How can we avoid having entitled children?

How can we avoid having entitled children?

No parent sets out to raise an ungrateful, materialistic child who is totally wrapped up with things. Nor does a parent hope to have a child who is always striving for elusive success. Modeling truth is more effective than simply sharing it. Jesus led by example, and we are instructed to follow suit. Someone once said, "God created us to love people and use things, but sadly we live in a world where others use people and love things." To raise a thankful child, we need to be intentional; it won't just happen.

Because we are bombarded with the world's beliefs on a daily basis, we need to make an extra effort to balance them with God's truth. Values disintegrate every day. The further an individual moves away from God's principles concerning material possessions, the more he or she will adopt society's values concerning success. Satan is subtle as he conforms people to the world. Little by little a person becomes desensitized.

Only God's truth can refute Satan's lies.

Without knowing what God says about worldly goods, a parent will certainly get sucked into society's lies. If from the beginning you need the most expensive baby equipment and designer clothes for your children, they will start life with the message that they are entitled to the best the world has to offer.

What makes this even subtler is that the world praises parents for being this way. Many parents are glad to sacrifice things for themselves to give the best to their children. But that can often communicate to a child that he or she is so important that everyone should sacrifice for them. If that is their thinking, what kind of adults will they grow into? We must learn to lavish love and attention rather than things on our children. We also must model a non-materialistic attitude in our own choices.

Satan is the father of lies. His deception prevents people from growing in their relationship with God. One of his tactics is using half-truths, giving just a morsel of truth with the lie in order to make it more palatable. Knowing God's Word is our only chance for identifying and refuting his lies. No Christian is exempt from Satan's attempts. Even Jesus withstood Satan's temptations by using Scripture.

One of Satan's lies is: This is the only life we have. If he can get people to accept this, their lives will reflect it. Advertisers willingly support this lie with phrases like "you deserve it" and "you're worth it." We respond with pride, "Yes, I do deserve it; I am worth it." But this world is not our home; it is only temporary. God is preparing a place for us with him. Remembering this truth gives us the right perspective. Without this knowledge, we easily fall prey to the many lies we hear.

Gratitude has to be taught.

Children who grow up receiving everything they want become ungrateful people. Concerning material possessions, Henry Cloud and John Townsend say, "Sometimes children learn that goals and desire can be a good thing, but you still do not give them what they want. They have to earn it. Parents who merely give children whatever they want and do not teach them how to work for things they desire are reinforcing entitlement in a major way."[1]

There is a sense of entitlement that permeates our society. Even before our children can understand the world is loaded with things to enjoy, young parents unwittingly school them in this thinking by their own choices. Then, when a child is old enough to sit in front of a TV, he or she is shown exactly what is needed to be happy according to the world. A child who gets everything she wants develops the attitude that she deserves it.

Teaching children they cannot immediately have what they want helps them become patient instead of reinforcing their desire for immediate gratification. Children need to learn the value of waiting for things, working for things, and trusting God, who is the giver of everything good.

When God chooses to withhold something from us, it is for our ultimate good. A spoiled child will struggle in life because he has not learned how to hear no. Some parents believe they are showing love to their children by giving them everything they ask for, because that is the way their parents showed them love. They are entitled adults who are creating entitled children. Still other parents overindulge their children because of an unmet need they had when they were youngsters, thinking: My child will never suffer like I did. They are not entitled adults, but wish that they were.

A sense of entitlement can be seen in other areas as well. Whenever pride rears its ugly head, underneath lays the attitude that we are somehow above others. This attitude is feeling entitled and is contrary to what Scripture teaches us (Philippians 2:3-8). If anyone was entitled to anything, wouldn't it have been Jesus? Yet, he gave up that right. For us to think that we are entitled is actually exalting ourselves above him.

A sense of entitlement also leads us to greed. A person cannot be both greedy and thankful at the same time. One way to encourage children to be thankful is to have them make a list of God's provisions. Thanking God on a regular basis is contagious. While we ponder what God has done for us, we are less likely to dwell on what we lack.

The things we own do not define us.

We live in a world of plenty. The temptation to want more is exacerbated by the misbelief that who we are is determined by what we have. Many of us remember a bumper sticker that read, "He who dies with the most toys wins."

The main purpose of advertising is to convince consumers they need a certain product. If we don't own the newest technology, drive the best vehicle, or wear the latest fashions, we feel out of the loop. No longer are we keeping up with the Joneses next door; instead we are in competition with everyone. Society tells us that what we own defines who we are. Yet, the Bible says the opposite (Luke 9:57-58; Matthew 6:19-24; 1 Timothy 6:6-10).

Success is relative.

The definition for success changes, depending on who's defining it. The world's definition involves what a person has or what he does. Read James 2:2-7 and think about who we would identify as the successful one.

If Jesus walked the earth in this century, by the world's standards he would be considered a loser. God is not impressed with the world's measuring stick. Society tells us, "be all you can be," "reach for the stars," and "you're number one." Jesus said, "He who would be first should be last," "we need to lose our life to gain it," and "without him we can do nothing." No wonder there is confusion regarding the issue of success. People attempting to straddle both worlds soon discover it doesn't work.

When Jesus was in the wilderness for 40 days, Satan tried to tempt him by offering him all the kingdoms of the world if he would bow down and worship him. But Jesus turned him down. He lived before an audience of One.

Our identity doesn't come from what we have; it comes from whose we are (2 Corinthians 10:17-18). The person who has Christ doesn't need society's approval, but the approval of the creator of the universe.

It is a challenge to raise godly children in an ungodly world. Everyday our children receive messages that contradict God's Word. It's our job as parents to help our children learn discernment. Without God's values instilled in them, they will quickly conform to the world.

The most effective way to teach our children about godliness is to model it. Teaching them Scripture will enable them to recognize when they are being deceived. If our children become grounded in the truth, they will have a chance at refuting wrong thinking and poor values. When our children learn contentment and experience God meeting their deepest needs, they will be less likely to search for other things to fill their longings.

We can encourage our children to develop an attitude of gratitude for what they have received by being grateful ourselves. Reminding them that believers are fully accepted and totally pleasing to God can diminish their attempts to find acceptance and approval elsewhere. By teaching our children God's values, helping them recognize and refute the world's lies, helping them develop the right perspective about things and teaching them what success is according to God, we can develop disciples who will one day follow Jesus. Isn't that what we really want?

Anne Peterson is a writer, speaker, and poet. She blogs at

1 Boundaries with Kids, Zondervan, 2001

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