Dawn Billings is a licensed professional counselor, author of over 20 books, entrepreneur and highly-acclaimed speaker who was recently selected as one of the nation’s emerging women leaders by The Oprah Magazine and the White House Project. In March, 2010, Billings presented a talk for MetroFamily’s Parent University.
Entitlement is a big topic for Dawn, and her Parent University program—Don’t Feed the Gimme Monster: Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World—addressed the issue of entitlement and how it is affecting our children and our world at large. In this Q&A, we asked her to elaborate on her theory of the problems involved with entitlement.
Why do you feel that entitlement is such an important issue for today’s parents to address?
Entitlement is the cancer in today’s society. Like cancer, entitlement destroys the lives that it invades. Entitlement is the root of all unhappiness and misery in the world. It causes people to perpetrate the most evil acts and justify them. Entitlement steals our children’s happiness, their hopes and dreams and their capacity to be generous and appreciative. It breaks relationships and destroys governments, homes and individuals.
How has the issue of entitlement changed from past generations?
In earlier decades we had world wars and a major depression. However, entitlement led up to these world wars and caused the depression. Therefore in the 30s, 40s and 50s there was not much room for entitlement to grow. But beginning in the 60s entitlement came alive again and every decade since, entitlement has grown completely out of proportion and is now an epidemic in our society.
What is wrong with giving children praise?
Praise does nothing positive for our children and in fact, research has shown that it actually harms them, instead of helping them. This is very counter-intuitive for most parents. In fact, praising children is a difficult habit to break. Praise is easy, and when heaped on in abundant measure, it is harmful. What children need instead is to be noticed, commended and respected for their choices, attitudes and actions. This is very different than being praised. When you notice a child, you validate them, you recognize them, you really see them—and they feel it. When you praise a child for absolutely no reason other than because they are breathing, the praise feel like a lie inside; it’s not connected to an accomplishment, so there is nothing internally to anchor it to. Praised children they grow up with a false sense of self. They are like shiny Peanut M&Ms with no peanut inside. They look great on the outside and they learn to pretend, but they do not develop a core self worth and esteem. They feel hollow and empty because they had nothing to attach the praise to. When you notice a child, you are attaching a behavior, a choice, an attitude to your words of commendation and admiration, and it helps the child internalize what you are complimenting them for. We should replace praise with commendation, honor and admiration for choices that express excellence. Children need to be admired, respected and honored, but they need to earn our admiration and respect by being honorable.
Mari Farthing is the Editor of MetroFamily Magazine.