Is the decline in spanking related to Millennials’ sense of entitlement?

by Ryan Streeter on December 23, 2011. Follow Ryan on Twitter.

Megan McArdle wonders whether the movement away from spanking to managing our kids with elaborate reward structures really represents progress.

It’s a great question. Especially among well-educated professional types, spanking has gone the way of the VHS: perhaps useful at a past time in history but inferior to the new technologies that have replaced it – and crude-looking in retrospect. Today, parents practice a kind of intensive supervision, designing reward structures and coddling their children in every way possible.

I side with Megan’s overall conclusion:

All that monitoring and incentivizing probably is better at turning out kids who are able to successfully negotiate the hierarchical American university system. But crotchety as I am, I find it sort of creepy–and anecdotally, as the first generation of what David Brooks calls “Organization Kids” enters the workforce, employers are apparently complaining that they have an outsized sense of entitlement combined with a difficulty coping with unstructured tasks. ¬†Obviously, I’m not advocating a return to an era of brutal beatings. ¬†But I’d like to think that there’s some alternative to raising children in a sort of well-padded, benevolent police state where no action is too small or large that it can’t be managed with an appropriately placed gold star.

At issue here is the nature of the Millennials. She quotes Darshak Sanghavi, who explains how this new style of parenting has affected this generation:

[T]hese children who experience it develop an “emerging sense of entitlement”–a trait that may carry some negative connotations but generally correlates with better verbal skills, school performance, and a sense that they can actively shape the world around them.

Over the past year, it’s been stunning how commonly I have heard business owners from across the country telling me the same story when I’ve been speaking at conferences and other public gatherings: there’s something oddly absent in this new rising workforce, and it’s connected to their sense of entitlement (“sense of entitlement” is the expression used most commonly by this seasoned business class). Forget their “better verbal skills” and belief they can “actively shape” their world: all the dissatisfied people hiring them can’t be completely off-base.

A private equity friend who has a history of buying companies and growing them successfully said it simply and best: “We have a serious workforce problem in this country. I have no trouble filling the blue-collar end of the spectrum in our companies, but we can hardly find college graduates in their 20s capable of managing important parts of the ‘white collar’ business that we used to just take for granted: writing persuasive memos, being able to speak coherently and persuasively around the boardroom table, managing relationships with customers, knowing what’s important in a sales relationship, and very rudimentary aspects of managing other employees.”

The Organization Kid isn’t cutting it. If there’s one story I seem to hear over and again from entrepreneurs and business owners, that’s it.

We also know from current surveys that this generation is least likely to get married as any in the past and will be the most secular.

I know times are tough for young college grads and it’s not exactly considered the best public decorum to hit them when they’re down, but seriously: A bunch of singles running around with an inflated sense of self and an emaciated sense of the transcendent…is that really the best we can do, or what we want?

By way of full spanking disclosure: when my 13 year old was a 2 year old Tyrant in a Tutu, we spanked her because it was literally the only way to steer her off course from some self-destructive behavior or another. When our 10 year old was the same age, he was as easy-going and sensitive as they come, so we rarely had to lift a finger with him. A stern voice usually put him back on the right path.

So, from my own experience, I say let’s practice a little humility and admit that this or that theory of childraising that some expert trots out is most likely flawed and unlikely to work with a significant portion of children. My wife and I had all kinds of professional type-A parents shoving all kinds of worthless parenting piffle in our faces, and the best thing we did was use common sense and understand what worked with each of our children. Anyone who knows our kids today would tell you it worked out pretty well, too.

Will my kids internalize the ethos of the entitlement generation? I sure hope not. If they do, I just might have to break out that big wooden spoon again when they’re in their twenties…

UPDATE: Whoa, no sooner had I hit “publish” on this one than I saw that Glenn Reynolds did a post on this topic. Very much worth reading. I find the suggestion that childhood obesity might be related to how parents reward their kids to be a very provocative line of thought worth following.