When children are not sufficiently loved unconditionally—which, tragically, is true for 99% or so of them—the pain is unbearable. They respond with the use of anger, withdrawal, drugs, sex, rebellion, and more. One of the manifestations of their pain is entitlement. Here’s how it happens:
- The parents fail to love their children unconditionally. There is no blaming of the parents, who were not loved themselves and are clueless how to give this elusive love.
- The children feel deep pain, which they don’t even recognize as pain. For them, this condition is simultaneously “normal” and intolerable.
- The children act out with petulant fits to get attention or to avoid responsibility, all in an attempt to lessen their pain.
- The parents have no idea how to love and teach their children, so they use whatever is available to stop the tantrums. They medicate their children’s pain with money, gifts, video games, and by not imposing responsibilities or restricting activities.
- Children quickly learn—they are highly observant—that they can manipulate their parents to get whatever they want, simply by behaving in ways that exasperate them.
And thus it is that—quite unwittingly—the parents train the children to behave badly, and the children in turn train their parents to spoil them utterly. Parents, of course, believe that this game of mutual training and trading is called love, but this does not make it so.
This is a HUGE problem with human beings. We sincerely believe that if we say something fervently enough, intensively enough, and often enough, our words become true—words like,
“I love you. I really love you.”
“I love my children.”
“I really want to learn and grow.”
When OTHER people say such words, often we can see the lie in them, because the words are not congruent with the behavior of the speaker. We see this incongruity when a man says, “I REALLY want to run the 400 meters in the Olympics,” while he lies all day on the couch eating potato chips. The words we speak are drowned in the volume of our actions.
Our desire—as well as the outside pressure—to be good parents is so powerful that we cannot abandon our claims to be such, and yet our ignorance of loving and teaching makes our desires incompatible with our claims. So we repeat them over and over, eventually satisfied with the hollowness of our words.
When we finally admit that we have NOT loved and taught our children, we can begin to change our own direction and to address the entitlement that will have such destructive effects on their personal happiness, their relationships, their careers, and more. Entitled children blame everyone but themselves for their difficulties, and this does not work well with their teachers, future partners, and future employers. When we first make this change in direction, our children will NOT be grateful, since they truly believe they are entitled to whatever they demand. What can we do? First we can begin to understand the dual nature of a child’s education.
In most countries, everyone understands that until a child reaches a certain age, education in traditional schools—math, reading, science, and so on—is mandatory. In fact, a child can be put in a detention facility for failure to comply with this requirement. Parents understand this and MAKE their children go to school. In some countries parents can even be legally charged with child neglect if they don’t get their children to school. That is how important “school education” is to us.
What most parents do NOT understand is that LIFE education is just as important as a school education—if not more so. We educate our children in life by teaching them self-worth, responsibility, how to feel loved, how to love others, the poisonous nature of anger, how to have healthy relationships, and more. Regrettably, the life education most children receive is almost all WRONG. Children are taught—by word and behavior—that they are not inherently worthwhile, that anger is acceptable, and that “love” is conditional. These lessons have catastrophic consequences, and yet we are doing nothing about them.
We would immediately stop any school education that taught, for example, that 2 + 2 = 5, or that slavery is good, or that the sun revolves around the earth. Oddly, however, we don’t do anything about life educators who are completely unqualified and who teach principles guaranteed to injure their students—probably because WE parents are those life educators, nor can we see any examples of life educators who are teaching correct principles.
But now let’s suppose that you have learned about Real Love, so you know what your child needs in the way of life education. You now have a RESPONSIBILITY to teach these life principles. Failure to do so results in unhappiness, depression, addictions, failed relationships, and more for your children.
We must understand that while our children are regarded as dependent on us—either (1) by age as defined by the state or (2) by their financial dependence on us—we cannot ignore our responsibility to teach them. Nor can they choose to ignore our teaching, not without serious consequences. If a child is dependent, we MUST give them a life education, just as we and the state are required to give them a school education while they are legally dependent.
One way of determining whether a child is dependent on us is to assess their financial dependence. In other words, if a child requires money from us, they satisfy one condition of dependence, and we are morally obligated to give them a life education.
Dependence can be a privilege or a right, or both. While they are minors, children are legally entitled to our financial support, so that financial support is a RIGHT. It is also a privilege, though, because if they make enough bad decisions, children can be incarcerated and lose their right to our support, after which they are supported by—and jailed by—the state. When children reach legal adulthood, we can still choose to support them, but in that case our support is a privilege that we choose to bestow upon them—a privilege we have every right to withdraw.
Privilege and responsibility are inseparable, often legally but always morally. I just noted that a minor child can lose the privilege of financial support by making bad decisions and being imprisoned. Adult children must also understand the connection between privilege and responsibility. What they often WANT is to be taken care of financially, but then they do NOT want any responsibilities associated with that privilege. And because parents do not understand the rules of life, adult children often use guilt, anger, tantrums, and the like to make their parents afraid to impose any responsibilities on the child.
Children learn their victimhood and sense of entitlement from us, and they learn that particular life skill well, much like perfectly learning that 2 + 2 = 5. IF they want the privilege of financial support, we MUST teach them the accompanying responsibilities, just one of which is their obligation to listen to our teaching them.
If you have a dependent child who chooses NOT to receive your teaching of the lessons of life, then they are also CHOOSING to give up the other benefits of dependence, like money, shelter, privileges, and so on. Remember, privilege and responsibility are inseparable, so if they choose one, they choose the other. If they refuse one, they refuse the other.
To be specific, if your child refuses to listen to your life lessons, consequences must immediately follow. These consequences are used only because the truth alone—in the form of words—was not sufficiently motivating. We ALL must live by true principles, and consequences often make an impression that words do not. I can teach you what will happen if you ignore the laws of physics while driving, but sometimes the only way you’ll really learn the lesson is to drive too fast around a curve and go off the road.
To provide further illustration, suppose you have a child who is being irresponsible, disrespectful, and acting like a victim—blaming everyone but herself for her difficulties in school, work, or wherever. This child is also demanding about privileges, like financial support and freedom to do whatever she wants. If you continue to provide financial support to such a child, you are actually FINANCING and condoning a defective life education. You are PAYING the child to learn to be irresponsible and disrespectful, which will cause the child unspeakable harm in future workplace environments and in relationships. Your child may kick and scream if you withdraw financial support, but if you give in, you are selfishly trying to avoid the disapproval of your child, rather than being responsible for your child’s life education, which is a much loftier goal.
The life education of our children is a very weighty responsibility, but we cannot avoid it without experiencing severe consequences. As I said, privilege and responsibility are inseparable—for them and for us. If we choose not to be responsible for their education, we also lose the privilege of watching our children grow up responsible, loving, and happy.