Years ago, when I was a creative director in the ad biz,
I wrote a headline for a luxury item which read: “For
People Who Can’t Stand Self-Indulgence in Others, But
Who Often Forgive in Themselves.”
I had in mind some of the people I knew who so imperiously
wore a mantle of royalty and privilege and who
would never deign to as much as ride on a city bus or
step inside a J.C Penney’s Department Store. Stay at a
Motel 6? “Ewww” they would sniff.
My youngest son is a good example of this kind of
personality. Treating him to lunch not too long ago, he
seemed oblivious of the B.L.T special that I was having
for $5.99, and went straight for the trout almandine
costing five times that.
He is of that class of people for whom the word entitlement
definitely resonates. As do all my children. In fact,
“entitlement” is a family tradition.
When out of control, it’s one of the quirkiest of human
behaviors, and one of the most difficult to understand
or deal with. And I don’t for a moment believe that
I wasn’t tainted by the very same brush. Along with
most of the people I know.
It’s only natural for people, Americans especially, to
expect the best of everything. And why not? This is a
country that offers the best of everything.
So shouldn’t our children expect the best? They’ve
been following our example since birth. Some are
called fussy, others are called selective. Lesser appellations
include “selfish” and “self –centered” and “narcissistic.”
All are accurate.
Like all good connoisseurs in training, they’ve been
tutored to differentiate between the mundane and
the grand. They’ve been dressed in the best apparel
we could afford, fed excellent food because they had
growing bodies, been sent to good schools, sometimes
leaving us in near poverty.
Giving one’s child a sophomore year in Europe has
meant a second or third mortgage and a steady diet
of canned beans. Sacrifice for parents is huge in this
To deny “your little princess” or “your special boy” (a
very bad idea that causes untold grief), a parent may
be left feeling wretched with guilt. The diatribe in one’s
head will be arguing: How can I do this to my own flesh
If we, when young, had acted like many of the kids
today, we would have been called “spoiled brats.” We
might also have endured the humiliation of being
taken over one’s knee. Today, therapists caution you to
desist in such tactics, besides which, today’s children
aren’t dumb. They know how to pick up the phone and
call a lawyer.
I personally don’t believe in corporal punishment.
Instead of spanking my kids, I gave them lines to write.
I will not do this, I will not do that. This kept them in the
house instead of being out with their friends.
Then, one day, they came to me with a proposition.
“Instead of giving us lines,” they asked, “can you just
Try as we might to steer our kids on the right path, we
are up against something so huge, so overpowering, so
out of our control, that we must eventually bow to it:
This vast machine is an omnipresent worldwide network
that dominates the minds of youngsters, making
them into material goods junkies and parents into
material goods hostages.
Each and every day, the media claims young victims,
those avid followers whose only focus is on what is
trending right now. Hard to believe but everybody
follows this course in some way or other. Even you.
Haven’t you been thinking about getting a new car?
And what about that vacation to Grand Canyon next
Didn’t you tell yourself you deserve these things? That
you worked hard for them?
The difference is that you did earn the money to make
the purchases that make life more enjoyable. The erring
entitled entity has no concept of earning a paycheck
and will freeload as long as possible, never contributing
a thing, not a smile or a thank you in return.
Entitlement and self-indulgence are everywhere in the
public eye. You don’t think Queen Elizabeth and Prince
Philip feel entitled? And what about rock star divas who
have it written into their contracts that they must have
red toilet paper in their dressing room bathrooms? Or
movie stars who have decreed that anyone making eye
contact with them on a film set will be looking instead
at the long line at the unemployment office.
In ancient civilizations, anyone gazing upon a king or
emperor might be blinded. Or beheaded. Or both.
Entitlement in a child starts with the seemingly innocent
remarks we make in their developing years: “Oh,
you don’t want to pick your clothes off the floor?” Let
me do it for you.” And “You want that new i-phone?
But, of course, my little darling angel sweetheart. Nobody
deserves an i-phone more than you, ” And: “You’ll
have a screaming fit and swallow your tongue if I don’t
give you a convertible for graduation? What color
would you like?”
While you may not fall for such ploys, beware of grandparents.
They make powerful allies for the entitled child
although a true “career” entitled child needs no allies to
get what he or she wants.
My youngest son, at the age of nine, merely mimicked
me by writing checks and forging my signature to get
what he wanted. And what he wanted was drugs.
How he pulled off these capers was something that
even a seasoned crook might not have thought of. He
wrote notes. He wrote lots of notes. He would fabricate
scenarios in which I was too busy or too sick or that I
was called out of town, and would the nice teller give
the note-bearer $200? $300? $500?
The amazing thing was that the nice bank teller didn’t
think twice about handing over these sums.
You might think I would have been on the lookout
for future thefts, but no. I was in a state of denial. My
little son, even when he became my big, hulking son,
couldn’t really have done this deed. It didn’t matter
that I didn’t notice the abrupt cessation of bank statements.
What became clear after a few years was that he
had effectively wiped out his and his brother’s entire
Well, it could have been worse. He could have robbed
the bank itself. A homeboy at heart, he honored us by
very thoughtfully keeping all his misdemeanors in the
family. On a trip to see relatives in Scotland one summer,
he stole his grandfather’s prized stamp collection
worth $9,000 and hocked it for $9.00.
Would his visibly upset grandfather like to call the police
and prefer charges? I had asked. “Nooooo, I canny
do,” his Edinburgh grandfather said. Back home, realizing
that my son would stop at nothing to get the money
to buy drugs, I finally had to do something about it. I
preferred charges. My son was then fourteen and truly
hooked on hard drugs.
A judge ordered him to be sent to a rehab for eighteen
months. Just days after being released, he was back on
drugs. C’est la vie.
If you think that this kind of situation was unique in my
family, you have only to stop the nearest person on the
Ask the following question: Is there a young person
in your family who is using drugs, staying out until all
hours, stealing anything not nailed down, destroying
the premises, and making his or her parents crazy?
Seems like there’s someone with this description in all
families. Chances are the person you have chosen will
tell you how the specter of entitlement, sparked by
substances, has spiraled out of control creating bloody
murder in home, the end result being the cessation of
one’s home life as one once knew it.
Disassociation, sometimes for life, with a person’s most
beloved family members often becomes a reality. The
seriousness of the problem, and the inability to change
what is happening, leaves claw marks on the lives of
countless thousands each year.
For the entitled child, manipulator supreme, you will
never be able to change the scenario. As Quentin Crisp,
the author, once commented: “You can give and give
and give and then when you are in your grave, you will
think you didn’t give enough.”
Heartbreaking as it is, it’s the way it is. The sooner this
fact penetrates and is accepted, the sooner a person
can take back his or her life. It won’t be an overnight
You’ll be screamed at, cursed at, and barked at. It’s
a classic scenario. You’ll be blamed and judged. The
entitled party will tell you he or she didn’t want to be
born into this lousy world in the first place, that it was
all your idea.
Their nub of their message is that now you can damn
well pay up and shut up! And something inside you
agrees. But don’t give into it.
It is said in certain spiritual circles, that we choose our
parents before we incarnate, and I can believe that,
especially in regards to my youngest son. There he was,
pre-born, way up there in the heavens, scanning the
planet for just the right parent who would do everything
for him, who would be like supple clay that he
Seeing me, he no doubt made a nosedive straight toward
earth, yelling “HELLO SUCKERRRRRR” all the way
Then it all changed. I suddenly became a recovering
parent. I let go of all that cloying, sickly, namby-pamby
destructive crap in favor of doing something I hadn’t
done in years: Live my own life.
It wasn’t easy—in fact, it was the hardest thing I’ve ever
had to do in my life, and there isn’t a day that goes by
that I don’t think about the people I love most in the
world—the ones I had to let go of.
But I knew that if I ever wanted to experience peace,
love, happiness, and joy, I had to do it.
After all, I figured, I am entitled.