The rap on young people is that they're entitled and narcissistic. They think the world revolves around them and owes them something. They're brats, basically.
Is this true?
Absolutely not, reply a whole host of Millennials, who point out that it's their parents who tanked the economy and their employers who vacated the basic compact of trust that undergirded the idea of "paying your dues." Why put up with nonsense when you'll get no loyalty or development in return, they ask.
These defenders of the young make some really good points. But then again, those who complain about "kids these days" aren't totally off the mark. While the verdict is still out on whether young people on the whole are any more self-absorbed than their parents were at the same age, there is clearly a subset of the young who suffer from a worrying lack of empathy and inflated self-regard.
How can you avoid raising one of them? According to a fascinating recent article by Karen Weese in The Washington Post, the problem isn't that kids today are particularly inclined to brattiness. In fact, she asserts, we all have a few basic psychological impulses that drive us toward entitlement. It's just that some of us learn to counteract them and some of us don't.
Understand these psychological principles, she tells parents, and you'll have a much better chance of pushing back effectively.
1. The fundamental attribution error
Kids, like the rest of us, fall prey to this cognitive bias, which causes people to blame other people's bad actions on their horrible character and our own on circumstances beyond our control. It's this bias that's at work when you assume that the guy speeding past us on the highway is just a jerk, when you know that, when you drive too fast, it's usually because you're late for a meeting.
As we grow older, many of us learn to correct for this quirk in our thinking, but kids don't automatically understand that other people's motivations and choices are as complicated as their own. You have to teach them.
"The next time we're at a restaurant and the kids are moaning, 'Where is our food? This waitress is terrible!' we can point out that maybe the kitchen is backed up and she's doing her best. Maybe she's covering extra tables for someone who called in sick, or this is her second job and she's been up since 4 a.m.," suggests Weese.
2. Hedonic adaption
People can get used to just about anything, whether that's a life-altering disability, a lottery win, or owning a truly massive TV. And once they do, they start taking the conditions of their lives for granted. That's known as "hedonic adaption" and it can make your kids extremely unappreciative of their blessings.
"Anything we provide or do regularly will become the new norm," cautions Weese, "whether it's postgame milkshakes or a certain brand of clothes. And not doing things can also become a norm: If our kids have gotten used to having their beds made or dinner table set, they'll come to expect that, too." So think very carefully before you set a precedent.
3. Availability bias
Thinking is hard, so your brain likes shortcuts, and one of its favorites is called "the availability bias." This means that we calculate the commonness of something by how quickly we can recall an example, which is what makes plane crashes and child abductions seem like much bigger threats than they realistically are. These occurrences are terrifying, so we remember them instantly, tricking our brain into thinking they happen much more often than they actually do.
What does that have to do with raising down-to-earth kids? "If everyone at our kids' school wears $120 sneakers, our kids are going to think that's normal, not because they're spoiled monsters, but because it's what they see every day," warns Weese. Fight back by making sure your little ones see a broader and more representative sample of the world.
This is only a sample of the wisdom on offer in Weese's article, so if you're intrigued, head over to WaPo for more details.