How parents can help kids avoid the entitlement trap

Next generation wealthHow parents can help kids avoid the entitlement trap

July 13, 2023

Key things to know

  • There are two main mindsets for children of wealthy families: appreciation and entitlement.

  • Children with a sense of entitlement lack gratitude and will make demands instead of requests.

  • Parents can model appreciation by tying purchases and experiences to the work that made them possible and being intentional about charitable giving and activities.

As a parent, you want your children to be happy. Often, that means giving them things you didn't have when you were a child or removing struggles in daily life. But while your intentions are honorable, there can be unintended consequences, because children who grow up in an environment with abundant resources will take on one of two mindsets related to money: appreciation or entitlement.

  • Children who adopt an appreciation mindset have a healthy relationship with money. They see that hard work and effort brought wealth to the family. They know they’ll have to work hard and put in effort to maintain or grow their own wealth.
  • On the other hand, kids with an entitlement mindset see money flowing freely to them without a connection to their behavior or effort. They believe they get money or things strictly based on who they are, with little to no relation to their own actions.

What is entitlement?

If you need help figuring out which money mindset your child has adopted, simply look at their behavior, says Tom Thiegs, leadership and legacy consultant for Ascent Private Capital Management of U.S. Bank.

“A child with a sense of entitlement will more often make demands rather than requests,” he says. “They will start the conversation with ‘I want.’ A child who has a mindset of appreciation might say, ‘Could I get this if I do this?’”

Children who feel entitled will also lack gratitude. “Think of environments where children might be given gifts, such as a birthday or a holiday,” says Thiegs. “There is often a notable absence of thank-yous, or they have to be reminded to acknowledge the gift giver.”

 

“An entitled young adult is going to have a much harder time adjusting to the realities of the broader world, which will cause them some additional challenges.”

- Tom Thiegs, leadership and legacy consultant, Ascent Private Capital Management of U.S. Bank

 

In families with more than one child, it’s possible to have one who is appreciative and another who feels entitled, says Thiegs. “You see this with families that increase their access to resources over time,” he says. “They might not have an abundance of resources when they had their first child. That child grew up in an environment of scarcity, and they are more likely to have a mindset that you have to work hard and wait for things.”

As the family gets more disposable income, they may start to spend more freely. “That youngest child might develop entitlement because their experience is that things come easily,” says Thiegs. “They didn't see the budgeting process and the waiting for big purchases.”

How to develop an appreciative money mindset in children

If your child has an entitlement mindset, the good news is that you can correct the situation. Entitlement stunts emotional growth, so making changes is essential, says Thiegs.

“You’ll often see toddler-like behaviors in entitled teenagers and young adults,” he says. “You might notice tantrums when they don’t get what they want. An entitled young adult is going to have a much harder time adjusting to the realities of the broader world, which will cause them some additional challenges.”

The most powerful thing a parent can do is to model appreciative behavior with actions and words. Here are some ideas.

  • Connect purchases to the work that made them possible. For example, Thiegs suggests saying, “We're going on this nice vacation together. You may not realize that it took a lot of hours at work and sacrifices made on other things to generate the money that we're using to be able to do this.”
  • Instill appreciation through family activities, such as volunteering together, giving to charities that reflect the family’s values, or having children help around the house with chores. “Show that helping others gives an even greater benefit than focusing just on yourself,” says Thiegs. “You also instill a good work ethic.”
  • Do regular entitlement checks, as an appreciative child can become entitled later. “Think about the norms that you've created in the household,” says Thiegs. “Maybe your kids get something every time they go to the store with mom or dad. Or maybe they get an allowance that isn’t connected to their contribution to the household. Is the environment you created for your kids aiming towards creating entitlements or appreciation?”

Parenting is hard, and the goal is to create a loving environment that avoids the entitlement trap while striking a balance between expectation and reward.

“Entitlement is often the result of a loving parent wanting to make sure their child is happy,” says Thiegs. “However, that approach is focused only on the short term. Often, the intention is taking away the pain the child is experiencing, because then they'll be happy.

“Instead, parents should shift their mindset to long-term happiness. What's best for the child in the long term can have a significant and positive impact on their life.”

Learn how Ascent Private Capital Management works closely with families to lay the groundwork for a successful transition of wealth.

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