Why young adults feel so entitled

Don Chance, a finance professor at Louisiana
State University,
says it dawned on him last spring. The semester was ending, and as usual,
students were making a pilgrimage to his office, asking for the extra points
needed to lift their grades to A’s.

“They felt so entitled,” he recalls, “and it
just hit me. We can blame Mr. Rogers.”

Fred Rogers, the late TV icon, told several generations of
children that they were “special” just for being whoever they were.
He meant well, and he was a sterling role model in many ways. But what often
got lost in his self-esteem-building patter was the idea that being special
comes from working hard and having high expectations for yourself.

Now Mr. Rogers, like Dr. Spock before him, has been targeted
for re-evaluation. And he’s not the only one. As educators and researchers
struggle to define the new parameters of parenting, circa 2007, some are
revisiting the language of child ego-boosting. What are the downsides of
telling kids they’re special? Is it a mistake to have children call us by our
first names? When we focus all conversations on our children’s lives, are we
denying them the insights found when adults talk about adult things?

Some are calling for a recalibration of the mind-sets and
catch-phrases that have taken hold in recent decades. Among the expressions now
being challenged:

“You’re special.” On the Yahoo Answers Web site, a
discussion thread about Mr. Rogers begins with this posting: “Mr. Rogers
spent years telling little creeps that he liked them just the way they were. He
should have been telling them there was a lot of room for improvement. … Nice
as he was, and as good as his intentions may have been, he did a
disservice.”

Signs of narcissism among college students have been rising
for 25 years, according to a recent study led by a San
Diego State University
psychologist. Obviously, Mr. Rogers alone can’t be blamed for this. But as
Prof. Chance sees it, “he’s representative of a culture of excessive
doting.”

Prof. Chance teaches many Asian-born students, and says they
accept whatever grade they’re given; they see B’s and C’s as an indication that
they must work harder, and that their elders assessed them accurately. They
didn’t grow up with Mr. Rogers or anyone else telling them they were born
special.

By contrast, American students often view lower grades as a
reason to “hit you up for an A because they came to class and feel they
worked hard,” says Prof. Chance. He wishes more parents would offer kids
this perspective: “The world owes you nothing. You have to work and
compete. If you want to be special, you’ll have to prove it.”

“They’re just children.” When kids are rude,
self-absorbed or disrespectful, some parents allow or endure it by saying,
“Well, they’re just children.” The phrase is a worthy one when it’s
applied to a teachable moment, such as telling kids not to stick their fingers
in electrical sockets. But as an excuse or as justification for unacceptable
behavior, “They’re just children” is just misguided.

“Call me Cindy.” Is it appropriate to place kids
on the same level as adults, with all of us calling each other by our first
names? On one hand, the familiarity can mark a loving closeness between child
and adult. But on the other hand, when a child calls an adult Mr. or Ms., it
helps him recognize that status is earned by age and experience. It’s also a reminder
to respect your elders.

“Tell me about your day.” It is crucial to talk to
kids about their lives, and that dialogue can enrich the whole family. However,
parents also need to discuss their own lives and experiences, says Alvin
Rosenfeld, a Manhattan-based child psychiatrist who studies family
interactions.

In America
today, life often begins with the anointing of “His Majesty, the
Fetus,” he says. From then on, many parents focus their conversations on
their kids. Today’s parents “are the best-educated generation ever,”
says Dr. Rosenfeld. “So why do our kids see us primarily discussing kids’
schedules and activities?”

He encourages parents to talk about their passions and
interests; about politics, business, world events. “Because everything is
child-centered today, we’re depriving children of adults,” he says.
“If they never see us as adults being adults, how will they deal with
important matters when it is their world?”

– Associated Press



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