Why is gratitude so rare in children?

vanilla ice cream with sliced fresh strawberriesIt’s a common complaint from all parents, and likely one that my own parents would have shared with me had I have been listening at the time: why aren’t you more grateful for what we give you?

I believe that gratitude is an emotion in short supply across our culture, but where I most notice it is with children.

Not just my own, though there’s no question that I’d be happy to see my children be more grateful for the amazing opportunities and life they lead.

It’s endemic to our culture of consumption somehow. Or maybe not. Maybe it’s just part of the extraodinary self-absorption of childhood and development. For a child, the world really does revolve around them (and for most adults that never changes, but that’s another story).

What brought this to the fore was an informal end-of-school ice cream social that we fourth grade parents hosted for the children yesterday. A half-dozen containers of fancy ice cream, three containers of sliced strawberries, and a hot spring afternoon.

What’s not to love?

Except for every child that said “thank you” when given their bowl (I was the chief server, so I was on the proverbial front lines) there were three that said nothing at all and two that complained about it in some form or another instead of expressing their gratitude.

“Vanilla? That’s it?”

“That’s all we get?”

“Can we have seconds?”

“Can I have more strawberries?”

It was quite something to watch, and while we parents were careful to reinforce the nice manners of the few children that were appreciative of free ice cream — free ice cream! — it was a drag to see how spoiled the kids are.

And even my 10yo angel, when we got into the car, complained that it wasn’t her favorite brand of vanilla ice cream and that she was disappointed by that.

“You just had delicious ice cream with fresh strawberries at school and you’re complaining about the brand of ice cream?” I responded

“Well, yeah, it was good. I just wish it was Breyers or Ben & Jerry’s. I love Ben & Jerry’s!”


That gratitude piece. It’s something to work on.

7 comments on “Why is gratitude so rare in children?

  1. My generation – The Baby Boomers – is and was ALL about me, Me, and ME. This is where this sense of entitlement was born and where it’s been bred and cultivated now that boomers are running our schools, ESPECIALLY our colleges and universities, and running the country. It’s an epidemic.

    Can you imagine ANY politician, let alone a Democrat (which he was), saying what JFK said in his inaugural address, “Ask NOT what your country and do for you; Ask what YOU can do for your country!”

    Not anymore…

    What can I get! What will you give me? I want more…I DESERVE more!

  2. I sincerely believe that it’s gotten worse, with adults too. I can’t believe how few people say thank you anymore. I’m simply amazed when I actually receive a Thank You card from someone. Gratitude has become a rare thing in our society. It’s a daily gripe with me and I also think it’s incredible sad.

  3. Having children has taught me how important teaching social manners is … and it reminds me how dutiful my parents were on the subject.

    I feel like a scold sometimes when I insist my boys say, ‘thank you’ at restaurants and other places. Then, seconds later, I realize just how important the lesson I’m teaching them will be now … and later.

    The bright side? Our boys and girls, armed with manners, will have an edge as they enter society. I’d prefer that wasn’t the case, though!

  4. It really is sad, isn’t it? I’ve even responded to my kids when they do that by swiftly removing whatever it is that they’re “ungrateful” for. It helps. For a day or so.

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