Kids and Their Neverending Wants: Total Ingratitude or Totally Normal?

Posted by on September 19, 2011

A friend recently mused over whether his children appreciate what is given to them after his younger child complained of not getting ice cream at the end of a whole day devoted to her and her wishes. This made me think a lot about my own children and whether they appreciate what they have, particularly as we’ve experienced the same type of ingratitude around here, too.

In my estimation, we live a typical middle-class (what’s left of it) life—we can’t afford a lot of luxuries but we are able to have most of the things we want and pretty much anything we really need. It should be noted, though, that my husband and I aren’t particularly materialistic people so our lifestyle may be modest by typical American standards.

Regardless, there are trips to theme parks and family vacations and modern computers and iPads and iPhones and Netflix and cable TV and super-fast fiber optic internet access and health insurance and quality organic food in the fridge and a scooter and two decent cars and big birthday celebrations and dance classes and t-ball and basketball and cheerleading and scouts and way too many Lego sets and several ridiculously expensive American Girl dolls and frequent outings for ice cream and the movies and a Wii and a Nintendo DS and a house full of toys.

In the grand scheme of things, my children want for very little and yet, they’re never satisfied. While that might seem like an obvious case of cause and effect, it’s just not that simple.

I go to great lengths to NOT spoil them and I say no to plenty of their endless requests. I intentionally avoid buying them something every time we go to a store and we’ve been scaling back Christmas gifts for the past several years. I also frequently point out how blessed they are and have even made my older child sit and watch one of those “Feed the Children” programs with so she can see how bad some kids have it and conversely, how lucky she is to live the life she lives.

I also avoid letting my kids watch commercial television, particularly on kid’s channels, because I believe advertising DOES, in many cases, make people feel dissatisfied with what they have, as well inspire an acquisitive, materialistic mindset—particularly in children, who simply aren’t equipped to filter out all the manipulative BS in advertising.

But none of this seems to have made any difference. My children’s favorite words are “I want…” and “Can I get…” By way of birthdays, Christmas and generous  grandparents, they have so much and they still want more. It never ends.

Perhaps having some (okay, a LOT) of what they want is the reason they seem to appreciate nothing. But just because they have the things they want doesn’t mean they don’t have to earn them or wait for them. They don’t just ask and instantly get what they want and for what it’s worth, they’re not brats. They don’t yell and scream for things and they have manners most of the time. It’s just their insatiable desire for more, more, more that bothers me so much.

So…I’m at a loss. I don’t know how we got to this place where nothing is ever enough. I feel like I’ve done most things right and that I’ve been very conscious of how we’re raising them and yet, it seems to make no difference. Are they just typical kids or terrible ingrates???

And of course, I do have to wonder if it’s my perspective that’s skewed. I don’t think we’re spoiling them but maybe we are without even realizing it.

What about your children? What are you doing to keep from raising ingrates with a monster-sized sense of entitlement? Is it working or are you sitting there scratching your head like I am and trying to figure out where you went wrong?


  • Rae Ann says:

    Definitely option B. There is much head scratching going on at our house. Our younger child seems to want one of EVERYTHING he lays eyes on. He keeps pestering me until I agree to add it to ‘the list’ (a mythical list for consideration for birthdays and Christmas). Lately, I have refused to even discuss the objects of his 4-year-old desire. His response? “When I grow up, I’m gonna buy ___________ mySELF!” Grrrr.

  • Lisa E says:

    I feel like I could have written this post, so I hope that it’s appropriate child behavior. I don’t remember appreciating my things when I was a kid, and material things were much harder to come by for me than they are for my son. I think gratitude and an appreciation of your position in life is something that comes as we age. I hope so, anyway. My son is almost 8, and he seems to be a sweet, thoughtful, generous boy. Hopefully the constant demands for material things will subside. But maybe not. We live in a prosperous community. Just the other day he told me that he was the only one in second grade who doesn’t have an itouch. WTF.

    • IzzyMom says:

      Yeah, I don’t remember appreciating things when I was a kid, either. But I was spoiled AND a child of divorce (divorce yielded a LOT of guilt gifts) and I don’t want my kids to be like I was (a spoiled brat!)

  • Jess says:

    As frustrating as it is for me, option B. My daughter is NINE and we still have days where I go absolutely nuts with “So-and-so has a FLAT SCREEN TV in her room! I’m jealous!” I don’t care.

    But I remember being so frustrated that my father wouldn’t buy me whatever it was, because I NEEDED it, couldn’t he see? So… yeah.

    • IzzyMom says:

      My daughter had a tantrum after a no-sleep slumber party because the birthday girl got an iPod Touch. Then it was a cellphone. And then a $100 Japanese doll (looks a lot like a less trashy Bratz doll). Fortunately, she forgets about these things pretty quickly but it’s still maddening.

  • I’m not a parent but I once was a child so I hope that qualifies me. ;-) Your kids sound totally normal. I see so many kids that are total brats and having temper tantrums in public which causes the parent to give in and the cycle just repeats. Keep tight on the reins, mama and give yourself a pat on the back for a job well done! Just the fact that you’re questioning yourself shows your a good parent. The bad ones don’t care how they’re doing! xoxo

  • We must be drinking the same kool aid because I wrote about this very thing today, too! Check it out…

  • I nearly lost it with my son on Sunday for the same reason. I got us into a VIP showing of A Dolphin Tale. The kids got little gift bags and he complained about the popcorn.

    My eyes bugged out of my head and I told him that he needs to change his attitude immediately and began brainstorming on ways to ensure that he learns about gratitude.

    But I had to stop and think about the world around him and ask how that contributed to this. Fact is that kids have more today than we did or at least I believe that to be true.

    They don’t play outside the same way that we did and are bombarded by more ads for stuff than we were. There is just a lot more information now than there was then.

    Anyhoo, I think that some of this is normal and that our task is to try and keep them balanced. In my world we try to do some of this by helping out at soup kitchens and giving away old toys.

    It is not a perfect solution, but I want them to see that they are doing pretty well for themselves.

    • IzzyMom says:

      It seems like it’s in their nature for kids to be dissatisfied no matter how awesome things are. I’ll go out on a limb and propose that maybe it’s a quality that at one point contributed to the preservation of the species. Or not (and they’re all just spoiled brats ;)

  • Lisa says:

    My husband and I have had this conversation often. I believe it is normal today in America for many children to behave this way. It is the culture we live in. Going with out tends to lead to more gratitude at my house but it is usually temporary. Demanding appreciation doesn’t solve the problem either. It would be great if parents in each community could unite to set limits and discuss expectations. We have heard it a lot these days but It does take a village to raise a child.

  • I feel and understand your pain. I am going through the exact same thing with my daughters, who are 6 and 4. They absolutely want for nothing, and have toys, electronics, etc. But they’re gotten to the point, especially my oldest one, where they think it is their right to watch TV or play the Wii or on the iPad. I try to explain to them that although we have many things that other people have, you don’t have a right to them. They are privileges that have to be earned by good behavior, grades, etc. I don’t know how much is sinking in, but it is a conversation that I keep having to repeat. One time, I took away half of their Barbie dolls and clothing and hid them for three months. Why 3 months? Because that’s how long it took for them to realize they were missing.

  • Bethany says:

    I’ve wondered the same thing about my own kids and whether their acquisitiveness is normal or a sign that I’ve totally screwed up. I think it’s normal for American society but not necessarily right. In other words, it’s normal but we’re all doing something wrong…we just don’t realize it because our perspective is so completely skewed.

  • the muskrat says:

    I think this is a good thing for me to read right now, as my 5, 3, and 1 year old aren’t really old enough to demand everything they want (or be ingrates yet), and our 16-year-old spent most of her life on the lower middle class end of the scale, so her requests for Christmas, birthdays, etc. are so modest that it almost embarrasses me as the wage earner (she spent most holidays with clothing from the thrift store, for example). Since in the last 2 years, our household income has more than quadrupled, I do worry about the younger 3 becoming demanding brats as they go into elementary school, middle school, etc.
    I think my disdain for clutter will help–I toss out boxes and boxes of toys and clothes every December to make room for Christmas and create tax deductions. But most helpful is going to be an unapologetic willingness to use the word “no.”

  • Shannon says:

    This might be normal but I don’t think it is healthy! Some of these comments indicate that parents are kidding themselves that they actually say no! If reasonable is 10 things and you buy 50 things but your kids ask for 100 things you have said no 50% of the time but still exceeded reasonable 5 times over. The OP suggests this is the case as the lifestyle list of theme parks, gifts, vacations etc is actually very materialistic even though they claim a low consumption lifestyle. Stop and think of what you are taking away from your kids if they don’t value anything that they own.

    • IzzyMom says:

      What I said is that my husband and I are not very materialistic, as in we don’t require a lot of material things to be happy. That includes a family vacation this summer which is not a material item. It’s an experience. We live in a small house and don’t buy or desire fancy or pricey clothing or jewelry, electronics or cars. Our computers are for work. Our iPad is from my husband’s job and our theme park passes, also not material items, are an annual gift from the grandparents.. We do pony up for experience-type activities such as sports and scouts and summer camps but we don’t buy a lot of “stuff”. Hope this clarifies why I don’t consider us materialistic.

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