JENKINS: Entitlement mentality stems from the lies we tell kids

Educators at both the K-12 and college levels are constantly remarking on -- OK, complaining about -- the entitlement mentality so many students seem to wear like a second skin.

It's as though they believe everything -- good grades, scholarship offers, spots in the starting lineup -- should be handed to them just because they deign to bless us with their presence.

Then we wonder why so many battle drugs, alcohol, and depression. Why suicide rates are so high among teenagers and young adults. Why so few seem to find happiness and fulfillment in maturity -- or even to find maturity.

None of this should come as any surprise. We've created this situation ourselves, by telling our kids a pack of lies. It's no wonder they struggle to cope, once they figure out that much of what they were taught growing up simply isn't true. And yes, educators, along with parents, are largely to blame.

One of the most insidious lies we tell kids is how special they are. Of course, the idea that each is special defies the very meaning of the word "special." I can't help thinking of Garrison Keiller's fictional Lake Wobegon, where "everyone is above average."

I understand we're trying to increase their self-esteem. But the result is a false self-esteem, based on nothing substantial and thus destined to crumble at the first sign of stress. True self-esteem -- or rather, self-respect -- can be earned only through hard work, perseverance, achievement, and ethical choices.

Another lie we like to tell kids is that they can accomplish anything in life. Ever attend a high school football program's senior night and listen to the announcer when each player or cheerleader is introduced? Notice how many of them plan to become doctors? Wonder how many actually accomplish that. My guess would be, on average, less than one.

Clearly, not everyone can become a doctor, or whatever else they want to be. I wanted to be an NBA player, but I lacked something no amount of hard work could overcome: talent. I also wanted to marry a knockout. OK, one out of two ain't bad.

Finally, perhaps the worst lie is that kids should just follow their dreams. Don't worry about actually making a living or supporting a family or contributing to society. Want to be in a rock band? Backpack across Europe? Open a surf shop in Maui? Follow your dream, dude.

My grandfather was a brilliant man who, had he been raised with money or brought up anytime other than the Great Depression, might have been a doctor or a lawyer or a college professor. Instead he worked for 40 years on an assembly line building television sets, because that's what he needed to do to make sure his kids had more opportunities than he had.

I'm sure that wasn't his dream. But I seriously doubt he had self-esteem issues.

Rob Jenkins is a local writer and college professor. E-mail him at rjenkinsgdp@yahoo.com.