How to manage kids’ expectations — in an age of entitlement

Experts confirm it: Kids today are more entitled than ever. Here's how to manage their expectations and keep kids on track.

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Between keeping bosses, clients, and even spouses and family happy, managing expectations is not a new skill for people with grandchildren. The new group that needs its expectations put in check, however, is children! “Entitlement with kids is a huge issue now,” says Jeannie Bertoli, Ph.D., Relationship Expert and Counselor.

Most of you already know that squelching expectations for material things is a grandparent’s best move to help manage a child’s entitlement. But when it comes to entitlements about say, staying up late or being the center of attention, supporting kids’ expectations—and even relaxing your enforcement of minor rules—can help kids and parents, alike. Read on to learn what the experts have to say about approaching these different “great expectations.”

Grandkids say: “…but Khloe Kardashian has a Range Rover!”

When keeping up with the Joneses turns into Keeping up with the Kardashians, expectations can become extravagant. The hours spent in front of the television, computer, phone or tablet, otherwise known as “screen time,” is in an upswing. According to the Kaiser foundation, children ages 8-18 spend an average of 7.5 hours of screen time per day on entertainment media, between television, video games and surfing the internet. That’s about half the time they are awake! “Kids want what they see,” says Dr. Bertoli, and the excess they see in the media is magnified by this increased screen time.

Your strategy: “You can’t shut down the media,” says Dr. Bertoli, but setting limits on kids’ screen time helps. She recommends that parents try a household media ban one day each week, or one week each quarter. Grandparents can join in the shutdown efforts by planning “screen-free” activities for grandkids when they visit.

Grandkids say: “…but my friend has a Range Rover!”

Even with the television shut off, children still want what others have, Dr. Bertoli notes, adding that what they see from their peer groups is an even stronger motivation for entitlement than the media. Indeed, according to Forbes, kids of all ages are heavily influenced on their purchase desires by their peers, specifically with regards to smartphones, cars, Apple products, cigarettes, and alcohol.*

Your strategy: Sometimes, the luxury products that your grandkids’ friends have fall out of budget—or are simply above what you and their parents are comfortable giving. When a coveted iPhone is not in the cards, work with parents to communicate the “ancient lesson that we all have different things,” says Dr. Bertoli. In other words, “keeping up with the Joneses” is not a purchase justification. Alternatively, you can make the high-value product something that a child must earn. “Show them that we volunteer, or we save money for it,” says Dr. Bertoli.

Grandkids say: “…but I need it!

Love spoiling your grandchildren with presents? You’re not alone. The AARP reports that 57% of grandparents believe it’s their role to “spoil” their grandchildren with too many gifts and 25% of grandparents spend over $1,000 each year on their grandchildren! Spending this cash can be done without spoiling children, says Dr. Bertoli, and without grandkids confusing you with a “money tree.”

Your strategy: If you’re in a position to give a gift to your grandchildren that their parents cannot afford, work with the parents to make these gifts unexpected treats, and not just fulfillments of children’s request. “Emphasize the grandparents’ role in the gift, and how special it is that they are able to do these things for [their grandchildren],” says Dr. Bertoli. Modeling the joy of generosity promotes that value in children. “What a beautiful message you can create together,” she adds.

Grandkids say: “…but I’m old enough to stay up until midnight!”

Whether you care for your grandchildren full time, or take charge of them for a weekend visit, be mindful that kids are always ready to test discipline limits. When rule enforcement arises during a heated or exhausted moment, it’s tempting to give in, Dr. Bertoli says, which reinforces the expectation that the child is in control. “Commit to being aware that children are increasingly holding you hostage.” Beware of this Stockholm Syndrome!

Your strategy: Dr. Bertoli recommends that parents and other guardians write down house rules, so they are clear when conflicts arise. Non-guardian grandparents, however, can rejoice to learn that with the exception of health- or values-based mandates (think sugar bans and cursing), relaxing rules during the kids’ visits won’t disrupt parents’ discipline efforts. “Children understand that they can ‘get away’ with different things at different houses,” says Dr. Bertoli, so in her opinion, letting your grandson stay up late with his grandpa is harmless!

Grandkids say: “…but all of my friends’ parents are there!”

Young children often demand family attention, and expect their parents to be at soccer games, plays and recitals when their peers’ parents are there. “Kids just don’t want to be different,” says Dr. Bertoli.

Your strategy: Instead of squelching your grandchild’s expectation that their parents will always show up to events, you can show them that other members of the family are there to support them, too, by attending important events when parents can’t make it. “This is a great place where grandparents can step in to help, especially with single parents,” says Dr. Bertoli. Parents can still be part of the moment by setting up an alternative celebration, such as a “win-or-lose” dinner to talk about all of the details of the game, she adds.

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