I was 16 years old and riding in the car to my first music festival. My mentor was taking me and I couldn’t wait.
My mentor was everything I ever wanted to be: 32, happily married, two clever children, a great home in a great town, a degree from a well respected college under her belt, and even a career before she decided to stay home with her kids. She was confident, funny, smart, well read, open minded- just an all around amazing person to be near.
And then I found out she wasn’t.
See, at 16 years old, I already had a pretty decent work ethic.
I took as many shifts after school and in the summer as my boss would let me. I saved almost all of my money. The only thing I really ever bought myself was an i-pod and I worked for months to afford a nice one. Well…. I worked for months to have four times as much money as an i-pod would cost me, because I didn’t want to blow all of my money and have nothing in savings.
I bought my clothes on sale or at second hand shops.
I cooked my own food.
I did my own laundry.
I showed up early for work and went the extra mile to make sure the job was done right.
I got decent grades in school.
I tried to help other people, when I could.
I worked hard because I wanted to be a good person and have a good life.
I assumed my mentor, the woman who seemed to have it all, also worked hard to get where she was.
And I was wrong.
Turns out her parents had bought the musical festival tickets for us.
And she was apparently still on their phone plan.
Then she told me that she was planning on asking them to pay her credit card debt off for Christmas.
My mentor was suffering from the dreaded disease of false entitlement.
Suffice it to say, she didn’t stay my mentor for long.
False entitlement is just one of the many symptoms of a person who thinks they are the center of the universe, and, unfortunately, there is a large population of Americans who fall into this category. Other symptoms include gluttonous, lack of empathy, impatience, greed, narcissism, and a tendency to get royally pissed off if they don’t get what they think they deserve.
The following are the top 7 ways that I know of to prevent your child from growing up to believe that they are the center of the universe. Using just one of these methods alone will not work, but all 7 together can help you to create a well-rounded person who you are proud to call your offspring.
1- Teach them to do their own laundry.
It can start off small. As a preschooler they can sort their own socks and put away their own laundry after you fold it. As they get older you can show them how to actually load the washer and run a cycle. Every child is different so advance them to the next task as soon as you feel they are ready. That said, no child should be in highschool and unable to wash their own clothes. If they are a freshman, they are beyond old enough to take on this task.
2- Outside of holidays and birthdays, let them buy their own toys.
Make sure they have viable ways of earning money for the things they want, but don’t just buy them whatever they want. My son spent his summer pulling weeds, washing cars, and doing other basic jobs for us and for our friends/family to earn $70 for a LEGO set he wanted. If I had bought it for him, he would have built it, played with it for two days, and then torn it down, lost half the pieces, ripped the instruction manual, etc.. But because I made him work for it, he realized how much it was worth and he took care of it to keep it nice. He appreciated it because he had to work hard for it. If I had bought it for him, he would have been asking for another the very next week. But because I made him work for it, he was too busy enjoying it to worry about the other sets that he didn’t have yet. He was happy just to play with it. And when another LEGO set did catch his eye later on, he didn’t ask for it, he asked how he could earn some more money because he wanted to save up and buy it.
3- Teach them to cook.
I know, its a big hassle. When you try to teach someone how to cook, there is almost always a moment when they can’t figure out which measuring cup is 1/2 and then they stir too vigorously so the food spills out all over and you look at your messy kitchen and think, “it would have been so much easier just to do it myself.” But you can’t choose your short term convenience over their long term independence. Besides, you’re just making it harder on yourself in the long run. The grade school student who never learns how to make a peanut butter sandwich becomes the highschool student to relies on you everytime they are hungry. Do you have any idea how much highschoolers eat? They are like bottomless pits. You might as well quit your job and put a tv in the kitchen because you’re going to be in there every minute of your waking life. So let the kid get jelly on the ceiling, its how they learn. They learn to care for themselves, they learn that meals take time and energy to make, and most importantly they learn that mom isn’t their short order cook.
4- Make them wait for things sometimes.
When you’re in the middle of a news article and they want you to drop everything to play UNO, tell them you’ll happily play UNO with them once you’ve finished reading your news article. I’m not saying do it every time. I’m not saying never put them first. I’m not saying playing UNO with them won’t be fun for you too. What I am saying is that they need to know they aren’t the only thing in your world that is important and that sometimes they’ll have to wait.
5- Do charity work and let them see you do charity work.
This can be as big or as little as you want. If you can involve them in it, so much the better. So let them see you call up your elderly neighbor before you go grocery shopping and ask her if there is anything she can pick up for you. Let them see you drop a fiver in to red bucket outside the mall. Let them see you give cans from the pantry during a food drive. Let them see you drop off clothes at the women’s shelter. Let them see you volunteer your time at the soup kitchen. Show them that you care about the world around you, show them that you know other people matter, and they’ll follow suit.
6- Talk to them about the world around them.
This goes hand-in-hand with #4 and #5. When they are waiting for you to finish something important to you, tell them why. “I am really invested in this and its important to me so I’m going to finish it real quick before I hang out with you.” When they see you doing something for others, tell them about why its important to help the less fortunate. “Some people have hard lives. You should always try to help some body if you can.” But not just that, talk to them about everything around them. When they have an argument with a friend, ask them to put themselves in their friends shoes and see it from a different perspective. When they can’t understand how they may have accidentally upset another person, ask them to look at the other person’s face and see how hurt they are. When they feel like its the end of the world because they didn’t get something they wanted, remind them that, while its understandable to be disappointed, there are so many things they are lucky to have.
7- Emphasize the importance of effort and persistence.
Kids are constantly being told how smart and how beautiful and how talented they are, but what about the stuff that they actual work to achieve? Your intelligence, your beauty, your talent- these are traits you are born with. But a kid who spends hours studying for a test? Thats a kid who deserves a metal. A kid who falls down, scrapes their knee, and gets right back up on their skateboard to try again? Thats a kid who deserves a round of applause. A child’s effort is so often ignored but isn’t it their effort that we should be encouraging? The time and energy that they put towards something rather than the natural ability to do it without trying. Tell your kid that anything worth having is worth working hard for.