credit cards that can be used indiscriminately. A debit card with renewable monthly limits is a better idea. She can use it up to the limit. If she needs more, you can add to it, if you agree with her decision to spend additional funds. If she uses less in a given month, she will have more to spend the next month, which teaches the value of saving money.

Your daughter has no choice but to hear the truth: This is within our means, and this is beyond. We are not allowed to live beyond our means, as that will bring terrible consequences. If you want something we cannot afford, here are some of the things you can do to get them.

How many times do we make the phone call for our children? How many times do we let stay up at night, when we know the consequences for the next morning? How many times do we clean their room, do their laundry, and wash their dishes? We can go on and on, but at some point, we need to realize that all of these actions enable entitlement.

If they are already feeling entitled, it is important to explain why you cannot continue to encourage that behavior. They are old enough to hear what happens in life to people who have no independence and expect the world to provide for them. Empower them, encourage them, and show them that they are perfectly capable of doing things themselves.

One last but very important element. Let them do things and make mistakes, let them learn that it is valuable to contribute even if the outcome is not perfect. The more they do it, the better they will get at it. Give them your time, and you will save so much more time as they get older.


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 987)

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