The “Entitlement Generation” — The Rachel Canning Case

I’ve been watching the Rachel Canning case with interest since I first came across the general premise: an 18 year old girl who left home is suing her parents for the costs of her private high school tuition, her costs of living, and the future costs of her university tuition (for more info, see this article at CNN) .

Clearly, this case raises all sorts of issues about what parents “owe” their children, and some of my fellow dad bloggers have begun to extrapolate what this “owing” may mean—particularly to a generation that seems to feel entitled to nothing but the best.  In fact, it was this post at daddylibrium that pushed me to offer my own take on things.




I think the question of “owing” starts with birth.  Tired anecdotes and clichés abound with mothers berating their children over “everything they went through” birthing them, with the implication that the child should be grateful for everything the mother went through FOR THEM.


But that’s not really true, is it?

We don’t have children for their own sake; children do not CHOOSE to be born, they don’t exist as cognitive beings prior to conception (no matter which pro-life/choice camp you’re in, I think we can agree that this is true), and the choice to have children is a selfish one.  We have children, by and large, because we want children—or, we wanted sex and children were the consequence.  The pain a mother goes through at birth, the sleepless nights that follow for the parents, and the hardships the family may face in the short term are the result of a selfish desire.  Now, there’s nothing wrong with that; arguably eating can be labeled a selfish desire, because it only benefits the person eating—that doesn’t mean we should stop doing it.  I’m just pointing out that many of the things we go through for our children, particularly when they’re little, are often more about us, as parents, than them, as children.

Along the way, though, this balance starts to shift.  Our children become people unto themselves, with individual personalities, desires, and goals.  Parents give up things for the benefit of their children, not just because they want their child to succeed and be happy for selfish reasons, but for selfless ones, as well.


So how do we determine where that shift begins and ends?


Some of it is legal, as this case has brought to light.  Parents are generally responsible for their child’s basic needs until they are 18.  That means that food, clothing, shelter, and basic schooling must be provided. There may also be additional responsibilities, such as health coverage, until a certain age in some places.

From a parental standpoint (at least the standpoint of what I believe to be a good parent), what you’re looking for is the best end-product for your child, mitigated by what you’re actually able to/willing to provide.  You want a happy, healthy, and potential-filled child, and you *should* want that for them, not just so that you can brag about them (though there’s bound to be some pride there, as well).  This necessitates a few things, but I would suggest that many of them can be rolled up into emotional, mental, and logistical support; that is, you help them develop and use the tools they need to get them where they want to go.  How much assistance, what kind of assistance, and how that assistance is applied form the endlessly-debated core of parenting.




Some argue that it’s up to the parent to give the child every advantage they never had (or perhaps they did), so that their children rise to the top.




Others argue that it’s the journey that builds character, and believe that struggle and discipline result in the best end-product.



I believe that the best end product I can hope for with my sons is that they have strong, independent, and yet empathetic, hearts.  I want them to know that, ultimately, they need to make their own way in life, but that I will always be there to comfort and advise them when they need it.  A big part of that will be teaching them that the things they want require effort to earn, and that sometimes expectations have to be tempered by how much time, effort, and opportunity you have available.


So how does Rachel Canning fit in?


From what I understand, Ms. Canning is no longer at home (whether she left or was kicked out is not an issue for the point I’m making) because she refused to follow her parents’ rules—one of which required her to give up her current boyfriend.  Were the parents justified and were their rules “fair”?  I have no idea.  I could foresee, as a parent, determining that someone my child was intimately involved with was a detriment, but I would have to have a life and safety reason to forbid them to see anyone; that kind of outside meddling in your child’s life needs some pretty dire reasons behind it, I believe.

As for the other rules that she wouldn’t abide by—curfews, etc—she had the choice to either live by those rules in her parents’ household, or leave…so she did.  But having left, and deciding to begin her own life outside of their house, she also gave up the inherent advantages of that household—including room, board, and expenses.  Even were her parents still responsible for her basic needs, those needs would not include private-school tuition (that’s public school tuition for you UK folks), or university tuition, nor would they necessarily include money for her to fulfill her needs of food and shelter as she saw fit; just because your child loves steak doesn’t mean that it’s your responsibility to pay for them to eat at a steakhouse for dinner every night; basic needs only require that there be supper on the table, a bed to sleep in, and clothing that conforms to basic requirements for weather and social acceptability (i.e. covers the important bits).


The question remains: is Rachel Canning’s behavior indicative of an entire generation’s sense of entitlement?  That’s a hard question to answer, primarily because it deals with sweeping generalizations, and sweeping generalizations are almost always wrong.  I think what we can say is that Rachel Canning is the way she is because of how her parents raised her.  Her sense of entitlement is their fault—though she is now finding, much to her surprise, that she has to take ownership for her attitudes and actions as she becomes an adult.  The same can be said for every other child; their sense of entitlement (or lack of it) is due directly to the kind of job their parents did raising them.

Maybe it’s time that people start thinking about that.  It’s easy to point the finger at the next generation; it’s a lot harder to take ownership for the creation of those flaws we perceive and work to correct them before they get out of hand—for everyone’s sake.



5 Comment

  1. Robert says: Reply

    I wish more people would write about the “entitlement age.”

    I’d first heard about this story two days ago, and immediately I turned my nose up to the situation. “How does this child even have the brass balls to feel like she can walk out and request for her parents to continue to support her, and yada yada yada.”

    It really makes me sick to see that kids are so demanding, and walking around with this concept that they are who they are, because they themselves made themselves that way… They deserve it all.

    But I think you touched on it… she’s most likely that way because her parents raised her that way.

    However this is the generation of kids who received trophies for not winning. And as I’ve said before many times in my college papers… IT TAKES A VILLAGE. It’s not just the parents. It’s the rest of the family. It’s the neighbors. It’s the teachers. It’s the coaches. It’s television, and movies, and magazines…

    I can go on about this for ages, but I think more people need to voice this absurdity like you have. Either way, great post.


    1. thenerd says: Reply

      Thanks, Robert!

      I think you’re right, overall, about the trophies for not winning bit, but I also think the problem with that whole idea is significantly more complex than that. Yes, to a degree, many of the kids being raised right now (and just coming into adulthood, as well) have a sense of entitlement. They seem to believe that they’re owed something. The problem is that many of them also have TERRIBLE self esteem, and I think the move toward “participation trophies” is an attempt to motivate kids into doing things that can build that self esteem…it just doesn’t work very well.

      It’s a damned hard thing for a kid to build a good sense of self esteem, and the media does everything it can to tear it down. Think, for example, or the ways child/adolescent idols are continually built up and torn down again, how unattainable ideals of beauty, masculinity, femininity, popularity, etc, are for kids these days, and yet how bombarded those same kids are by the ideals in every television show, movie, and magazine.

      Shame on this girl (who is an adult, and should be responsible for her actions) for trying to legally force someone to give her something for nothing, and believing that she deserves it–but much bigger shame to her parents for not forcing her to experience the challenges and rewards of difficult accomplishments and to learn from them.

      Actually, I think if we, as a society, started moving back toward more tangible forms of accomplishment in schooling, we may start to see some of this correct itself. There’s something about creating something (a woodworking project, a welding project, a large painting) that teaches you a lot about yourself, helps you recognize the value of your efforts, and imbues a positive sense of self esteem.

      Just a thought, though…

  2. Larry says: Reply

    It is an interesting case and I plan on posting about it tomorrow.
    I like the angle you take and particularly like the last point. There is blame to go around.

    1. thenerd says: Reply

      Thanks, Larry! I look forward to reading your post on it, as well!

  3. thenerd says: Reply


    Marcel Decoste:

    Interesting, and largely convincing, but I have two cavils: I think your declaration that the decision to have children is selfish tout court is reductive and simplistic; likewise, why parents do, indeed, foster entitlement and selflessness and any other number of traits in their children, to say that Ms Canning is as she is simply because of her parents is to take a view of total parental determination of filial character that is, well, flattering to parents, let’s say.


    Thanks, Marcel. I certainly agree that I was reductive when it comes to the parental determination, in part for simplicity, and to remain at a length within the standard attention span of most blog readers (myself included, most of the time), but also because I think that the largest overall impact on a child’s sense of entitlement comes directly from the parents. Certainly, the parents aren’t the sole determining factor (actually, I discussed that point a bit in the comments for the post with another commenter), but I do think that, had they laid a strong foundation of work ethic, effort, and independence, they wouldn’t be in their current predicament.

    As for the decision to have children as selfish, I have some trouble seeing that in any other light. It’s impossible that the parents are doing it for the benefit of a child that doesn’t exist yet; I don’t believe most people have children with the goal of someone improving society (not to be confused with the goal of raising children that will improve society); and that seems to leave the simplist explanation: they have children because they WANT children–it’s an issue of personal fulfillment, potentially fulfillment of a religious obligation (arguably, I suppose this isn’t necessarily selfish, but plenty of people under the same theoretical obligation choose not to fulfill it because they don’t want children), and the desire to carry one’s genes into the next generation.

    Marcel Decoste

    I don’t see how the benefit of the child is either inconceivable or impossible, nor do I see how the gift of life is not (even barring consideration of broader trajectories of familial, cultural, and other forms of continuity, and so of good) itself just that, a gift, and not a pleasure seized for the self. From where I stand, your thinking on that side of things is too atomistic.


    I guess it depends in what context one takes the word “selfish.” I’m not intending to imply that there is no benefit to the child (I value my existence, hence I see that being born was of a benefit to me), nor am I saying that the life is not a gift. My goal was to focus on the intent of the action, rather than the morality or effects of it–which I why I used eating as an example for how I’m using the word.

    I note in the article that eating is a selfish act, because the primary goal is self-sustenance and continued existence. Will others benefit from that continued existence? Absolutely (or so I would hope). Your family, for example, and mine, undoubtedly benefit from our continued existence–but I would suggest that that isn’t the primary driver that makes people eat. Likewise, while there may be benefits to the child, and (hopefully) to family, and society, I would argue that the primary drivers behind having children are selfish in nature.

    Marcel Decoste

    I don’t want to be jerky about this or to extend this quibble with your insightful post unduly, but I would say that the analogy is imperfect. Unlike eating–which I can do by myself, abandoned in the boreal wilds, foraging for morels and blueberries–having a child is, in its biological and cultural aspects, to enter into relationships, the relationship that engenders the child and the relationship that will then ineradicably obtain between me and that child. For that reason, while the act can and the relationship can certainly be pursued and lived out selfishly it cannot be so wholly self-involved as even the (itself profoundly social and sociable) act of eating.


    You’re not being jerky–you’re certainly allowed to disagree, and I’m always excited to have people reading and commenting on anything I post Don’t mind the significant academic rust that may be layered on my brain at this point.

    i won’t argue that the analogy is perfect; it’s not. I’m not sure how I see that imperfection playing out in the point I’m trying to make, however. I would agree that once the child is born (or even once the mother can feel it moving around, arguably) a social relationship between parent and child is created, and pulling apart the self interest and the interests of the child become more difficult. Even the idea of peri-natal nutrition may arguably cause some difficulties with the analogy. However, the point I’m primarily concerned with is the original decision to have children. This may be a decision made by two people not necessarily acting solely in their own self interest (though it’s possible, given one night stands and modern fertilization techniques) but they would still be acting in their own self interest as a couple, IMO, making the distinction largely irrelevant.

    Again, you may be right that eating doesn’t fit perfectly into the analogy, but it seemed the most easily-identified-with example; everybody has to eat.

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