Entitlement vs. Earning: How to Avoid Harmful Help as a Parent
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The following is a guest post by Cameron C. Taylor, author of the book Does Your Bag Have Holes? 24 Truths That Lead to Financial and Spiritual Freedom
“But I want it NOW!” As if yelling this over and over creates the right for a child or even an adult to get what they want when they want it. Willy Wonka in the movie Charlie and the Chocolate Factory identified the undesirable results of a child who gets what they want when they want it. In the movie the spoiled little girl, Veruca Salt, demands that her father get her a squirrel with the capability of sorting good walnuts from the bad just like the one’s she sees in the Wonka Chocolate Factory. The push over father finally asks Willy Wonka how much one costs. Receiving the response from Mr. Wonka that the squirrels were not for sale, little Veruca takes it upon her self to collect a squirrel. As a result the spoiled child is tossed out with the rest of the “Bad Nuts” with her father close behind.
What was is it that made Veruca just have to have a squirrel and why did she think she deserved one and could simply go and take it? It is simple. Her father catered to her every want. Continuing this pattern over time results not only in spoiled kids but also in kids who feel that they are entitled or deserve what they want simply because they want it.
There’s a story about a boy who came from a wealthy family. His father had built a large, multimillion-dollar business from the ground up. As this father approached retirement, he brought his son into his office and told him that he wanted him to take over his company. The son was excited to take over his father’s multimillion-dollar empire and asked, “When are you going to give it to me?” The father replied, “I am not going to give you anything, you must earn it.” The son replied, “How am I supposed to do that?”
The father answered, “First, you must earn $10,000 to purchase a small portion of ownership in the company. After this is accomplished you will get your next instruction.” As the son left the house to being his quest, his mother grabbed him and thrust $10,000 into his hand and told him to give the money to his father. Thrilled by his good fortune, he ran to find his father. His dad was sitting by the fireplace reading a book. The son approached his father and said, “Dad, Dad, here’s $10,000 for the business.” Without even looking up, the father grabbed the $10,000 and tossed it in the fire and watched it burn. The son stood frozen in amazement. As the money burned, the father said, “Come back when you have earned the money!”
As he left the room, his mother once again thrust $10,000 into his hand. This time she instructed him that he needed to be more convincing in selling his father on the idea that he had actually worked for the money. So the boy scuffed himself up a little, jogged around the block a few times, and then went to find his father again. His father was again sitting in front of the fireplace reading a book. The boy approached his father and said, “It sure is tough earning money. Here’s the $10,000. I really do want to own the business.” Once again the father took the $10,000, and without even looking up, tossed the money in the fireplace. As the money burned, the son asked, “How did you know I didn’t earn the money?” The father replied, “It is easy to lose or spend money that is not your own.”
At this point, the son realized he wasn’t going to get the business unless he actually earned the $10,000. He wanted the business, so when his mother offered him money again, he declined her offer. He went out and picked up some odd jobs. His jobs required him to get up early and stay up late, but he worked and worked until he finally earned $10,000. Proudly, he walked into his father and presented him with the money. Like before, his father was sitting by the fire reading a book. Again the father took the money and threw it in the fire. As the money hit the flames, the son dove to the floor and risking burns and pain stuck his hands into the fire and pulled out the $10,000. The father looked his son in the eyes and said, “I see you really did earn the money this time.”
Many parents make the mistake of provided damaging financial assistance to their children. Their motives are usually good. They want to help their children get started in life or assist when a financial need rises. Unfortunately, the result is often opposite to the one desired. Instead of helping children become self sufficient, they become dependant. Rather than sparking initiative and discipline, the children become idle and indulgent. Instead of being achievement oriented they become entitlement oriented, ungrateful and demanding. Children who always get what they want will want as long as they live. Research has shown that “in general, the more dollars adult children receive [from their parents] the fewer they accumulate, while those who are given fewer dollars accumulate more”(Thomas J. Stanley, William D. Danko, The Millionaire Next Door, (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996) p. 142-143). How can we make sure our children grow up with the earning mentality rather than the entitlement mentality?
While starting my first business, I often relied on one of my business partners and mentors, who was a multimillionaire, for advice. My business was growing but struggled to turn a profit. I continued to work hard but things were getting tougher and tougher for me financially. I went to my rich partner and asked for a loan to help me get by until the business was profitable. He declined to give me any assistance. I was a little frustrated and said, “You are making millions a year and I am struggling to stay alive. Please help me.” He looked at me and I could tell he wanted to help me. He was close to giving in to my plea when he replied, “If I take away your struggle, I will also take away your victory.” He then shared the following story.
“There was a young boy who came across a caterpillar hanging in a cocoon. He went to see the cocoon several times each day waiting for the butterfly to emerge. After a few days, the young boy began to see the cocoon move as a butterfly struggled to come out. The boy a little impatient and wanting to help ran home and got a pair of scissors. He returned and carefully cut open the cocoon and out fell a partially developed butterfly. This caterpillar would never fly. The young boy innocently killed the butterfly he was trying to help.” At the time, I didn’t find this advice helpful, but today I am grateful to a wise partner and mentor who resisted the temptation to cut open my cocoon and take away the struggle of life while starting a business.
One of the best ways to create an earning mentality in our children is to teach them how to work. However, as more parents are providing financially for all their children’s needs, few youth are learning to work. In 2007, for the first time on record the majority of U.S. teenagers were not working or looking for work at the beginning of the summer. Only 49% of teens age 16 to 19 were working or looking for work in June 2007, a steep decline from the 68% of teens working or looking for work in June 1978 (Barbara Hagenbaugh, “More Than Half of Teens Forgo Summer Jobs,” USA Today, July 9, 2007). Work helps get rid of the idea that one is entitled or has the right to something. I have identified 3 important factors that help teach children good work ethics. Parents need to look for opportunities to assign or create chores and work for children that have the following characteristics:
The job assigned must have real life purpose. As a child, there was a large vacant plot of land behind my house that was very proficient in growing weeds. My dad sectioned off the plot and gave each child a section. The instruction was simply to keep the weeds down by pulling the weeds by hand. I can remember hating this job because it was always hot and dusty and the weeds grew fast and tall. I finally asked my dad why we had to keep the weeds down. Dad then explained that it was to make sure the weeds don’t spread into the yard and garden so the grass will be soft to play on and the garden will grow lots of good food to eat. This explanation gave my sweat and pains a purpose that I was willing to work for. I still didn’t like weeding my section but, now understanding the purpose of the job, I had motivation to make sure my plot was free of weeds.
Sometimes as parents we give chores that simply have the purpose of keeping our children busy. These chores are probably better than letting children sit in front of the TV or play video games all day. However, jobs with real life purpose, once accomplished, will ignite a feeling of true accomplishment and contribution to a collective or greater good. The feelings of purpose and accomplishment are feelings everyone desire. It is wise to use these feelings to fuel future assignments with purpose.
Parents need to be consistent in assigning chores. If making the bed is an important skill or chore you want your child to learn or accomplish then you as the parent must be consistent is giving the assignment everyday and just as consistent in following up and making sure the job is done and done well. If you are as consistent in assigning a chore and just as consistent in following up and helping the child accomplish the chore then the child will progressively and consistently accomplish the chore alone.
The job that teaches good work ethics is one that is on a consistent schedule. Punctuality is important in the work place and in life. It wasn’t until I got a job my first job out side of the home that I realized the importance of consistency. While in Junior High I worked at a local grocery store where I was required to be at work on time. I’ve found that those who had jobs outside of the home while still in high school have a stronger work ethic than those who did not. Having noticed this trend leads me to believe that teaching a child to work is not simply teaching them how to do a few jobs but it’s teaching a way of life.
One of the hardest parts of life is to continue to do something when it is no longer fun or when it never was fun to begin with. The world would teach our children that such uncomfort or pain should not be tolerated. The world would go as far as to teach that if pain is felt then what ever is causing the pain is bad and should be avoided. It is on the contrary that good work ethics are learned. It is important to teach our youth to continually work past the point of comfort. Not many reach this point regularly, but it is here that character is permanently built. Learning good work ethics takes persevering through the uncomfort and beyond the pain of work.
Right out of High school I worked at a lumber mill in Idaho. My job was to stack lumber as it came off the saw. This was the most physically demanding job I’ve ever had. At the end of every day I was physically drained from being baked in the saw mill from the summer sun and from keeping up with the mill as it relentlessly kicked out lumber to be stacked. It was just a miserable job. I remember asking myself during one of my short breaks if this job was worth the pain. The thought and answer came back that “It wouldn’t be called work if it wasn’t work!” Well, that didn’t really help me feel better but it did help me understand that not all work is fun.
A business owner and church leader shared this experience, “I remember some years ago, a young man and his wife and little children moved to our Arizona community. As we got acquainted with them, he told me of the rigorous youth he had spent as he grew up. He’d had to get up at five and six o’clock in the morning and go out and deliver papers. He’d had to work on the farm and he’d had to do many things that were still rankling (irritation/resentment) in his soul. Then he concluded with this statement: ‘My boys are never going to have to do that.’ And we saw his boys grow up and you couldn’t get them to do anything. They [sluff] off their church activities and nothing seemed very important to them.”
If you protect your children from struggle and responsibility, you will also prevent them from growing. Help you child learn how to work and earn by assigning work that has real purpose, consistency, and requires perseverance. Good work ethic and the earning mentality cannot be purchased with money but are developed through experience, responsibility and education. The Entitlement mentality is a form of bondage for it is simply living off of others-for if you take from a person his responsibility to care for himself you also take from him the opportunity to be free. Do not simply give your kids money, give them education and opportunity and teach them how to work. It costs a lot less and will develop the productive, self sufficient children you desire.
About the Author:
Cameron C. Taylor is the author of the book Does Your Bag Have Holes? 24 Truths That Lead to Financial and Spiritual Freedom. The book’s table of contents, overview, and sample chapters are available online at http://www.DoesYourBagHaveHoles.org