From Innocence to Entitlement

From Innocence to Entitlement 1

This book is the most recent of the Love and Logic series that I have chosen to consider. My impression is that it is a wonderful “read” for all of us. In From Innocent to Entitlement, Jim Fay and Dawn Billings refer to the “therapeutic culture of parenting,” a concept gifted to us by the internationally, very highly esteemed Bill Doherty, who is a professor of Family Social Science at the University of Minnesota. The therapeutic culture of parenting presumes that the minds and spirits of children are quite fragile and very easily shattered. Many contemporary parents assume that if we just listen to our children enough, just reason with them enough,  they will make the appropriate choices in their lives, no matter their chronological age or maturational age. This approach to parenting puts pressure on all of us, but especially on our children. Many of us have lost the capacity to view “failure” as an opportunity, a “less-than-perfect performance” as a positive chance. Instead, when our children make a mistake, when they choose an option for which there are what we view as negative consequences, we rush to work harder ourselves. We treat them with softer kid gloves, hand out more positives and compliments, tell them how wonderful they are (which is true, but their behavior is not always wonderful), and strive to reduce the stress, to change the environment to meet their all-important needs. Even more extremely, at times we do not wait for them to err. Instead, we sweep the path in front of them, clearing the way. This approach, according to Fay and Billings, supports a major fallacy, the misconception that our children are not responsible for their behavior, character, integrity, or success, now or in the future. According to Fay and Billings, “one of the greatest teachers our children will ever have is the life experience born out of the natural consequences of their choices.” However, too many parents have a low tolerance for allowing natural consequences to occur, have a low frustration point themselves in terms of staying calm when their children are frustrated or discouraged. Our anxiety about being “good enough parents” often gets in the way.

There are four highly dangerous myths of the therapeutic parenting culture, Fay and Billings proffer. The first is the myth that children are fragile. However, research clearly indicates that children are not nearly as fragile as many adults believe. Instead, the behavior that suggests that they are fragile, that they cannot cope is the behavior that stems from adults having pushed them into entitlement. The out-of-control behavior, the anxiety driven behavior, the challenge with taking perspective, the difficulty with developing age-appropriate social skills – all those behaviors may, in part, be traced back to indulgence and inexperience with consistent consequences for otherwise-typically developing children. Research clearly indicates that children can remain quite resilient with even only one significant, caring person in their lives. Research also tells us that most children are highly resilient in the face of the day-to-day errors we all make in our parenting.

The second myth discussed by Fay and Billings is the myth that the uniqueness of children is more valuable than their ability to conform.  They maintain that “it takes [both] an ability to conform and an ability to express unique gifts and talents to become the contributing human beings that best serve others.” The ability for children to recognize their own strengths, to acknowledge their weaknesses, and to use the former to develop coping and problem-solving strategies is crucial to their development. We cannot pretend that they have no areas of development or behavior that require attention or shaping. That approach would be false, would take us from our goal of raising competent, caring children. Instead, it is incumbent on us to expect them to address the issues with our support, encouragement, and caring.

The third myth that Fay and Billings perceive to be embedded in the therapeutic parenting culture is that we, as parents, “do not have direct influence over our children, particularly teens.” If we accept this myth as true and valid, then we are free to desist from putting up the kind of fight necessary to facilitate our children’s growth and development. Fay and Billings’ assertion, consistent with research, is that our children benefit both from love and from limits. Our love must be unconditional, but our “like,” our approval, is not and cannot be if we are truthful with ourselves and with them. Ideally, we set limits for our children in the context of our love for them. In that context, they can learn to accept our limits, even to respect those limits, but, more importantly, to respect themselves.

The fourth myth addressed by Fay and Billings is that “self-esteem is critical for our children to succeed in life, and it is our job as parents and teachers to provide it” for them. Self-esteem, they assert, cannot be had until one holds others in esteem. A focus on “self” reflects the entitlement  of children that is intrinsic to the therapeutic parenting culture. Without acquiring skills for creating and maintaining reciprocal relationships in a community, without being able to take perspective, without mutuality, there is only self-indulgence and self-deceit, not self-esteem. Children who do not learn to take responsibility for their actions, their choices, and their mistakes are unable to take valid ownership of their strengths, their contributions, their successes. Without this balance, there is no esteem for others or for self. There is no respect, no integrity.

As we parent and as we teach, may we hold ourselves, our children, our students accountable. May we seek the wisdom and the experience to be gained from responsibility. May we seek to grow through knowledge and ownership of thoughts, feelings, and behavior. May we be supported in our efforts by our community and our faith.

 1  From Innocence to Entitlement: A Love and Logic Cure for the Tragedy of Entitlement, Jim Fay and Dawn Billings, Love and Logic Press Inc Golden, Colorado, 2005.