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Does Your Child or Teenager Have a “Sense of Entitlement”?

Walk through any high school hallway or shopping mall lobby and you’ll see them: teenagers with iPods, a BlackBerry or iPhone or Droid in hand, sitting at tables with laptops or maybe even the new iPad. Today’s teens are drowning in the digital age, and some say the teenagers have an “I deserve it – and you owe me” attitude. As more and more digital “toys” enter the scene, moms and dads increase complaints about a “sense of entitlement” some teenagers seem to have, a belief that they deserve - or should simply have - the latest and greatest offerings available.

In the post-modern period, teenagers have typically begun to display a sense of entitlement that their moms and dads can't understand. Teenagers born in the 1990s, for example, were born into a world of personal computers, cable television, compact disc players and other technological advances. Many parents have showered their kids with these wonderful toys and gifts. As a result, today's teenagers now feel entitled to all these devices and other privileges as a matter of course and not because of hard work or sacrifice. The adolescent may seem spoiled in comparison to older generations.

Signs and symptoms of entitlement include:
  • Expecting a certain standard of living without work or effort
  • Feeling entitled to move back home with parents because being an adult is “too hard”
  • Feeling justified in supporting their lifestyle on credit, and expecting parents to “help” pay their bills
  • Kids and teens who “must have” the latest fads and fashions
  • Older teens entering the workforce feel entitled to start at the top
  • Older teens who feel they should be given handouts until they find jobs that “suit” them
  • Teens feel entitled to a new car when they turn 16
  • Older teens who just don’t like their jobs feel entitled to quit and collect unemployment

When children have a sense of entitlement, they don’t see the world in real terms. When money and material goods have been handed to them their whole lives, they won’t have the idea that they should work to achieve their goals. Their view of the world will be, “If I want it, someone will give it to me.”

How to reduce your child’s sense of entitlement:

1. As much as we hate to admit it, spoiling is mostly about the moms and dads. We often try to compensate for what we didn't have as kids, to assure ourselves that our kids love us, or to make up for any parental guilt we feel. One mother states, "I came from a huge family and grew up wearing hand-me-downs, so I'm always buying my daughters the most stylish, matching outfits to wear to school. I know that's more about my issues than theirs!" Giving your children whatever new gadget they want as soon as they want it is also a way to show off how successful you are, both financially and as a supermom. Try to figure out where your need to spoil is coming from. Ask yourself a series of questions:
  • Are you feeling guilty for not spending enough time with your children?
  • Are you getting more of a kick out of this gift than your youngster is?
  • Are you tired, overstressed, and trying to find a quick-fix solution?

Once you figure out what's driving your tendency to spoil your children, you'll be better able to kick the habit.

2. The first few times you stick to a new rule and say “no,” it will be painful — for you, your youngster, and everyone else within hearing distance. There will be tantrums at first, so fasten your seat belt and react to them in a very calm and neutral way. If you hold to that line every day, your youngster will learn that this is not the way to get something that he wants, and he will eventually stop. In fact, experts compare this part of the de-spoiling process to sleep-training your baby: a week or so of stress and tears, and then one blissful night your baby sleeps till morning — or your kid finally understands the word “no.”

3. Moms and dads have this illusion that if they give their kids a “reason why” they can't do what they want, the youngster will stop wanting it, but that has never happened in the history of parenting! Instead of trying to “reason” your youngster into obeying you, simply say, "No, and that's the end of the discussion." If she comes back at you with, "Why?" remind her, "In our house – that is the rule." (Note: A survey by the Center for a New American Dream found that children will ask for something an average of nine times before the moms and dads cave. So stay strong and repeat your simple "no" on the ninth, tenth, and eleventh entreaty. Eventually, your youngster will realize that her attempts are futile, and she'll move on.)

4. By now, your youngster should be behaving so wonderfully that you will be tempted to smother him with tons of treats. Luckily, there are plenty of things you can bestow in abundance without running the risk of spoiling (e.g., snuggling on the couch, reading books, saying "I love you", popping a bowl of popcorn, watching the football game, etc.). And don't forget those weekly rewards for good behavior — if your youngster has followed all the rules you set, go ahead and share an ice cream sundae or do each other's nails. Because when you strip the parent-child relationship down to its core, it's pretty simple: Most children would forgo another stuffed animal in favor of time with you. And that's something money can't buy.

5. When all their other tactics fail, kids will inevitably resort to the one sentence that has been used to guilt moms and dads since that first annoying caveman next door gave his son a shiny new rock: "But all my friends have one!" Unfortunately, there is no magical response that will definitively shoot this argument down, but there are a couple of strategies that can be successful. You can say to your youngster, “That's interesting. Let's talk about it.” There may be a good reason for your youngster wanting what the other children have. It might be a great new game everyone is playing at recess or a new book they're all talking about. Tell your youngster that you will look into it, and see if it's something you want him to have. If the book/toy/game seems worthwhile, you can add it to his birthday list, or together you can come up with a strategy for how he can "earn" it, whether that means helping him calculate how much allowance he'll need to buy it (e.g., perhaps he needs to save half the price, and you'll kick in the rest) or suggesting it as a reward for a good report card.

6. There is a slippery slope in parenting, where the initial "If you behave, I'll buy you a treat" turns into "Here, take this treat, and hopefully you'll behave." To wean your youngster off this demand-reward pattern, you'll have to set the new rules in stone. Observe your youngster for a few days to notice when she is really being demanding and refusing to take no for an answer — whether it's with staying up past her bedtime, asking for new toys, or wanting candy. Let's say you recognize a pattern: Your daughter refuses to sit still at the dinner table unless she is promised her favorite dessert. The next step is to come up with a rule and a realistic consequence (e.g., taking away TV or computer privileges) for her behavior, keeping in mind your youngster's age and tolerance level. And make sure your spouse is on board with the new plan (children are experts at playing one parent off the other). Then, sit down and explain the rules to your youngster: "In our house, we get ice cream on Friday night if we have behaved at dinner all week. If there is whining for candy during dinner, you will lose the ice cream privilege." Ask your youngster to repeat it back to you to make sure she understands — or better yet, make a chart together that she can decorate with stickers each time she follows the rules.

7. While our instant-gratification culture has made life easier in many ways, it has also diluted the joy of looking forward to special experiences. Just think about the buildup of excitement you get when you plan a vacation a month away — there's the thrill of planning it, packing for it, talking to your friends about it. When you finally get there, the joy is magnified. But if there is no wait …no period of dreaming about it …the thrill is often less intense. When children are accustomed to getting things right away, nothing excites them anymore. The bar has been raised so high that by the time they're teens, they might start looking toward other things (e.g., alcohol, drugs, sex, etc.) for thrills. Teaching your kids to wait for fun helps them sustain focus and attention (two very important skills for success in school).

==> My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents


Jacqui said...

Interesting and so true. I have a 15year old, total chaos at the moment :/
Just signed up for the news letters, hoping to get some inspiration.

Anonymous said...

I too have a 15 year old that is having a serious attitude when it comes to entitlement. Created alot of problems with this at the moment....thanks Mark for the right words for what we are feeling right now cause your advise and info really hits home...thanks again...

Anonymous said...

i have a 18 year old daughter that has always felt we owe her and doesnt feel the neeed to work much cause we have bailed her out so many times....frustrating! and we trying to change these bad habbits also trying very hard to instill good values and work ethics into our two younger sons before we have 3 entiled brats on our hands !

Anonymous said...

I have an 11 year old boy who is acting like this. He argues with almost everything. Being around him lately is like walking through a land mine, you never know what is going to upset him. And EVERYTHING is an argument, from going to bed, to going to basketball game, to what is for dinner. We are trying the "ignore this behavior"approach. We feel like he just wants to upset us and start a fight and we are not about to play that game. UGH.

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