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Almost every up and coming younger generation recalls parents and grandparents bemoaning the ease with which youth live their lives. "In my day..." so begins the lament. The implication is that the budding age group--benefitting from advances in technology and convenience--fails to appreciate how good it has it. Instead, the kids complain about what they lack, how they wait and the hard cruelty of life. Are todays young people (Gen Z) any different from their forbears? Or are they possessed of an extra degree of entitlement, born of smart phones, streaming video and social media? This question deserves some attention.

Parents are well-positioned to gauge whether or not this bourgeoning generation is particularly indulged or simply better off. Yet school teachers and related professionals—exposed to children for the better part of every weekday—are likewise situated to measure the social and emotional trends of minors. For example, they may observe a child more often in stressful situations, e.g. taking tests, speaking in class, facing peer pressure etc. Educators might also recognize family dysfunction from an objective vantage point. Poor sleep, hunger and emotional turmoil will sometimes surface at school, even if unnoticed at home. School is a crucible where a student’s strengths and weaknesses are magnified, thus more easily discerned. With this reality in mind, educational administrators and instructors are uniquely conditioned to judge the degree of entitlement to which the present generation of students is prone.

In 2015, parenting expert Amy McCready released The Me, Me, Me Epidemic: A Step-by-Step Guide to Raising Capable, Grateful Kids in an Over-Entitled World. In this book, she contends that nine indicators mark a child as inordinately entitled. They are:

  • Expecting rewards for acceptable conduct
  • Extreme apathy when asked to help
  • Narcissistic self-absorption
  • Shifting blame to others when results are bad
  • Treating disappointment as devastation
  • Requiring a treat to accompany a parent on an errand
  • Consequences for mistakes should not apply
  • Feeling exempt from rules
  • Never content with present circumstances/possessions
A parent may use this list as an indicator of the character of his or her child. Can it be applied in a broader context to measure that of a class, school, district or even a generation? Is there research to that end?

What Does the Data Show?

According to Ernst & Young, Gen Z consumers out-demand millennials when it comes to finding reliable brands, ditching one when something better comes along. It is unclear about whether this reflects the restless lack of contentment indicative of entitlement. Yet brand loyalty was of greater significance in prior generations. Other statistics can be interpreted with positive and negative slants. Gen Z people are more interested in entrepreneurship, a very promising sign on the face of it. Yet this bent can easily reflect a desire to be free of the humility, patience and discipline of climbing the company ladder as much as indicate an ambitious hunger for economic and social success. (They will, of course, learn that humility, patience and discipline serve start-up founders well, too.) 

Religious faith is not robust among Gen Z youth, keeping apace with a decades-long trend. Right or wrong, such a void might feed the markers of the entitled child. In terms of morality overall, this generation, and the millennials who teach them, tend to believe ethical standards can evolve over time, and are particular to each individual. For some students, such a philosophy can cement the impression that they are exempt from rules – who’s rules are they anyway? In brief, the numbers may very well underscore the McCready entitlement symptoms, but not in any ironclad way

Gadgets and Gizmos

Some evidence does not call for research. The fact that this generation of youth grew up with modern information technology can serve as a major factor of the entitlement culture. The sensory-motor tasks of writing a letter or dialing a telephone; or the patience needed to wait in line at retail establishments are less known (or completely unknown) to this crop of kids. Cell phones were already on the market when they were born. Ordering restaurant food online, using GPS to get from place to place and chatting in cyberspace with perfect strangers is not odd or alien to this group. Their expectations are very much tethered to the technological capacity they have always enjoyed.

In most respects, young people of today are simply children of the times. They use technology because their parents are using it. According to Pew research, even their grandparents are growing more dependent on the latest gadgets. Yet their parents and grandparents retain memory of brick-and-mortar shopping, less convenience, writing letters and telephone busy signals. In a nutshell, older people possess a larger context in which to interpret modern living. Sometimes that historical framework comes out in hackneyed phrases like “in my day…” or “when I was a boy…” Still, context is a peg that anchors us and gives perspective. Without it, entitlement becomes all the more contagious.

Putting Off Adulthood

So what if a kid does not know how to change a tire? Who cares if they expect machines to do more than their parents did? It is the 21st century, right? One who does care is one-time college president and current U.S. Senator Ben Sasse. In his book The Vanishing American Adult: Our Coming of Age Crisis and How to Build a Culture of Self-Reliance, Sasse bemoans the extended adolescence now enjoyed by young adults, a phase sometimes extending into mid-30s. He believes that the entitlement culture diminishes the moral value of hard, physical labor and deprivation. This, in turn, affects national productivity, civil society and political discourse. The senator calls for a restoration of that context or perspective known by older Americans. In his book, Sasse advocates technology fasting and low-tech summer jobs that can help youth to discern the blessings of their lives and not take them for granted.

In Summary

If Ben Sasse sees entitlement as a growing problem, it might be wise to consider the possibility. At the same time, teachers and parents are well aware that children differ from one another, and that the benefits of contemporary society do not necessarily spoil them en masse. Perhaps simply asking whether the child in front of us has an entitlement complex is enough. We best redeem our culture one kid at a time.

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