Abraham Lincoln neatly assessed the challenges facing the offspring of successful parents when he said: “You have to do your own growing no matter how tall your grandfather was.”
Third generation children may often feel it is difficult to make their own place in the world, to demonstrate their own skills and abilities living in the shadow of high achieving parents.
Yet, simultaneously many G3 individuals exhibit a sense of entitlement which creates a host of additional difficulties as they attempt to navigate their way through life.
As we explored in a previous article parents want to make their children happy.
To achieve this they must meet psychologist Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs – starting with the most basic physiological – food, shelter, safety – rising to more complex psychological needs including self-esteem and self-actualisation.
For most people in the developed world, meeting the physiological needs is relatively straightforward. However, the psychological needs are much more challenging to meet and, particularly for children from rich families, these important requirements can be seriously neglected.
To navigate today’s challenging world, children need to be equipped with the requisite social, emotional and personal skills. They need to respond appropriately to myriad situations including dealing with difficult relationships, to making sense of political, economic and natural disasters and wealth can often be overlooked.
Yet humans are not naturally equipped to manage such complexities; the brain needs to be trained to cope with life’s obstacles.
In ‘No Man is an Island’ and in Simon Bloom’s book Passing the Buck: How to Avoid the Third Generation Wealth Trap, human behaviours is separated in to four quadrants.
Humans initially process life internally, in other words they have thoughts which are private to them. It is only when people act on those emotions that they are externalised. Consequently it is important that the brain has been trained to process thoughts and emotions effectively to minimise negative thinking and action.
The more a child is in touch with their feelings and is encouraged by their parents to communicate their emotions, the better able they will be to respond to the world.
Unfortunately in the case of the super wealthy, there is often a propensity to resolve challenges or stave off confrontation buying ones way out of a situation.
Successful parents – especially first generation – are often caught up in work, their focus may not be entirely at home. This can create feelings of guilt which are assuaged by buying their children gifts or giving them money.
This the first step towards creating a sense of entitlement rather than a sense of self-worth in a child.
Entitlement is then exacerbated by the general lifestyle in which a child of wealthy parents grows up. Access to the best education, beautiful homes, luxury holidays are a foregone conclusion which means there is no understanding of money’s real worth. Nor are third generation children aware of the work taken to achieve such a standard of living. G3 individuals are so far removed from the initial attainment of success they are not aware of the sacrifices made to get there.
This skews their frame of reference and makes it hard for wealthy children to develop their own work ethic and motivation to achieve something on their own. Ultimately the question is not what shall I do but why should I do it?
The absence of work in building appropriate internal thought processes is another contributor to the sense of entitlement. For most of the working population, there is a need to show respect and deference to a boss or employer. The workplace encourages people to work in a team, to cooperate and to pull together. For something to happen, for it to be successful, all the incumbents must play their part. Wealthy children who are not encouraged into the workplace miss out on this important learning curve.
A sense of entitlement can be very damaging to a child’s ability to show empathy to others. Believing yourself to be superior simply through birth right is what fuelled the monarchy for centuries. The divine right of kings allowed monarchs to laud it over their subjects, behaving how they pleased and this usually ended with a beheading or other tragic ending.
Parents need to show their children how to be grateful for what they have, allow them to see how other people live and to appreciate their own good fortune.
Equally they must understand the responsibility of wealth. Money cannot be used to solve problems and, in the face of difficulty, hiding behind a fortune is a temporary fix.
Discipline and structure is critical for children to understand their place in the world, to help them develop their own self-esteem and to process internal emotions.
American educator Amy Chua said: “A lot of parents today are terrified that something they say to their children might make them ‘feel bad.’ But, hey, if they’ve done something wrong, they should feel bad. Kids with a sense of responsibility, not entitlement, who know when to experience gratitude and humility, will be better at navigating the social shoals of college.”
An effective step in removing a sense of entitlement is to gradually reduce a child’s allowance. Clearly this cannot be done overnight and requires incremental reductions which are communicated and agreed.
Similarly, if a child receives a salary from the family business, they need to earn that income. If the child does not attend work on time or fails to do the task adequately, the same natural consequences should be taken as they would with any other employee.
Instilling a sense of responsibility and gratitude is difficult for parents whose children have lived an entitled life for many years, but it is imperative if that child is not only going to survive in today’s challenging world, but thrive.