There are grateful teenagers, and there are teenagers who truly believe they should be handed things by their parents. The second type of teenager leaves parents feeling unappreciated, frustrated and sometimes disgusted. These types of teens are what we call entitled. They believe by the sheer fact that they are born, they are entitled to some serious privileges. This ranges from new clothes to a car to a college education.
In counseling, one entitled girl told me, “I need my mom to take me shopping.” Since she is always nicely dressed, I said, “Oh? And why is that?” (without condescension). She told me, “Well, my friends all want to wear purple dresses on Friday just for fun. My mom won’t take me shopping. Can you believe that?” I told her that she has her own money (again, without condescension). She looked at me with a surprised expression and said, “Well I shouldn’t have to buy my own clothes.”
I worked with another boy who was upset because his father was going to give him a hand-me-down car. His father had recently remarried and planned to purchase a BMW for his new wife, meaning his son would be given her fairly new Volkswagon. He said to me, “Can you believe he’d buy her a new car when I’ve always wanted a BMW. It’s like he’s doing that just to spite me. Now I have to have the used car. That’s completely unfair.” This is a fairly extreme example of an entitled attitude, but the boy’s general spirit is pretty common.
Where does this come from? This often comes from you as parents. However, this also means you have the power to change it!
Firstly, how did you likely cause this? It probably started when you had a toddler. You might have said yes far more often than you should have. It’s not just a matter of saying yes though, it’s saying yes after you’ve already said no. Your child started to throw a fit. You couldn’t handle their emotional distress and so you gave in. Your inability to tolerate uncomfortable emotions caused by your child being unhappy has led to their realization that if they argue with you, eventually you give in. They’ve learned what works to get what they want.
Other times an entitled attitude is caused by feelings of guilt among parents. In the aforementioned situation with the BMW, that father had caused his own problems because of guilt after a divorce. He had bought his children whatever they desired so he could “just see them happy after what they’ve been through.” I truly, truly understand how he feels this way. Divorce is heart-breaking, and very difficult for children. When you only get to see them every other weekend, you don’t want to spend it telling your kids “no” or arguing with them. You also don’t want to say no when your ex-spouse calls in front of them to ask you to pay for things. If you say no then you’re certain your ex-spouse will tell them how you don’t really care about them compared to yourself, etc. What a horrible position to be in!
However, no matter what caused it, now you have an entitled teenager. What do you do about it?
You start with the word no. Try only saying it once and then don’t argue. If your teen engages an argument, which they most certainly will try to do, it’s best to ignore them until they are reasonable again. Don’t bother explaining yourself unless they are really in the mood to listen and learn; you are not peers. When you reestablish who is the parent, who earns the money, who provides, and the difference between a need and a want, then you can start explaining why you said no. At that point your teen is ready to listen. They will then benefit from understanding how it builds their character to wait for purchases, to save money, and to be content with what they already have.
The second thing you must do is set a good example. No more indulging yourself at every whim. If you’ve told your teen you’re trying to stay out of Starbucks to be healthier or save a few dollars, then fight through the urge when it hits you. Don’t go get your nails done because you’re sad, buy a new car because you’re bored with the one you have, or redecorate the inside of your house because it’s not the latest style. Be very intentional, out loud, about your actions and acquisitions. Let your teenager overhear you saying you’re saving for the next vacation, and then follow-through with it.
Finally, allow your teenager to work for the things they want. When they ask you for the latest and greatest gadget, tell them sure…you’ll be happy to take them to buy it when they earn and save the money to purchase it. Once they realize this is how things go, they won’t ask you for much and they’ll like what they have for longer. Suddenly the iPhone 4 they already own is actually “just fine.” Besides, this builds their self-esteem!
Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT