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September 3, 2018

Perspective: The Age of Entitlement

By Michelle Malcolm

On August 23, former Governors General, H.E. Sir Orville Turnquest and H.E. the Hon. Arthur Hanna were formally installed as members of the Order of the Nation.  Right thinking Bahamians celebrated the long overdue award. These gentlemen had spent the better part of six decades contributing to the development of our nation.  However, there was at least one (that I saw) dissenting voice.

While scrolling through Facebook, I came across a thread discussing the honors ceremony. As I read through the comments, there it was.  Someone was asking why no young people had made the list of national hero honorees. My first thought was, surely this is a joke. As the discourse continued, however, I soon realized that the writer was quite serious.  Never mind that these men were among those who shed blood, sweat and tears to build the modern-day Bahamas.  Never mind the countless personal sacrifices they made and heavy price they paid for the sake of nationhood and for the freedoms we enjoy today.  None of that mattered to the writer. The only thing they cared about was why no young person was receiving such an honor, as if being young is some sort of accomplishment.

It got me thinking: where does this warped sense of entitlement come from? Why do so many young people believe that they do not have to work for their rewards?

We live in an age of entitlement in which 20-somethings truly believe that the world revolves around them and even worse still, that the world owes them something. Children born between 1982 and 1995, known as “Generation Y” Gen-Yers or Millennials, were raised to believe that it is their right to have everything given to them more than any other generation before them. Now in their 20s and 30s, they are marked by an addiction to technology, arrested development, an off-the-cuff approach to life, and are known for placing a higher value on self-fulfillment than the generations before them did.

These narcissistic beings abhor criticism. In fact, research shows that they have an automatic, knee-jerk reaction to it, and respond by simply dismissing it, whether or not there is validity in the criticism. The strong work ethic and self-sacrifice that were honed by their grandparents have been eclipsed by this generation’s unrelenting pursuit of self-gratification. Rather than believing that they have to work to get ahead, they are convinced that it should just happen effortlessly and automatically.

“Even if they fail miserably at a job, they still think they’re great at it,” says the University of Hampshire’s Professor Paul Harvey, who conducted a series of studies measuring psychological entitlement and narcissism on a group of Millennials. The results were quite eye-opening. The 20 somethings scored 25 per cent higher than respondents ages 40 to 60 and 50 per cent higher than those over 61.

Professor Harvey concluded that Generation Y is characterized by a “very inflated sense of self” that leads to “unrealistic expectations” and, ultimately, “chronic disappointment”.

So who is to blame for this? Millennials will tell you that it’s not their fault, as taking responsibility is not one of their strong suits. In this case, however, they may be right. Researchers believe that after constantly being told from birth that they are special, the result is they now believe it – and will ignore anyone who dares to say otherwise. You heard me right: the age of entitlement in which we find ourselves can be laid squarely at the feet of poor parenting.

Generations past believed in the value of honest work. “There is no elevator to the top, you need to take the stairs,” was a shared viewpoint on working life, and nobody expected anybody else to provide for them. This mindset began to shift in the 1980s, however, when parents began to work towards making life “easier” for their children than it was for them. Unfortunately, while their intentions may have been noble, this decision resulted in a generation of children who have no appreciation for the meaning or value of work. Parents who once themselves took odd jobs to help make ends meet have raised self-centered children who would rather not work at all than take a job they do not consider glamorous enough for them. The problem is perpetuated by the fact that Generation Yers are incapable of taking any type of personal accountability, and thus the possibility of reforming their behaviors is unlikely.

Professor Harvey agrees that the sense of entitlement ‘gets ingrained in the formative years.’ ‘It stems from the self-esteem movement, telling kids, “You’re great, you’re special,’’ he said.

With each generation, we begin to see a growing entitlement mindset. Researchers from Kennesaw State University, examined data from an ongoing study of high school students conducted annually since 1975 by the University of Michigan. Both workers in Generation X, the one which came before Generation Y, and Gen Yers want to earn a lot, however, Generation Xers show greater awareness that hard work comes along with a hefty salary.

“They want everything,” said Stacy Campbell, an assistant professor of management at Kennesaw.

“They want the time off. They want the big bucks. The findings really support the idea that they’re entitled.”

Ironically, studies show that such an approach to life leads to higher levels of depression because unjustified levels of self-esteem have a way of concealing an ugly reality.

Nationally, entitlement can be dangerous. In the past, it has been seen over and over again, in the economic downfalls of many developed nations.  Entitlement is at the center of corruption, a negative force with the power to destroy any nation. Arrogance and a sense of entitlement seems to radiate from corrupt “public servants,” who seem to have forgotten their role in the lives of the citizens of their country and who seem to have the audacity to believe that they are owed these “benefits” by their country in return for their service.

Psychology Today cites entitlement as “an enduring personality trait, characterized by the belief that one deserves preferences and resources that others do not.” However, entitlement has an alterable quality that can increase or decrease based on social conditioning. Parents with young children can disrupt this growing trend by breaking the cycle. There needs to be a long term solution that will permanently alter this perception of entitlement and that can only be accomplished by altering modern-day parenting techniques. Perhaps by giving every child a gold star for just showing up, we are teaching them that they don’t need to earn rewards, just accept them; that they can reap rewards simply by being in the right place at the right time, further confirming how innately extraordinary they are. This is not to be confused with teaching a child self-worth, which is fundamental to healthy development. However, the increase in instances of parents demanding their children are rewarded regardless of achievement only lends to the prevalence of this disturbing trend.

Written by acclaimed child psychologist and best-selling author Wendy Mogel, the book The Blessing of a Skinned Knee asserts that in addition to love, parents owe their children, “Respectful treatment, healthful food, shelter from the weather, practical and comfortable clothing, yearly checkups at the pediatrician and the dentist, and a good education,” and that everything else is a privilege.

Even at a young age, children should be exposed to what it would be like to not have these necessities, and be made to understand that there are people in the world who go without. They should be taught in some basic way, that without effort and labor of some kind, they will not have things that they are used to. Giving children age-appropriate chores is an effective way of exposing them to the idea of being responsible members of a community.

Reform is necessary if The Bahamas is to be saved from the plague of the age of entitlement. Parents, businesses, and the government must work together to restructure the mentality of young people and breed a new generation of the work spirit once again into the social fabric of our country.

September 3, 2018