I am a college professor, as well as a corporate consultant with a number of clients who hire interns and younger people. I continually hear at school, and from my clients, about the “entitlement” attitude amongst the younger generations. Where does entitlement come from? It doesn’t always come from giving our kids too much. It comes from what we teach them about how to treat other people – and about the fact that they can’t always be the one on top.

The importance of this message was driven home to me again today – and I witness things like this all too often. My teenage son was at a special training at school (school doesn’t start until next week). The training ended at 11 a.m. I drove up to the driveway at school at 10:59 and my son came out of the building at 11 promptly – along with several other children. The way the parking area is constructed, there were cars parked and people waiting for their children. It’s impossible to move unless everyone moves. The three cars at the front of the line did not budge. The rest of us sat there, and I watched the clock move to 11:05, 11:07 and then 11:09. Rather than pull over and move out of the way (there are plenty of places to do this), those adults just sat and waited for their kids while the rest of us burned gasoline. I couldn’t help but think how rude these people were and how little they seemed to care about anyone else’s needs.

I searched online to find any statistics on being rude. Most studies seem to have been done several years ago. One most compelling one was by Bozell Worldwide/U.S. News and World Report which, in 1999, reported of those polled:

  • 79 percent said lack of respect is a serious problem
  • 60 percent said rude and selfish behavior is increasing
  • 88 percent sometimes encountered rude people
  • 77 percent see clerks ignoring customers
  • 56 percent are bothered by foul language

So, it begs the question – what are we teaching our children? In the scenario I experienced this morning, the first person got there early and was at the front of the line. Therefore, no matter how long their child takes to come out, they get to make every other individual wait for their child? And what’s the message to the child? “We can sit here as long as we like, honey, you are the most important person in the school.”

In my work, I talk about “It’s all about me” and the problem is that for kids, it IS all about them. This is the natural framework on the world as they grow and develop. I believe it is our job as adults to teach them there are other people in this world, too, and if everyone wants to be first, where are all of the rest of the people going to go? We can’t all be the most important one around, can we? Isn’t that physically impossible?

And what happens to the child who is taught that the world should wait for them when they get a job? I work with hundreds of companies and am unaware of many that tolerate that attitude. And, as a college professor, am I expected to wait to start class for every person who comes in late for any reason? These are life skills we are talking about here, and they hurt our kids if we don’t teach them the ways of the world.

Who likes the person that thinks they are most important? Most of us are drawn to the person who puts out their hand and says, “I notice you. I care about you and I respect you.” We can’t possibly teach this if we are teaching “You are the only one that matters, kid!”

Here are my thoughts to parents, grandparents and caretakers of children. Please think about some of these things as you model the behavior that will teach your children:

  • Love your kids, but realize that everyone else loves their kids too. Yes, your child or grandchild is wonderful and yes, you should love them with all of your heart but those other kids in line, or in the class, or on the team? Their parents and grandparents love them, too. Realize that the world is bigger than your family. Pretend that other kids belong to you and care about them as such.
  • Watch what you do, because your kids are watching everything. My son recently told me that a friend of our family is a “hypocrite”. I was interested in his assertion, and asked why my son thought this. He explained a scenario where the person had criticized my son for saying something derogatory about a certain group of people (the comment was misinterpreted, according to my son…) but then this same person made a terrible statement about this same group of people, using a vile and demeaning term. My son said, “Why can he jump down my throat but then say the exact same thing? It makes me distrust everything he says.” They are watching, listening and paying attention even when you think they aren’t.
  • Be the type of person you want your kids to think you are. Write down some traits that would really matter to you: “Caring.” “Good listener.” “Thoughtful.” “Assertive.” Take no prisoners. What will your list look like? Make sure you are careful about what you want, and then pay attention to the behavior you model each day. How many times is your behavior – including your words, your tone and your approach – in accordance with what you want your kids to see? Pay attention.
  • Think about who you want your child to be as an adult. Now, there are plenty of nasty people who are rude and uncaring, and they “get ahead.” They become rich and famous. Maybe you do want your child to become this type of person. But if you don’t, if you want them to be someone that others want to hang around with, and trust, and work with, you want to think about the kinds of behaviors necessary. Be deliberate.

I’ve said it millions of times and I will say it again, rude people are everywhere. They don’t care that they are rude and some actually revel in it. But if you are a person with responsibility for a child, think about what rudeness teaches a kid. Think hard about it and decide what type of person you really want to be, and what you want your child to learn from you.

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