By: Revanche

The entitlement subculture: Raising kids no employer wants to hire

May 31, 2012

My favorite thing to do while sitting at the airport is observe people over my book or while chitchatting on Twitter. Idly guess who is going to be on which flight and who might be on a layover or whether it’ll be a full flight and other mundane things like that.

On our outbound to Hawaii, though, there wasn’t much to see. Everyone in our area was destined for Hawaii and we all looked a little bored.

A woman behind me snapped her phone shut and said tersely, “Well, that’s it. There’s nothing else I can do.”


I heard an older male voice ask, “What? What’s wrong?” 


She snapped, “He didn’t register for his AP tests in time. He can’t take them next month so now he can’t start school as a sophomore, he won’t get priority registration, and I’m going to have to pay $20,000 more for college.


I stifled a laugh and settled in. 


The man turned away and asked, in a softer voice, “What happened?” 


A teenage boy, voice clearly adolescent, sullen and resigned, “I just forgot.” 


A flurry of wretchedness from Mom: “I can’t believe you! This is so typical, and I’ve had to run round making calls to all the administrators and the teachers for weeks to see if there was anything we could do and they can’t get him in so now I’m going to have to pay all this money because you won’t get those classes waived  because those were class credits for every exam you passed and you won’t get priority registration because you’ll be starting school as a freshman, not a sophomore like your brother, and you’ll be fighting for classes just like every other kid.”


Kid attempts to defend: “My school doesn’t work like that!” Dad: “You’re missing the point!” Mom, again: “I have to do everything in this family and you guys just sit there and let everything happen to you.”


I had a few immediate reaction points: 
* Kid,  what do you mean your school doesn’t work like that? High school or college? Does your college not accept more than a few units from AP classes or does your high school do something weird? If the former you really might want to say something more clearly on that point because I know that happens (mine used to only accept 3 classes’ worth of AP units). If the latter, you might be mistaken. Either way, speak up with your actual words. Not with that slump-shouldered, vaguely formed defense that doesn’t really say much to anyone about your mental competence or your follow-through.  
* Mom, quit being such a martyr. 
* Dad, actual involvement might have been helpful, not that weird mediation thing you were doing. 
* Kid might not have been missing the point at all.  
* Sister, which planet are you wishing you were on right now? Poor kid. 

Soon after, our flight started boarding, and this family was in the first group to board. We were the last so I had a few minutes to share the drama and quick chortle with PiC over the flight that kid was destined to have.

But seriously, after we came back, I thought: Wow, that was all kinds of dysfunctional.

To expand:

Mom – helicopter parenting much? If you “do everything” in the family, especially when things go wrong, no wonder your kids “do nothing” (if that’s even accurate) if they’re in the least bit inclined to be extrinsically motivated or are easily steamrollered. Just because one kid managed to get it “right” doesn’t mean all the others will, or do it the same way and I can’t imagine that doing it for them does anything but teach them that when they fail, you will fix it. And pitch a fit about it while trying to fix it. They won’t learn how to deal with failure and mistakes.

And then rewarding him with a trip to Hawaii when you had this situation brewing? Clearly from her comments, she’d been running around trying to fix this for weeks. It’s been years since I had to deal with this but I know AP registration had to be months before March. So, really? I don’t know about anyone else but no 17 year old kid of mine would be getting a lovely trip to a tropical island after being irresponsible enough to make mistake that big, not if I cared that much about it, family vacation or not. It clearly displays a misalignment in priorities: you can screw up that big but I will still give you these luxuries. Therefore, it doesn’t matter.

If that situation presented itself to me, my kiddo would be responsible for finding a way to late register and to earn the money for the community college he/she may be attending for a year instead, if not for the extra year in tuition and expenses now expected. And I would try to find a responsible adult for him or her to stay with under restriction, for the duration of our vacation, he or she would not be going on vacation. Because a teenager should be learning at that point I am not obliged to pay for your mistakes.

Nothing is terribly simple in parenting, I know, but basic attitudes wherein all the parents’ mistakes are their mistakes and all the kids’ mistakes are also the parents’ responsibility without ever bothering to teach kids culpability and agency seems to be a terrible thing.

***

I was made aware from a very early age that we didn’t have much money and even though my parents expected to pay for college, I needed to defray the costs. My parents had no clue AP tests existed; my brother was a poor  academic so he didn’t take them but I found out about them as soon as I started high school and I assumed I would take them. I also sought and applied for low income grants to help lower test fees because we didn’t have the money for that either.

They didn’t have the knowledge, nor the time or inclination, to pick up after my mistakes. And I would have paid the price for them in the end when I had to pay for college. As it turned out, I saved myself a number of classes via taking AP exams. I wasn’t the highest scorer nor the most prolific. The most classes one could take and test was around fourteen by graduation, I think. But I did manage to eliminate a few basic classes that I would otherwise have wasted time and money taking.

***

The attitude reflected in that family dynamic is one I see repeated in the five or ten percent of the young people I deal with professionally. They expect to be prioritized and taken care of and anything that isn’t done for them within their timeframe is simply outrageous.

One staff sniped at me for not answering or then returning her call within twenty minutes because she wanted to get on the road, never you mind I was in back to back meetings. And the reason she needed to reach me so urgently was the result of not making the appropriate arrangements in the first place.

The same population also demonstrate they can’t conduct their own professional affairs, make their own decisions like whether and how to apply for promotions they’re not qualified for or mature enough for, yet are proactive enough to create rumors about not landing them because of one or another imagined slight, and heap all possible responsibility on others. These limited visionaries are gems.

The other ninety percent are, due to careful selection, pretty great and even care about protecting their jobs but we have to spend an inordinate amount of time to find those candidates. And even then, we have to teach basic sense.

It’s very much the opposite of these kids I could be proud of all day long. Look! Past performance IS an indicator of future performance!

Ed Note: This observational anecdote was simply a superficial people watching. My comment about the dysfunctionality, above, was in reference to the specific interactions that I observed and the effects I know to stem from that in my personal experience, no more, no less. Of course I know I don’t know these people outside of those interactions. I don’t presume to, nor am I suggesting that I understand any or everything about their lives beyond what they loudly paraded in front of me and everyone else. But I was interested by a slice of the extremely detailed life that was relevant to my personal and professional interests and commented on that. 


If I were inclined to pass actual judgement on a family, I’d do that based on a longitudinal, anthropological study much like that of the members of my own family who have earned the nod of disapproval for a lifetime of poor behavior. But having lived with abuse, manipulation, and severe dysfunction, the circumstances of which have been discussed, dissected and understood from every possible means, I don’t judge easily or lightly.  

13 Responses to “The entitlement subculture: Raising kids no employer wants to hire”

  1. I so agree with this. I personally work with many young twenty somethings and they are totally clueless to the realities of life. Parents need to realize that theyre making their children too dependent.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Some good points and examples, however, you should refrain from passing judgement on all members of that family….or any time you come across a situation with people you do not personally know. You got a brief snapshot of what was going on in their lives but you don’t know their whole story.

  3. I even see this within my own family. I’ve always been the proactive one, ensuring I took all the right classes so I got college credit for it, doing my research, getting stuff done without being told to do it. My youngest brother on the other hand is spoonfed and handheld and as a result, he’s so not ready for the real world. And then my parents turn to me and wonder what’s going on. Sigh.

  4. Miss JJ says:

    We had one of these kids in our company a while back.

    He was a new hire in our company, who was also a scholar of the company (he took the company’s undergraduate scholarship for full tuition and expenses). On the first few weeks of him starting work with us, the company received a call from his mother, asking for an office job to be assigned to him, because she felt that site work would be too dangerous.

    Note that we are a heavy industry manufacturing company, and there is heavy involvement in site work. Note also that this guy in sound health. Note that he took the scholarship with full understanding of the work the company, and by extension he, would be involved in.

    The company aceeded to the request. We are a big company, always in chronic lack of manpower, so there was no question of kicking this guy to the curb, especially when we had already invested that much money into his education. However, you can be sure that this boy is going to have limited progression henceforth in this company. And forever looked down upon by his peers, who are risking the dangers of site work so that the likes of him can continue to receive his salary and bonuses. Oh, and Mummy’s boy much? Not exactly a “Mr Popularity” situation.

    I am just so glad he is not in my team. I would have had a hard time being a reasonable boss in such circumstances.

  5. I have to agree with Anonymous on this one.

  6. 444 says:

    Everyone has an opinion about what level of overprotectiveness or push-out-in-the-world is appropriate for parents and their growing-into-adult children. And even when you decide what level to go with, there’s still a fine line to be walked, with constant judgment calls, and I believe there should be room for people (both parents and offspring) to be human, make mistakes, not be perfect with every step, and keep an open mind and make adjustments as necessary, with the right to change one’s mind and path.

    Our oldest, now 20, has gotten a LOT of help from me navigating college finances and financial aid. I didn’t get much help at all in that area and I wanted to provide that service for him. I don’t, however, give him a free pass so that he doesn’t need to concern himself with the details – I will oversee it and make sure it’s done right, but he has to follow along with every step. He’s already starting to manage his own finances, and admirably well. Bringing in money, using it responsibly, facing the embarrassment at the bank when he forgot what his balance was (I told him to keep his own record, he didn’t listen – I let it go and let him be embarrassed – lesson learned!) Little by little he integrates it all together. “Sink or swim” isn’t really the best practice in many areas of life – not to an extreme degree, anyway – it sounds great and smart but it’s more of a catchphrase than a real way to learn to get along in the world. Complete management so that a young person never has to be bothered with the details is unwise, too – a balance is the best strategy.

    A few times (even now, but way more when he was 18 and 19) we’ve had to flat-out ask him to trust us and do what we want. Since it’s rare, he gracefully does it, maybe with a little grumpiness. I mean once per year during the last few years, we had to just ask that he concede something and do it our way, and later he came back and told us we were right. In general, he’s been learning more and more lessons on his own, though, and I’m proud of the way he’s becoming responsible and seems to have (as the mister put it) “very high moral standards” (the mister followed it up only half-jokingly with “and I’m not sure exactly where he got that.”)

  7. Revanche says:

    @444 Express: In general: agreed, and more so because every personality is so different you have to be prepared to adapt your approach to each child.

    As for yours: This is EXACTLY what a friend of mine is doing so when she claimed to be a heliparent I nearly died laughing. I really don’t think she could be!

    She and her partner are teaching their kids to learn how to think and fend for themselves but they will only learn it in this waltz of growing up, little by little, step by step of doing one thing well this time, another thing not so much, learning to take initiative here, not knowing to there. They began while the kids were young to lay the patterns of thinking but it’s absolutely an imperfect science because they are still growing into young adults.

    They don’t steamroller their kids for making mistakes and totally take over and tell them they’re utter failures, though. That’s important.

  8. 444 says:

    That all sounds great. As long as you can avoid being an extremist in one way or the other, and as long as you keep an open mind and think for yourself (not doing what other people say you “should” do, and ignoring terms like heliparent – btw, I thought it said “hellparent” LOL), you’ll do great. (I had the idea you might be thinking about the future. Ooops – sorry to pry! tee hee)

    BTW, he started working just recently (in research at college, paid work – sorry for the Mom brag but I could not help it) and they asked him to recommend or not a person who just applied; he gave the person a glowing recommendation; they then talked amongst themselves and said they don’t think that person has enough experience. I thought “GOOD!” They’re not fluffing up his ego by making him think his word is final, yet they’re asking him to chip in and help hire people, and they’re telling him when ultimately, he’s wrong… it’s all good practice.

  9. SP says:

    My parents were very willing to help, but by the time i turned 18 I thought I knew EVERYTHING, and so I wanted to do as much as possible myself!

    It is worth noting that my school did not have AP classes (but I could have arranged to take college credits at the local school if I knew about it), but I could have taken something called a CLEP test to get out of freshman comp and such, classes that gave me no value. I also could have got 100% free college based on my score if I had taken my ACT a month or two sooner.

    But I didn’t know any of that until it was too late. I don’t fault my parents or even myself (this was before the internet was ubiquitous with info). I do (still) fault my guidance counselor for not making the student body as a whole aware of this information. It was her job, especially to make sure obviously college-bound students with high scores knew this stuff. I was so upset when I discovered all of this stuff I should have done!

    But, lesson learned. In my adult life, I’m very active in seeking out opportunities and taking them.

    So, I do plan to help my kids and make sure they know things that they need to know. But I do also expect them to follow through themselves!

  10. Interestingly (?), one of my kids is like that fellow, but ONLY WITHIN THE FAMILY. In work environments, he is industrious and much beloved by his supervisors. My other child is super-organized and industrious in all contexts. Nature? Nurture? Once again!

    One point is that people may behave differently inside and outside family.

  11. I always fought my own battles, did my own thing and made my own mistakes (and beat myself up for it)

    It doesn’t work on all kids, even in the same family. You can have kids interested in taking charge of their life and kids who aren’t. Better to let them fall and make their own mistakes so they don’t blame you later.

  12. oilandgarlic says:

    I have a friend who seems to do everything for her ungrateful teenage kids. While my parents handled financial aid, by my junior year, I was certainly responsible for making sure I met deadlines for college applications, summer school, AP exams, etc.. The problem is of course that I did make some mistakes and was not always aware of deadlines, like this kid might not have been. Sometimes it’s nice for a parent to step in but you also have to balance that with drawing the line, which is the whole issue with helicopter parenting. where is that line?

  13. I work out and a mom was complaining about her 15 year old daughter. She missed her final for an exam on Thursday because she “forgot”. So her MOM called the teacher to “reschedule” the exam. WTF?

    I said if it were real life and my kid I’d make her call the teacher and beg on hands and knees for a chance to make it up.

    What are you teaching your kid by calling the teacher and dealing with them?

    Shouldn’t she learn how to deal with the consequences of her actions? You think by saying that I had suggested she kill her child.

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