How to Know If Your Child Has an Entitlement Problem
Entitlement is seen as a bad quality. But when is it a cause for concern?
Posted December 9, 2022 | Reviewed by Tyler Woods
Today’s youth is often regarded as lazy, ungrateful, and entitled. They are accused of being the ‘participation trophy’ generation, who were rewarded for simply showing up. Parents often complain that their children are too busy playing video games and scrolling through their social channels to get any real work done.
But do today’s young people not know the meaning of hard work or do they simply have a different way of approaching it?
This question is difficult to answer because entitlement is a loaded word. At face value, entitlement can be seen as an expectation to be treated as special. However, it can also have benign connotations.
A study published in the Journal of Adolescence tries to resolve this debate by separating entitlement into two categories: exploitive and non-exploitive entitlement. Let’s take a deeper look at both to understand whether the sense of entitlement your child might be exhibiting is a cause for concern.
#1. Exploitive entitlement
Exploitive entitlement is a narcissistic tendency that has been described as “the expectation of special privileges over others and special exemptions from normal social demands.” Researchers, led by Jared Lessard of the University of California Irvine, found that people who were exploitatively entitled showed higher levels of neuroticism and lower levels of work orientation, social commitment, and self-esteem.
There are a number of reasons why an individual would develop an exploitive sense of entitlement:
- Some experts believe that entitlement is a byproduct of our hyper-individualistic society. We are constantly bombarded with messages that tell us we’re unique and special, which can result in a culturally-instilled sense of entitlement.
- Entitlement can also be the result of overindulgence by parents during childhood. If children are never made to do chores or experience the consequences of their actions, they may develop a sense of entitlement that carries on into adulthood.
- Social media could also play a role in the entitled attitudes of today’s youth. Platforms like Facebook and Instagram create a highlight reel of people’s lives, which can make it seem like everyone is living an amazing life except you. This comparison can lead to feelings of jealousy and resentment, which can fuel a "me-first" attitude.
The study also found that exploitatively entitled people—i.e., people who responded affirmatively to statements such as, “I shouldn’t have to work as hard as others to get what I deserve”—showed a higher tendency towards manipulativeness, irresponsibility, and callousness. They also viewed wider societal concerns as unimportant.
#2. Non-exploitive entitlement
According to the study, non-exploitive entitlement is rooted in a secure sense of self-esteem and self-worth. Contrary to exploitive entitlement, it does not include the expectation to be treated as special or better than everyone else.
People with a non-exploitive sense of entitlement showed a strong work orientation, suggesting that they may feel entitled to get things they want because they are willing to put in the necessary effort to obtain them.
Non-exploitatively entitled participants were most likely to agree with statements such as, “I deserve the best things in life,” but did not necessarily think that others should have to help them get the things they want.
Thus, those high in non-exploitative entitlement may be less vulnerable to destructive thought patterns, such as upward social comparisons and resenting one’s peers, than exploitatively entitled youths. Non-exploitive entitlement is a product of healthy parenting and can be a strong bridge as young people make the transition into adulthood.
There is nothing inherently wrong with feeling entitled to certain things, as the study points out. In fact, a sense of entitlement can be healthy and motivating. For example, if you feel entitled to a promotion at work, you are more likely to put in the extra effort required to earn it. The same goes for feeling entitled to a successful romantic relationship—if you believe that you deserve to be in a happy and healthy partnership, you are more likely to put in the work necessary to make it happen.
Entitlement can be an incredibly useful quality if it is rooted in reason and an objective sense of self-worth.