Do your children whine when they don’t get good grades? Do your students argue with you about grades or try to get extra credit for doing very little? Even worse, do young people become uncivil after receiving a poor grade, placing blame on anyone or anything besides themselves?
These behaviors may be symptoms of academic entitlement, a new term used to refer to a student’s expectation that they receive high grades, regardless of performance.
There are likely lots of causes of academic entitlement, from parents and teachers who enable this type of behavior to our current educational culture of high stakes testing and the increased pressure to succeed.
Regardless of the cause, whining and behaviors associated with entitlement are detrimental to learning and life success. It can be particularly damaging when students begin college with expectations of receiving good grades for minimal effort.
Student scores on K-12 achievement tests have remained relatively constant over the years. Yet, K-12 grades have increased dramatically. This suggests that today’s students are receiving higher grades for the same performance as students in previous decades. Some studies show that even the most talented students earn success by cleverly circumventing hard work.
What happens when students develop unrealistic expectations toward college or the work world? They respond with anger and disappointment when their goals are not achieved. Feelings of entitlement have been correlated with a host of negative outcomes, including hostility, depression, difficulty in relationships, and greed.
Parents and K-12 teachers can minimize the risk of academic entitlement in college and the world beyond by instilling positive values toward learning and success during the formative years.
Seven Ways to Help Children Avoid Academic Entitlement
- Teach children that knowledge is a privilege that is earned through hard work, challenge, and discomfort. See the article, What Teens Learn by Overcoming Challenges
- Help students understand that learning isn’t about satisfying requirements; it’s about living a satisfying life. Share the article, Happiness or Harvard, with a teenager -- an inspiring story of how one teen redefined her attitudes about success.
- Let young people know that when they are struggling, it is their responsibility to ask for help. Role models and adult mentors are essential for teens.
- Teach children that failure is the bedrock of learning. Read the compelling article in The Atlantic by middle-school teacher, Jessica Lahey, Why Parents Need to Let Their Children Fail.
- Help students understand that no one has the same learning or test-taking style. Adults can foster a positive mindset for kids with learning differences.
- Support your child’s teachers. They develop policies that apply to everyone. There are penalties for breaking the rules just as there are in the world outside of school.
- Instill the principle that teachers are facilitators of learning. Education is something we accomplish for ourselves throughout a lifetime.
When children embrace behaviors that emerge from the above principles, they learn to take responsibility for their successes and failures, accept the consequences of their actions, and learn to engage with meaningful life and career goals.
What do you think? What other ways do adults help children learn to take responsibility for their learning and actions?
©2013 Marilyn Price-Mitchell. All rights reserved. Please contact for permission to reprint.
Marilyn Price-Mitchell, PhD, is a developmental psychologist working at the intersection of youth development, leadership, and education. Follow her at ROOTS OF ACTION, TWITTER or FACEBOOK.
Hersh, R. H., & Merrow, J. (Eds.). (2005). Declining by degrees: Higher education at risk. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.
Kopp, J. P., Zinn, T. E., Finney, S. J., & Jurich, D. P. (2011). The development and evaluation of the academic entitlement questionnaire. Measurement and Evaluation in Counseling and Development, 44, 105-129.
Twenge, J. M., & Campbell, W. K. (2009). The narcissism epidemic: Living in the age of entitlement. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.
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