Much has been written about how we are raising an entitled generation, and those traits can be seen flourishing within the millennial group. Though some might disagree, I believe it’s a fine line between raising empowered children versus entitled ones. I want the elementary children I coach to be brave and bold, but I am learning the path to where children really believe in themselves is not as simple as me telling them to. Peter’s story set me on this path of creating an Empowerment Curriculum through a Run Club. This is a continuation of the series, and Jeremy’s story.
Jeremy is a great athlete in the fourth grade. He is fast, aggressive, and certainly a leader within his group of friends. But there is something about his leadership that catches my attention, he leads to get his way – sometimes blatantly sometimes manipulatively. He wins by being fast, but if feeling threatened, by cutting a corner. For example, if we are playing sharks and minnows where you need to run across the field without being caught, Jeremy might hide behind a tree and while the others are being chased, make a beeline for safety. Or he might run so out of bounds that no one notices he even passed from side to side. He tends to win the game.
On a sweaty Wednesday I told the group we would be playing “freeze tag” at the end of practice and part of the group complained.
“Noooooooo. We want sharks and minnows.”
To which a smaller part of the group said “Nooooooo. You promised us it would be freeze tag today!”
The smaller group was right, I had promised because we ALWAYS play sharks and minnows.
At this point that Jeremy said loudly “Nooooooo. Sharks and minnows we all like sharks and minnows.”
He came to the front of the group, stood next to me and called out:
“Okay, if you want sharks and minnows raise your hand” and the larger group raised their hands.
I was livid. I told him as much as I respected his effort I was the Coach and in practice I was the boss. We were going to play freeze tag which he could join in or opt out. He joined and played.
Was Jeremy empowered or entitled? What do those even mean?
I found this explanation by Blair Glaser to be a quite clear:
Empowered behavior comes from the desire to live in accordance with one’s values, AND includes an awareness of the environment. Example: I give my best because this is how I connect to myself and others.
Entitled behavior demands something simply because one believes it should be so. Example: I deserve the best because I am special.
Here’s another great article about what entitled behavior looks like, though I do disagree on some of the author’s points.
I had to check in with myself as to why Jeremy’s action had bothered me so much. On the one hand, he undermined my authority as the Coach and leader of the class. That always irks a teacher who is looking for the good of the entire group not just of a few. But more importantly, he was manipulating the situation to get what he wanted: to play sharks and minnows.
Was he empowered in trying to show me that the majority of the class wanted to play sharks and minnows which was what he wanted to play? Or was he entitled feeling he could lead the class to do what he wanted?
Hard to tell. The kid is ten years old. None of it comes out of malice. I know sometimes my boys do things that horrify me but I understand they do it because they just don’t know any better yet. Sometimes you figure out who you are, by figuring out who you are NOT. So, I am not saying Jeremy is a spoiled brat, I am saying he is learning and I want to help mold his intrinsic leadership abilities.
How do we develop empowered children rather than entitled ones?
Again, this article gives you some ideas but I don’t have a full recipe for you yet. My empowerment curriculum is still a work in progress. So far, I can confidently say these three things:
- Empowerment is intrinsically positive, entitlement is a negative and it doesn’t change depending on your point of view. The only person that thinks entitlement is a positive trait, is the person that has it.
- Empowerment comes from work, entitlement is given to you. You cannot feel empowered without a struggle, without overcoming an obstacle or a situation you thought you could not achieve.
- Empowerment comes from “I believe in you” not from “I can fix this for you.” This is what happened in Peter’s story.
But I would love to hear from you. Was Jeremy acting empowered or entitled? Feel free to comment here or email me your thoughts and stories at firstname.lastname@example.org.