Fighting the entitlement culture
Kids whining and crying when they don’t get their way. Constant “gimmes” or “I
wants” from other kids. Children insisting that they should get candy because
another kid did. Older students expecting (and parents demanding) a higher
grade than what they earned. Young professionals who are more focused on
benefits than on a strong work ethic. Do any of these scenarios sound familiar?
Entitlement could be viewed as a plague of today’s culture. Upcoming
generations seem to believe that they deserve to have what they want simply
because they are walking on the earth. When kids are little it can at best make
you roll your eyes and at worst get on your nerves. As kids fail to grow out of this
mentality and carry it into the rest of their lives, it can become spiritually
How did we get here?
If it drives everyone crazy, how did we end up with a generation that believes it’s all about them? You could probably brainstorm a hundred reasons, but here are a few likely culprits.
Self-esteem teachings. A 2012 Wall Street Journal article blames Mr. Rogers for initiating this mindset. For years, schools and kids’ media programming have told kids that they are special no matter what. Of course, kids are special and loved unconditionally by God, but the lack of balance in the message leaves kids believing that the world is all about them.
Media. Marketers flood commercial breaks with messages of what kids must have, need to have, and deserve to have.
Kid-centered families. When a couple has a baby, that baby takes over the world! This is natural, but the struggle for families is how to keep the little one from truly ruling the roost. Many families do not fight this battle and the family’s schedules, conversations, and entire lives become centered on the little ones.
Absence of limits. Too many parents want to be friends with their kids. Their number one goal becomes their child’s happiness, which is a dangerous priority because happiness tends to be fleeting, based on the next gaming system that comes out and seeking bigger and better. This goal results in over-indulgence where parents give kids anything they want. It also results in kids with very few boundaries.
But wait, kidmin friends, let’s not get too hasty to blame families. When we look close enough, many of these characteristics are just as prevalent in our ministries as they are in families.
Kid-centered teaching. I am a huge fan of making sure that what we teach kids is applicable to their real lives. However, I think it’s possible we have erred too much on that side. If kids leave our ministry believing that the Bible is about THEM and their behavior, we have missed it and more seriously, have miscommunicated the Gospel.
Kid-centered ministry. This generation of kids has received the most creative, most fun, most kid-friendly ministry experience ever in the history of children’s ministry. Yet kids are still walking away from the church. Could it be that in spite of our sincere intentions, we’ve made our ministry too kid-centered? Could it be that in trying to be over-the-top kid-friendly, we have accidentally communicated that the church is all about them?
Fear of limits. Let’s be honest, kids don’t have to come to our church. We are too often intimidated by that fear which results in not setting the limits on kids’ behavior. We let a lot of things go, because we give into the same temptation as the parents. We just want the kids to be happy. So we put up with bad behavior, we give them lots of candy, and we eliminate competition so everyone wins the rewards we hand out.
Why does it matter?
Other than it simply being annoying, why does it matter if kids have a sense of entitlement? After all, they are just kids, right?
The most significant impact that the entitlement epidemic has is the way kids’ theologies and worldviews are skewed. When kids believe something, that idea shapes their worldview, which drives every decision they make. Kids are buying into lies, which can only spiritually cripple them in the long run.
God exists for me. Kids probably wouldn’t say that out loud, but when their world is them-centered, it is natural for them to assume that God is all about them, too. In some cases, God becomes the big Santa in the sky who exists to give the child stuff. God only likes the people I like. The Bible, church, and other people exist to meet my needs. Obviously, this is contrary to the Gospel. God created us for His glory, not our own (Isaiah 43:7). He desires for our lives to be about serving others, not about serving ourselves (Phil. 2:3, Matt. 20:26-28).
Because I exist, I deserve God’s blessings. It is important for kids to know that God loves them unconditionally and desires to give them good things (James 1:17, Luke 12:32). However, it is just as important for them to learn and understand about the enormity of God’s grace. Kids must exit our ministries with a solid understanding of Ephesians 2:8, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.”
If something bad happens, God must not be real or must not love me. If a child holds any of the above as truth, this statement is the natural next step. If God exists for me, then obviously something is wrong with God if things don’t go my way. This could be something serious, but if the sense of entitlement is strong enough, it could be triggered by a minor experience, such as a strike out or getting in trouble at school.
The Bible teaches that we will have trouble in this world, yet we trust in the One who overcomes the world (John 16:33). Kids need a solid understanding that problems and disappointments are part of following Jesus.
The entitlement mentality also greatly hinders our children from being the leaders in the church that God desires them to be. When their focus is on what they get and who is serving them, the church becomes even more “me-centric” and less focused on the Gospel.
So what can we do?
We can’t fix the world, but there are things that we can do in our kidmin environments that can fight the sense of entitlement the world feeds our children.
Focus on diligently teaching the Gospel. There is so much that kids need to learn about how God wants them to act and who He says we are. But we must, must, must focus on teaching them who God is, what He has done for us, and how we are to live in response to that. We must teach kids that God, His Word, and life itself is not about them. God has a bigger picture. Take an honest look at your curriculum. What is the focus of the majority of your content?
Make every environment of your ministry more God-centered than kid-centered. Will kids walk out of your ministry with more of an impression of how fun you are or how great our God is? Of course, we must speak their language and create fun, engaging environments so that they will hear the truth. But evaluate if you are pointing kids more towards the fun or towards Jesus.
Expose kids to a world that is bigger than them. More than ever, kids need experiences that stretch them beyond themselves. If missions are not a high priority in your ministry, you may need to re-evaluate for this generation of children. Create projects that give families opportunities to give and to serve together. Partner with ministries in other parts of the world so that your kids can see what life outside of themselves looks like. The goal is more than to help kids appreciate what they have. The goal is to help them see that God is working in a
world much bigger than them and that His purposes are bigger than what they experience in their world.
Set limits and fight overindulgence within the ministry. Make loving discipline a high priority. Have high expectations for kids’ behavior and address their choices when they exceed the limits. Remember that not everyone has to win every game, rewards should be earned, and kids don’t have to get a physical treat or prize just for showing up.
Coach families to be Gospel-centered rather than kid-centered. Our opportunities to share with families are limited. Let’s make sure that we use them wisely. More than needing discipline or time management tips, families need help figuring out how to make Jesus the focus of their home.
Overall, love kids and families the way Christ does—abundantly. Because He loves us, He sets a higher standard than the world does. He showers us with good and perfect gifts, yet leaves room for us to be dependent on Him. He provides His grace, yet wants us to recognize that we are only deserving through Him. Let’s quit competing with the world and instead fight the sense of entitlement by using all our energy to point kids towards the Savior and His Gospel.
Try one of these at your VBS to combat the entitlement mindset.
- Instead of kids earning prizes, they can toss ten pennies that you provide into a large container. Make it a fun game of toss! Give them a set number of pennies as a goal for a special project. The same amount of money you would spend on prizes now goes for someone who needs help.
- Set definite expectations for attitudes and behavior. Talk to the kids at the beginning of the week about the consequences; then, make sure you follow through in love.
- Offer an added day to your VBS where families can participate in serving together. Provide multiple opportunities so they can choose what best fits their family.
- At the close of each day, the kids can write down what they learned about God that day … without using the words “me”, “my”, or “mine.” Post these on the wall where kids, parents, team members, and congregation can see them.