Avoiding Pavlov’s Dog: How Not to Raise Entitled Kids
The world is training your children to respond to treats, praise, rewards and status. Jeff Everage explains how only you and your community can teach them self-direction and that happiness comes from within.
You know that treasure chest at the dentist office? Ever thought about its purpose? Those little toys make getting children back for a check-up a breeze. We went on a canoe trip down the Russian River and if you picked up trash you got free ice cream at the end of the trip. My boys got more excited about picking up trash and getting ice cream than being on the river in the first place. When we go to our favorite ice cream shop on dessert night, they get a punch card to buy 10 and get 1 free, making free ice cream an incredible training treat in my family. My friend’s mother gives out cookies and ice cream at the slightest sign of a meltdown much to the parent’s chagrin.
The image of the excited dog, barely able to sit, and waiting for you to drop the treat isn’t that far off, is it? Here are some more.
- Lollipop for a haircut
- Balloon at the chiropractor
- Stickers at the hospital (yes, my youngest wanted to go back to get more after breaking his arm)
- Candy bowl at the front of every restaurant.
Candy, toys and treats are good for creating compliant children that want to return but there are a lot of other ways that are less obvious. Some children work hard for the sake of good grades, some for trophies and awards, and some to be the winner, some for an adult’s attention and praise, and some to gain status. Of course, the marketing gurus know how powerful incentives are for children. There is truly no end to the toys at the bottom of the cereal box out in the market place. Everywhere you look people are trying to use treats, rewards, and status to train you and your children to be compliant and do what they want.
Compliant Children are great until…
…they grow up into young adults that want something in return for everything they do. The technical term is entitlement. Just look around at the praise and rewards oriented world of adults we already live in. Credit cards, airlines, grocery stores, gas stations, and even our employers offer all sorts of ways to accumulate rewards. And don’t forget your social networks and favorite vendors. You can be the king of your local restaurant if you review it enough. You can have high “status” if you travel enough or participate in something enough. Adults are not immune to getting trained to be compliant and loyal to brands and vendors that are totally indifferent to them. Marketing departments in large companies really don’t care if their products and services are a good idea for us. They care about sales. They have families to feed and mortgages to pay after all.
Parents, teachers, aunts, uncles, mentors, and friends make all the difference…
…because they are the only ones in a child’s life that can create and hold healthy expectations and foster the situations where the child develops the skills needed to self-direct, cooperate, determine meaningful purpose in life and help others selflessly. Everyone else probably has an agenda to create compliance, especially if they are a part of mainstream media, companies selling products and services to you, or organizations that want you to join their ideology.
“It takes a Village” is Susie Walton’s mantra for raising children and I agree with her. Building a village is a subject of a recent talk at her parenting conference. One idea is to bring together all the adults and young adults in your children’s life and get agreement about how you can work together to raise them. Sounds like a pot luck with a purpose to me.
Some Ways to Teach Your Child Self-Direction
The good news is that it is really not much work to help your child build self-direction. The parenting practices below are focused on modeling behavior and creating an environment that “throws” them into self-direction automatically.
- Cut out the praise and practice encouragement. Your encouragement will develop their ability to encourage themselves when times are tough or the pressure is on.
- Be a media free family or at least reduce advertising based media dramatically. This is a double benefit. It reduces the marketing messages they are exposed to that shape their wants and produces free time for them to figure out what they want to do.
- Give them a healthy allowance and boundaries on how to spend, and then stop buying anything for them. They develop an important habit of being resilient to the impact of marketing: delayed gratification.
- Set limits and then set them free within those limits. Let the consequences happen and let them deal with them.
- Model selflessly helping those in need or participating in ways that help the group over your individual needs.
- Model repairing your mistakes and make mistakes opportunities to learn.
- Teach them to be a lifelong learner by encouraging them to study what they are interested in. Eliminate the pressure to make good grades, do hours of homework every night, memorize facts, etc.
- Let them be bored. Don’t entertain them. Give them the chance to work through boredom and transform it to the opportunity to self-direct.
- Live, play and work outside as much as you can. Outside unstructured play is critical to brain development and learning to have fun within the current situation. No more whining about not having the right toy.
With these techniques, a reduction in exposure to advertising, and a community behind you, you can counter the impact of a world that seems hell bent on training you and your children to do what they want.
by Jeff Everage
See related posts:
I Want Pizza!: Turning “We Can’t Afford It” to “How Do We Create It?”
A Culture of Gratitude: Saying Thank You and Being Thankful
How to Achieve Mutual Respect with Children
Allowance 101: The Parent’s Guide to Giving Kids Allowance
3 Simple Allowance Rules
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Avoiding Pavlov’s Dog: How Not to Raise Entitled Kids,