Thursday, July 30, 2009

On entitlement mentality...

I started writing last Saturday in response to a recent post by TF, in which he used (in the usual derogatory context) the tag-term “entitlement mentality”. I got myself horrendously bogged down with the balance between my line of thought and the kind of connotations the term has and to which I was objecting.

Then, last night was one of those few tv programmes that I really enjoy. A child psychologist, Nigel Latta, is in the middle of a series of programmes on the subject of “child-rearing” or parenting.

OK, ok I can hearing the scoffing already. No, the probligo has not lost his tree. It is a very interesting take on children, parenting and how best to achieve kids with the right attitudes. It is also, at the very least in terms of the debate at hand very a propos.

A brief wander through the chatboards and “reviews” that google brings to the surface in response to “latta parenting” will show everything from the “liberal” pain and outrage (at topics like poo in the bath or breastpumps) to the outright and unreserved approval of mums of real kids.

The tv series is based on a “stage” presentation that Latta started back in 2007 and it has been doing the rounds since then.

The clue to all of this has to be in the name – “The Politically Incorrect Parenting Show”.

This taken from a Listener interview back in 2007 –

It’s time to poke a stick at our child-centred world, says Dunedin-based clinical psychologist, author and father of two boys Nigel Latta. And he does so, unashamedly, in a performance he calls the Politically Incorrect Parenting Show.

What is politically incorrect parenting? It came about because I think we’ve got incredibly precious about children and we stress and worry more than any other generation of parents. We worry about them walking to school, climbing trees, if we read them enough bedtime stories, if we read out all the plaques at the museum … none of it makes a difference.

Isn’t that just the natural order of things for a parent – to worry? If you’re constantly stressed and worried about whether you are doing a good job, you’re not going to do a good job. You’re far better off enjoying your kids, and then when you stop enjoying them, tell them to go away and play. Like our parents did. Our parents raised us on some pretty straightforward guidelines: we’re adults; you’re children. We play with adults; you play with children. Self-esteem hadn’t been invented when we were children. Our parents could just get on with being parents.

Are parents these days too busy trying to be their kid’s best pal? It’s okay to not be their little mate and it’s okay if they hate you. We got a letter last night posted under our door from our seven-year-old, saying how much he hated us.

How creative of him. Did you give him a prize? Why did he hate you? He was sent to bed early for being rude. He’s still learning that sometimes in life it’s best to zip one’s mouth rather than keep arguing for a position that’s already lost.

Are you New Zealand’s answer to Supernanny? If anyone described me as Supernanny, I’d shoot myself in the head. She’s possibly the most annoying woman in the world. I really like the British series Little Angels because it shows parents fixing things.

On one hand you say there’s this enormous anxiety about positive parenting and that we are very child-centred. But on the other, New Zealand has one of the worst records for child abuse in the OECD. The people who get anxious about positive parenting generally are concerned, and the people who beat their kids don’t engage in things like the debate around Section 59 and they often come from generations of crap parenting. They actually don’t care about hurting their children. So, this idea that we can appeal to them is ridiculous.

Not even through television ad campaigns – “Violence is not okay”? It’s just absolute bollocks. It’s lunacy. There are lots of things we could do in this country to reduce the number of kids who die or are hurt, but the problem is that the country is run by politicians and people who are good at advocating to politicians. The good clinicians, the people who can solve the problem, are crap at working the system and they never have very much money.

People say parenting’s the hardest job in the world, even for those least marginalised. Absolutely. I’ve been incredibly lucky, I had fantastic parents and grew up in a stable home and yet there are still times when I feel like chucking my boys out the window. I’d walk into the fire for them, but some days my fingers itch for the want to throw them out the nearest window.

Have you ever hit your kids? Hit, smack – absolutely. In fact, I’m the only person in New Zealand who started smacking because of Sue Bradford.

But aren’t the big people supposed to be in control and not hit or bellow? It’s not the fact that you bellow at your kids, it’s your lifetime average. Everybody bellows when they lose the plot and the reason you yell is that it makes you feel better. But as a long-term strategy, it’s not the best. I think that a lot of people, if they give their kid a smack on the bum, or yell, think, “Oh, I’m a terrible person.” Well, not necessarily.

If you give a shit about your kids and you love them, they know that.

Yes, his language is as direct as that :).

It goes further. He promotes concepts which, while I did not appreciate their importance as a child, I certainly agree with now. Concepts such as “risk”, “consequence”, “self reliance”, independence”, “respect”, “authority” and “effort” come to the fore.

But, how does this tie with TF’s “entitlement mentality”? Well that comes out of the programme last night. Latta was running through the idea of “self”, “self-image” and such-like concepts from the modern school of parenting.

He made the point using birthday parties as a f’rinstance. “When we were kids…”; the person having the birthday got the presents, got the first piece of cake. These days, everyone else gets the presents, everyone has their own personal cake that they can have the first piece of… Parents compete for “the bestest birthday party in the neighbourhood”, aided in their endeavours by advertising usually aimed at the kids if not actively promoted by them. You know the kind of thing, “But muumm, Daisy down the road had…”. The current one on tv promotes the “popularity steaks” with everyone wanting to be your friend because your parents are taking you and all of those “friends” to the local burger house (think here of arches).

The point Latta made was that Generation Y is being – has been – raised with that entitlement mentality to the fore. “I am GOOD. I WANT. I GET!” is the mantra for the selfish moderns. I work with a young fella who has this attitude in spades, and who has a passion for technology. In the past year he has owned, tried, displayed with pride, probably three different and increasingly expensive cellphones; sorry – what would be the generic term for a “Blackberry” or “iPod”? There is total pride in his purchase. There is pride in how much it cost!! On the other hand I have a basic cellphone, solely for communication, and only because SWMBO gave it me as a birthday present five years ago. It cost perhaps $100. It has no camera. It has no internet connection. It is a telephone. I have to use it every six months or so or the service provider will cancel the connection and I will lose the prepaid value on the phone.

The entitlement mentality is reinforced by the advertising industry. “THIS is what you want!! GO GET IT!!” It gets worse. You don’t even need the money. “Hey! Something you want? HERE is the money!” Don’t worry about paying it back. That is not the point. The point is “You want; you get!”

So, when people like TF start to complain (I resist the temptation to use “right whinge”) about “entitlement mentality” I start to get hot. I know what they mean, and I understand all of the connotations that their political beliefs impose on the term.

However, so many people completely miss the truth. What he is complaining of is not something that is restricted to the poor, or to those on welfare, alone. It is endemic in our society. It is the basis, the fundamental, the foundation of the consumer economy. It is a state of mind that requires a person have not this or that, but this and that. It totally pervades our society. It is the attitude that makes us see four wheels with motive power and safety equipment not as a simple mode of transport but as a symbol of our personality. How many people go out and buy a “replacement” for a perfectly good, still serviceable appliance simply because there is a new one advertised on the tv which has a different colour, a new motor, or which is merely more in keeping with the current fashion?

Returning to the thoughts TF proposes on entitlement mentality, there is a question that has to be asked.

How many of those who by the implications he puts on the term, those on welfare, the dodgers, the bludgers, the lazy and the unproductive are in fact responsible for the credit squeeze and the bad loans and all of the other ills of the financial and banking systems? I would suggest very few indeed.

The far greatest part of the bad debt is probably owed by teenage children who are entitled to credit cards paid by their forty-something parents; by twenty-somethings who are entitled to add a new car, an expensive home theatre system and their OE to their student loan; by thirty somethings who marry and are entitled to spend far more than necessary on their wedding because they must make the social statement “I am rich!”; by forty-somethings who are entitled to the expensive house, the two cars, the RV, the sports car, and the boat…

Not just the people who fall into the right wing paradigm…


T. F. Stern said...

If you separate obtaining items you want or need via the means to obtain them, either through your own efforts or through the efforts of some third party who gets taxed in order that you may obtain; at that point we are in agreement.

There exists a lack of self discipline, something which the government is a prime example. If you cannot budget small amounts of money, personal finance to cover wants and needs, then how can you expect these same folks to manage large amounts such as city, state or national budgets?

The folks in office are unable to identify ownership rights, such a thing out of antiquity as individual ownership; my goodness. They prefer to believe that all was meant to be shared and so it means nothing to them to take (steal) the fruits of one persons labors in order to provide (entitlement) for those who are less provident. The cycle is never ending as long as those willing to work will put up with government stealing what they have.

T. F. Stern said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
The probligo said...

There are two parts, TF.

The first is the difference between "want" and "need".

The second, and almost subsidiary, is the means.

I am hungry, and I want a four course banquet to assuage that hunger.

I am hungry, and I need food so that I can survive.

Yep, the two extremes again I know, but it makes the point.

I need a vehicle to get to work every day. If I were younger and fitter a bicycle would suffice. If I want a Hummer, that is excessive. A Hummer is not required to get me to work; only a means of transport. If the public transport system provided more than one bus in each direction (a service that would get me to work 45 minutes late after 90 minutes travel and leaves 30 minutes before I knock off) that would be supremely adequate. (BTW the same trip in a car takes 40 minutes on a really bad day, 20 minutes average).

I am not a very materialistic person. I only need the essentials. There are some things that I want, and I usually ask for those on birthdays and Christmas.

I agree about the lack of discipline, but there are causes behind that which might be the subject of future thoughts. I shall see... Think advertising as I mentioned.