As I was enjoying a much needed relaxing weekend, I was reflecting on how the employment world has become so competitive. It struck me how we have to raise the bar in order just to stay even.
The question is: are we even staying even?
Two groups of people immediately came to mind when considering who could best answer this question: employers of young people and school counselors. After all, they’re the respective “consumers” of the nation’s schools and key leaders in guiding our students.
I talked to a manager of a coffee shop the other day who also teaches high school “tech-ed” courses. He vented about the lacking social skills, work ethic, and dependability of his employees and students, lamenting how they act like they’re owed something. He faces an uphill battle because he sees how their parents are routinely feeding these attitudes, enabling their child’s sense of entitlement.
This insightful insider commented that when parents do things like make last-minute absentee calls on behalf of their teen, give teachers flak when their students aren’t doing well in a class, or make nasty phone calls to employers when their child doesn’t get the promotion, raise, or extra hours he/she “deserved,” they’re doing their children a huge disservice in the long run.
Another person I spoke with, a veteran school counselor, shared how already in the first week of school they faced numerous issues with student disrespect and parental entitlement. Regrettably, this is consistent with a survey of school counselors I conducted a few months ago. Student apathy, “entitlement mentality,” and lack of parental support were among the top five issues they cited.
Now, juxtapose this with a conversation I had with a determined Indonesian high school student after my talk, “Developing the Great Leaders of Tomorrow” during my book tour stop in Bali.
“Mr. Dennis,” he said, “I’m not as smart at academics as I’d like to be. But, can I still become a great leader?” he asked with great concern.
This kid gets it. No, success is not just about “book smarts—far from it.” It’s about being smart about life, without an attitude of entitlement. It’s about having the willingness to work hard and deliver excellence in all you do. For a host of reasons, too many students aren’t getting this message today.
All of us—parents, teachers, school and college administrators, and media/culture drivers, have a stake in reversing this trend of entitlement. This means honoring and modeling hard work, personal responsibility, strong ethics, perseverance, and preparing young people for a world that won’t revolve around them. It means teaching that failure is part of life and self-esteem is something best earned.
It means that as parents, our value isn’t defined by a perfect performance from our children, but whether they are people of excellence who strive to do their best. And, yes, it means assigning responsibilities to the privileges our young people naturally desire. That means adopting a “work comes before play” approach in the home, placing healthy limits on technology and entertainment, and building a helping, team-oriented attitude with chores so the household runs smoothly. It means remembering you’re in a position of authority, not a co-equal friend. It means choosing not to defend your child’s misbehavior or poor attitude to authority figures. Finally, it means providing our children opportunities to volunteer to help the less fortunate.
And, for our schools and universities, it means reversing the course of grade inflation that is causing students to feel a sense of entitlement that everyone deserves (and is receiving) good grades. It means that administrators, coaches, and teachers reemphasize the importance of respect to students, parents, and staff. Although well intended in many respects, the self esteem movement has contributed to serious unintended consequences—with entitlement, disrespect, overconfidence, and emotional fragility among the most obvious ones. A little tough love can, and will, go a long way to reversing these trends.
So, now that the school year is over, let’s get to work…on this!