Sometimes the tumble of thoughts in my brain just happens to resonate with the broader culture. Without divulging any identifying details, I have been increasingly troubled by the sense of entitlement I see in my ministry context – as well as in the schools where I sub.
Recently I had a student visibly distraught as I attempted to put him and his friends in separate discussion groups in our mid-week gathering. He told me, nearly choking up as he did, that the only reason those other friends come is to be with him. I don’t think he was exaggerating, but if he was, it would be uncharacteristically egotistical of him. No, I think he was pretty much dead on. It bothers me, though, that the friends he has been inviting all year haven’t made enough connections with other students and leaders within the group that they can bear to have their clique spread out for a few minutes of conversation. Unfortunately, it seems the consumer mindset that so often clouds the mindset of adult churchgoers has infiltrated the attitudes of many students.
When I was trying to find the Tweet that had my juices flowing a few days ago (“Just thinking how gratitude kicks entitlement’s butt every time,” attributed to @MikeBreaux), I found a WSJ article about a professor who contends that Mr. Rogers, TV’s beloved and (at the time) entirely uncreepy friendly neighbor, is at least partly to blame for a generation’s sense of entitlement. While I don’t think we can pin the blame entirely on one nice man, I do believe that a profound cultural shift began during his era. Rogers, and countless others speaking into children’s lives, told us that we were special, just because. No accomplishment required to be affirmed. Accepted no matter what.
Now, the love of God is entirely without condition or merit. Of course. But to allow kids – including a new generation who are the offspring of those impressionable minds Rogers shaped – to believe that the world owes them something just because they exist, well that’s just nuts. The world of adults and the world of kids have become so intermingled – what with children being allowed if not encouraged to call parents, teachers, and any adult by their first names – that kids don’t understand anymore that some things must actually be earned. What a shock it will be when Johnny can’t grow up before he turns 30, because Mommy and Daddy (make that Pete and Becky) have given him everything he wanted his entire life.
I can’t fundamentally fix anything for the children of others. I can insist on a modicum of respect for myself from young people as a teacher, youth leader, and generic adult. I don’t think that’s inconsistent with being in a friendly role (as I blogged about earlier). But it’s going to take concerted effort from parents to reset the expectations of the generations to come.
Giving kids real responsibilities, with the attendant accountability and consequences, will also go a long way in helping kids see how their efforts affect others.
I believe that cultivating a sense of gratitude, above all to God but also to the people whose hard work provide us with what we have, is key, just as the Twitterverse pointed out. I think that giving kids real responsibilities, with the attendant accountability and consequences, will also go a long way in helping kids see how their efforts affect others. For the middle school kids I love and serve, I can’t think of a better laboratory for that than short term missions and local service. All of life is an opportunity to serve and reach out. Helping kids view life through that lens will demolish any sense of entitlement.