Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Entitlement, Part Two

Yesterday, when I began to write about entitlement, I was hot.  Under the collar, that is--I had been talking with a friend who had spent the day dealing with adults who felt entitled to have things THEIR way, regardless of the effect on everyone else.  There seemed a lack of connect for these people between their actions and demands,versus the effect that these actions/demands would have on other people, including the children in the center my friend works for.

I've been working with kids and their families for the better part of twenty-three years and in that time the majority of parents I see are dedicated to their children and want what's best for them.  Sometimes there is a problem between a parent's perspective of what is best for his or her child and the school's view of what is best.  It's been my experience that most of these issues can be worked through using respectful communication and truly listening to one another.  This does NOT mean that one side is always right, nor does it mean that a school needs to always "tow the line" regarding policy.  It also doesn't mean that the customer is always right.  Sometimes the solution is somewhere in between, and one that is a new discovery for both sides.  However, there are very few situations that I have walked away from as a teacher (or a parent) and felt badly about.

When we have senses of entitlement, it's important as adults to check those and play devil's advocate.  Is the expectation reasonable?  Are we honestly entitled to it?  Is our child entitled to an extra ten minutes to finish an art project they really like?  Or are they entitled to a pleasant and effective school experience?  Is our child entitled to experience NO teasing in school or a school that quickly deals with problems such as teasing?

It's very easy for me to write as a mom that children are entitled to a "psychologically safe environment", meaning an environment in which children feel free to express themselves without fear of teasing from anyone.  But that doesn't take into account that it's typical at certain ages for children TO tease each other.  Therefore, it makes more sense to feel entitlement toward how the school will handle such situations, rather than an expectation they will never happen.

I spoke a bit about what children are entitled to, and I believe wholeheartedly in the concepts I listed.  What I didn't mention is most of these entitlements are things we are entitled to as human beings, not only as children.  Human beings are entitled to a certain level of treatment--physical needs, social needs, emotional needs, being met.  In some ways, our country does an excellent job in meeting these needs.  In others, we fail abysmally.  Other countries often fall even shorter than we do.

So what happens when the things we're supposed to be entitled to aren't there?  We fail to flourish as human beings.  We wither and in some cases, we die.  We are entitled to human rights.

We are NOT entitled to demand our children have a special lunch because they like it, or  a poptart for snack because they don't want applesauce today.  We are NOT entitled to attempt to run over people in positions of responsibility with our own ideas.  Democracy is not about entitlement.  It's about shared ideas and compromise.  We owe it to our children to model respectful concerns and communication; to resolve issues appropriately without hostility; and to model what to do when things aren't working out.

As many a parent has said to his or her child, the world doesn't owe you a thing.  You earn what the world will give you.  With the exception of human rights, our parents hit the nail on the head.

And take my word for it when I say to you nothing comes for free--yelling at your son's teacher this morning left a bad taste in her mouth; snapping at your server about your late lunch made her less careful in getting your food to the table; demanding fairness between all children in every situation fails to teach our children the realities of life.  But human rights don't guarantee you an equal shot; they guarantee you a fair one.  As a parent, I have one child who functions very well independently while another needs more guidance.  Should I pursue fair or equal?  Fair wins every time.  I've said it before and I'll say it again until the breath leaves my body:  our jobs as adults is not to give everyone equal time.  It's to give everyone what they need.  If my daughter needs more one-on-one time and my son needs more guidance n his homework, that's where my energy goes.  Neither child is entitled to the exact equal treatment, nor would they want it.

Nothing steals our uniqueness away like being treated exactly the same, and nothing encourages an overblown sense of entitlement like our misguided sense of equality.

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