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Have you raised an entitled teen?

Posted November 29

Question:

Please help us with our 17-year-old son. Despite all our best efforts and role modeling, we have raised an entitled child that expects things in life he hasn’t earned. He has been jumping from job to job, because he feels they are too boring or the pay is too low. He instead spends his time hanging with friends, sleeping too much, or arguing with us that we aren’t there for him, although we pay for everything and he even has access to a car. Honestly the entitlement attitude is wearing thin, but we don’t know how to fix it. We can see that we made life too easy on him, because when things don’t go his way he sulks and acts like he hates us, or blows up in anger over small things. How can we get him to accept some responsibility for his life now, without pushing him away?

Answer:

We are seeing this more and more with the teens we work with. These aren’t bad kids, they just didn’t learn how to be responsible hardworking contributors as children, despite their parents best efforts to teach it. They are also displaying repressed anger and confusion about who they are, where they are going and how to get there.

It is going to take getting tough and enforcing some real consequences, and doing it consistently, to instill better work ethic and cure the entitlement in your son now. The attention-seeking, excuse-making behavior happens because teenagers seek negative attention over no attention at all, and often they don’t know a better way to ask for the love and attention they need.

It is a time of great change and confusion for teens, and often their entitled behavior comes from fear they don’t know how to get what they need on their own. If you can look beyond the sense of entitlement, you will see a child who is desperately lost and scared. He has huge fear of failure (the fear he isn’t good enough) and this is creating the selfish, egotistical behavior. You will have to be very encouraging, validating and firm with your consequences to fix this.

Introducing new rules that encourage better behavior is essential, but it must also include having lots of mutually validating conversations, where your teen feels heard, validated and encouraged. This ensures you are addressing the underlying fear issues while maintaining a loving connection. The best way to have this conversation is gently, with love, and frequently. There is a communication worksheet on my website to help you do this. Constantly reassure them you are there for them and you believe in them.

Set aside some time every week to do something (one on one) with your teen. Getting food together is usually your best bet. Then, work at listening and asking questions more than you talk. This is difficult for most parents and will take time and practice to master. You may consider some life coaching for yourself, so you get the tools and skills you need to really connect with and help your child.

Here are some ways you can teach work ethic and eliminate a sense of entitlement in your teen:

  1. Start teaching work ethic early. If you missed your chance to teach these things when they were young (which would have been ideal), today is the earliest time you have. So start today. It is never too late to have a positive influence on your child.
  2. Demonstrate work ethic yourself. If you don’t live what you teach, they will listen to your actions more than your words. Work along side them whenever possible. Make sure you are modeling responsible behavior and don’t complain about work either, share the satisfaction you feel from a job well done.
  3. Communicate often and include them in the planning of rules and consequences. Open, honest conversation builds a connection that will keep you in a place of influence with your child. Together assign chores with incentives if done, and consequences if not done. Figure out what their currency is (what do they care about?) is it the car privilege, phone privileges, what would hurt them if they lost it? Lovingly and consistently enforce consequences if chores, school or other responsibilities aren’t done. Make them responsible for cooking meals a few times a week, taking the trash out, or keeping the car they drive clean. These simple chores teach them to respect the property and efforts of others and prepare them to one day live on their own and be able to handle it.
  4. Make driving a car a privilege. Do not promise to buy your teenager a car, instead commit to paying half of whatever they raise, working and saving on their own or make it completely their responsibility to get their own car. In previous generations, we had to walk, ride our bikes and use public transport. Such services are still available today, but many of our youths believe this is below them. If they must ride the bus, very quickly they will begin to adjust their entitlement attitude about a vehicle, and even show gratitude when they use your car as well.
  5. Instigate rules and boundaries about mobile phones. If you are paying your child’s phone bill, this may be something to rethink. This again is a privilege, it costs money. Make them pay their own phone bill or insist on a prepaid phone where they must continue to recharge the credit. If you are going to turn off their phone (if chores aren’t done) make sure you have outlined that ahead of time. Don’t decide to take away privileges without explaining that consequence ahead of time.
  6. If your child still lives with you, instigate some low-cost board arrangement. This doesn’t have to be a large sum of money, but just enough that they show gratitude and do not treat your home like a hotel. As small as $50 per month may adjust the entitlement attitude and make them realize living in a nice place costs money.
  7. Encourage them to volunteer or do something that benefits others. This is a powerful way to encourage gratitude. Go with them and show them how you get filled up doing service.
  8. Encourage them and tell them you believe in them. They are more scared than you realize and need validation and reassurance often.
  9. Remember you teach people how to treat you, even your children. Be mindful about the attitude and behavior you accept from your teen. Don’t accept less than you deserve. Set boundaries and let them know you would love to talk to them, when they can do it with respect. Again, you must model this behavior yourself, not let your emotions get out of control.
Maybe you have let a lot of things go in the past, because you didn’t have the energy to wrestle verbally and emotionally with your teen. Maybe you feel like you have failed your child already. This is NOT the case. A more grateful attitude and work ethic can still be instilled, but it’s your job to be the parent, not to be the friend. It’s your responsibility to make them functional members of society.

If you are struggling with this, get some professional help yourself and quick. You may benefit from some parent coaching while you get another coach to work with your teen. Either way, some consistent tough love and consequences are in order, and we promise the sooner you do it, the sooner you will get a son who cares about his future, wants to be successful, and cares about others. Professional help makes a huge difference.

It’s a critical right time now, and you still hold more power than you realize. Use consistent rules and consequences to reshape his attitude. You will be doing him and the rest of the world a big favor by doing this.

You can do this.

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