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Responsible adolescents are much happier than entitled ones. Girl and friend laughing together.
Responsible teens are much happier than entitled ones.
Photo courtesy of Marin and

Entitlement in Adolescents

A while ago, I was fortunate enough to hear John Townsend speak.  He is witty, engaging and above all, wise.  He had really good things to say about adolescent entitlement.

One of the key points he made was that we should not say, “I deserve” this or that.  That verbage causes us to actually lose power.  When we think we deserve something, we assume it’s due us.  That means we’re upset when we don’t have it, and we don’t see how to go and get it for ourselves.  

What To Do If Your Teen Is Entitled

If your teenager tells you, “I deserve an iPhone,” it means they’ve given you all the power to control when and how they get it.  They are completely relying on you to provide this for them.  Instead it’s much better to teach your children (and yourselves) to use the words, “I’m responsible” to get the thing you want.  If your adolescents learn to say this, they then believe it’s within their power to earn things.  I agree with Dr. Townsend on this point completely because it teaches your teens motivation, and goal setting.  Those two things can be hard to teach a teen, but they help to end entitlement in adolescents.

Entitlement to Special Treatment

Another point Dr. Townsend made that was fantastic is essentially to be very careful about believing you’re “exempt from responsibility,” and therefore, “owed special treatment.”  When you read that sentence, I’m sure you don’t think you’re guilty of this.  Afterall, at first I didn’t.  Then he went on to explain that ALL of us do this from time to time.  We think it’s fine to share our opinions without being careful of someone else’s feelings.  We can be particularly guilty of this on social media. However, we don’t want to hear opinions contrary to our own; that’s deemed offensive.

The Most Common Area of Teen Entitlement

When it comes to teens, I hear the problem of being “exempt from responsibility” and “owed special treatment” in one particular area all the time.  This is with their teachers and coaches.  I hear teens’ parents tell me their child had a bad teacher or bad coach.  They say this in front of their teenager.  This causes entitlement in your adolescent.  Some parents even go as far as to change their teenager’s schedule at school in order to get a particular teacher and avoid others.  My question to you if you do this is: Why does your child deserve the best teacher?  It’s nice when it happens, but does anybody deserve that?  And, there’s that word “deserve” again.  

Responsibility in Adolescents is the Opposite of Entitlement

The better thing to teach your child is to be responsible for finding a way to learn and earn a good grade even with the less engaging teachers.  There’s that other word, “responsible.”  Besides, learning to function with less than optimum learning conditions is more important than learning the subject matter.  How many times in your life have you used your 11th grade trigonometry from that class with the great math teacher?  Compare this with how many situations you’ve been in where your boss or client was less than great.  Aren’t you glad you learned to cope with “bad” teachers after all?

What Can Parents Do?

Firstly, you have the ability to model good behavior. Show a lot of gratitude for all the things in your life. Understand that God gives and takes away as He wills. We aren’t owed anything in this life. Your kids will greatly benefit from that outlook too. They’ll work hard and enjoy what they have, but they won’t be destroyed every time they don’t get their way.

At Teen Therapy OC, combatting entitlement in adolescents towards parents is a key goal in nearly every counseling relationship. Many, many adolescents who come in struggle with entitlement. They are angry with parents for “taking away my phone,” or “not letting me go out with my friends.” Of course this doesn’t describe everyone, but for those it does, we work on adolescent entitlement reduction. Everyone ends up happier.

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT