This post will provide a more detailed understanding of how entitlement develops and what parents can do to prevent or correct their teenager’s sense of entitlement and the associated behaviours. At the end of this post there is an opportunity for you to download a free checklist as an aid to dealing with an entitled teenager.
What Teenagers Need to Prevent Feeling Entitled
Behaviour always has a goal. The goal of bad behaviour is to meet a need that is currently not being met. It is often not the best way to go about meeting a need, but the drive to behave in a certain way is fueled by a real or perceived need not being met.
To deal with common behaviours associated with entitled teenagers it is important to understand what a teenager needs. Doing this assists in identifying what might be missing for your teen and hence producing a sense of entitlement.
The list below is not meant to be exhaustive, but is does cover the key needs a teenager has as they approach adulthood. If one or more of these needs are not being met you should expect some sort of negative behaviour to become apparent.
Teenagers thrive when they have responsibilities and the ability to contribute meaningfully. One of the worst things modern parents do to their teenagers is absolve them of having to commit to contributing in a significant and tangible manner. Nobody thrives in this type of environment.
Teenagers need to know that they belong and are significant. The simplest way of this happening is teens having responsibilities within the family unit and around the home.
The most basic responsibility is to one self. Teenagers need to be encouraged to take responsibility for their own personal hygiene, getting themselves organised, and managing their own time and money. These expectations and responsibilities should increase with age. Parents will need to assist teens in taking on these responsibilities and offer training and prompts, but ultimately parents need to relinquish the responsibility to their teenagers.
Teens also do better when there are expectations that they contribute to family life. This can be a simple as showing up to meals on time or letting others know where they are going to be, through to having areas of the house or yard they are responsible for managing. Few teenagers will outwardly thank parents for these type of responsibilities, and in fact will likely groan and moan about them, but deep down the sense of place and ownership are valued.
As teens get older encouraging them to get a job or contribute to wider society through volunteer work is invaluable. This is especially true for older teens who want to leave school or take a gap year. They must be given the responsibility of getting a job or finding a way to use their time to serve others. Any other alternative can, and will be, soul destroying and damaging for their development.
By accountable I mean be recipients of the consequences caused by their own action or inaction. Actions have consequences, and part of growing up is learning to take responsibility for our actions. This includes dealing with the consequences.
Teaching teens accountability works on a couple of different levels; natural consequences and connected consequences.
Being accountable due to natural consequences includes failing a test because they did not study or pay attention in class, walking and being late to school because they slept in and missed the bus, or not having their favourite dress to wear because they didn’t get it to the laundry in time. The consequence is directly linked to and caused by their behaviour. Natural consequences can include things like having to pay for a replacement phone if they loose or break their own, and/or not having a phone until they do earn the money to pay it back.
Being accountable via connected consequences occurs when the consequence is imposed due their failure to comply or cooperate as agreed. For instance a teenager fails to be home by the agreed time, therefore they are required to be home an hour earlier for the next fortnight. Or a teenager is caught with an iPad in their room after lights out which is against the family agreement, therefore the teen looses access to their iPad and Phone for 3 days. While ideally related to the action, connected consequences require a level of artificial intervention and enforcement by the parent. Connected consequences work best when known about ahead of time i.e. the teenager knows in advance that if they abuse or use verbal violence against another family member they will loose access to gaming console for 3 days and instead have extra chores for that same period.
You can’t turn an entitled teenager into a responsible adult by punishment and consequences alone. If you only ever use a stick to change behaviour you will create a discouraged and angry young adult who sense of entitlement will be replaced by a big chip on their shoulder about how unfair and unkind the world is ( and the behaviour is unlikely to change in the long term).
Teenagers thrive when others acknowledge them in a positive way. Adolescents are consumed with what others think about them, so a little bit of feedback can go a long way. This sensitivity to external feedback cuts both ways however. If a teen only ever gets negative feedback they will take it on board and develop a negative self image which in turn becomes self fulfilling. But if a teen hears a balance of critique and affirmation they are more likely to developed a healthy view of who they are.
When a teenager makes an effort to do the right thing and make a constructive change it is often a big effort and a risk for them. The best chance parents have of the teen continuing to make the effort is for a teen to be aware their efforts are noticed and appreciated.
Understanding of Limits
Teenagers need to have clear understanding about what is and isn’t okay when it comes to behaviour and relationships. For those of you who have read my other work you know I go on a bit about boundaries, but with good reason. All kids and teenagers do better in environments where there are clearly defined and enforced boundaries. Put simply a boundary is a limit of what is acceptable behaviour.
Teenagers without clearly defined boundaries struggle to develop confidence and a sense of responsibility. While clear boundaries can cause conflict occasionally, overall they reduce friction in parent teen relationships and work to strengthen the bond between parents and the adolescent kids.
Growing up is all about expanding boundaries. When teenagers are left to their own devices to determine what rate the limits can expand it creates a level of anxiety and uncertainty. This lack of certainty will commonly manifest as sense of bravado and arrogance as the insecure teen is forced to mask their uncertainty with an exterior of over confidence and self-assurance.
Prolonged periods with lack of defined limits will result in a teenager believing they need to be self-directed, and in the absence of any clearer direction will adopt their own sense of what is and isn’t acceptable. (This will often be informed by peers – who are either in the same boat or exaggerating what their own limits are.)
When parents then step in and start to impose limits in an ad hoc nature teenagers become frustrated and angry, usually resulting in conflict and the teenager projecting a sense of entitlement. This is only natural as they have developed a self-regulated sense of what is okay due to the absence of guidance and parental influence.
An Awareness That Life is Challenging
A crucial part of preparing for adulthood is learning that life can be difficult. As adults we have all learnt that life is full of challenges and disappointments. Part of making the most of life is learning how to overcome the challenges, and keep going through the disappointments and setbacks.
The earlier in life teenagers are exposed to the truth life can be hard and overcoming challenges is part of normal life, the more capable and resilient they will be. When parents shield their teenagers from challenge, failure, and disappointment they do them a great disservice. Teenagers develop and expectation that life is relatively easy and someone else is responsible for dealing with the hard bits.
Teenagers not only need to be allowed to experience disappointment, challenge, and failure, but they also benefit from parents walking alongside them through the hard times and helping them discover ways to cope and overcome.
Parenting to Avoid Entitled Teenagers
Now we have an understanding of what a teenager needs, we have the opportunity to consider what parenting practices need to be adopted to enable the above list to be realised.
As you will see below, in many instances the solution is to stop or avoid certain parenting behaviours rather than do something additional. This can be hard, as many of the unhelpful parenting practices have become a habit – and we all know how hard it is to change a habit.
So once you have read through the list, sign up to download the free checklist as a means helping you focus on making the changes required to assist both you and your teenager.
1. Don’t Reward Bad Behaviour
This is easier said than done, but don’t let your teen get their own way after they have misbehaved, being disrespectful, or failed to meet an expectation. Every time you give in to your teen out of sympathy or to avoid their angry outburst you are rewarding them and encouraging to do more of the same next time.
Yes it can be exhausting dealing with your teen’s carry on when you discipline them, but letting things go, or worse still giving in, is a guarantee things will only get worse in the long run.
When your teenager behaves badly their needs to be a consequence – it is that simple. Every time you let something slide you set a new lower standard of what is okay in your teenagers mind. The more you let something go the harder and longer it will take to correct going forward.
You are not powerless as a parent. Even if a teen blatantly ignores or defies you, there will be something they want or use that is well within you power to withhold should they continue to make the choices they make. Have a look at the list of privileges in the previous post if you are struggling to find consequences.
2. Don’t Empower an Inappropriate Attitude
Whenever you react to your teenager’s inappropriate manner or defiant language in a manner that suggests you have been upset or wounded you are empowering them in both their belief and their behaviour. All misbehaviour has a goal, and common goal for teenage is misbehaviour is to hurt, anger, or get a rise out of their parents. When you take the bait and join in the argument or let them see you are hurt, you both confirm their belief about their power over you and embolden them to do more of the same in the future.
When your teen speaks to you inappropriately you need to stay calm and with a stern but measured tone say something like “I don’t like being spoken to like that” and walk away or accept their apology and continue.
When they respond to your rebuke or disapproval with feigned ignorance, saying something like “What do you mean?” “What did I say“, simply stay calm and state again “You know what you did and I don’t appreciate it and I won’t stand here and let you speak to me like that.” This remove all the power from the situation as you are clearly in control of the response and not allowing then to dictate who you will act.
Likewise if you teen responds to a request or a demand with a disrespectful “Sure whatever!” or words to that effect, don’t let them see you get annoyed. Stay calm restate the instruction and this time state what the consequence will be if they don’t comply. Don’t stand around and wait for debate, make sure they here you and leave them to it.
3. Don’t Rescue Your Teenager
If your teenager makes a mistake or is let down by life, give them the chance to deal with it – don’t step in and do it for them.
It is a hard as a parent to see our kids hurting or upset. When we step in as parents we are being selfish, tending to our own short term discomfort at the expense of our teenager’s long term well-being.
Parents need to offer support and comfort when teenagers are hurting. Even better is to talk with your teenager about what “they” can do to move forward in a positive way. But parents must refrain from stepping in and fighting their kids battles, or protecting them from the consequences of their own behaviour.
(The exception to this is of course when your teen can not be expected to deal with an issue alone or needs you to stop in a fight for them – i.e. discrimination at school, bullying at school not being dealt with, or if there is a “genuine” issue with your a teacher / coach and your teen.)
4. Don’t Confuse Necessities with Privileges
As per my previous post (you can read it here) be very clear on what your teenager really needs and what you give them that is actually a privilege. Privileges can be taken away or not given, needs really should be provided. You have to know the difference and not get confused by your teenagers’ sense of what they think they need.
Just because every other kid at school is allowed to do something, it doesn’t mean it is a right or necessity for your teen. Don’t get guilted into thinking you are inhumane for taking a smart phone off your teen.
Remember also things like being driven to and from events, pocket money, and being trusted are all privileges that your teenager can forfeit if they fail to demonstrate they value such privileges.
If you continue to provide an abundance of resources to your teenager even when they treat you with contempt you will breed an ever increasing sense of entitlement.
5. Do Set & Enforce Boundaries
The way you help your teen know and operate within acceptable limits is to set and enforce boundaries. I have written about this in previously (see here) but the key points to having boundaries with teenagers include:
- Set the boundary in advance
- It needs to be clear to both you and your teenager
- Consequence for breaching a boundary needs to be stated upfront
- Consequences need to be enforced – parents must follow through, overtime
6. Do Encourage Positive Change
It can be easy to get focused on only responding to the negative – especially when everyday feels like a battle.
But one of the most effective ways to stop the cycle of entitlement is to note the times your teen contributes, takes responsibility, or deals with a problem constructively and offer them encouragement.
Encouragement should be specific and meaningful. Your teen needs to understand exactly what it is they have done that was positive. So while surprise gifts or extra privileges are nice from time to time, using words to explain to your teen the positive behaviour you have noticed is important for their learning and sense of self. Read more about encouraging your teenager here.
7. Do Offer Opportunity
Give your teenager age appropriate responsibilities as part of family life – this should not be an option.
Also if your teenager wants something extra, i.e. a new piece of technology or money for a trip away, then work out a way for them to help find the funds to get it done. Give them more jobs around the home (if you can afford it) or help them find a part time job if they are old enough.
Another key time to give your teen opportunity is when they loose a privilege, i.e. banned from xbox, allowance docked, or their curfew is reduced. When this happens explains to your teen how they could speed up the process of having the privilege restored or how they could make amends for what they have done. Giving consequences without offering the opportunity to demonstrate learning and the ability to change, can be discouraging and build resentment
8. Do Be Consistent
If there are 2 of you parenting your teenagers then you need to be aligned and agreed on what approach to parenting your teen is and isn’t okay. (If you are a single parent, consistently of approach is one of the few things that is easier.) If only one parent is going to set and enforce the limits and offer encouragement then your teen will spot the inconsistency and follow the path of least resistance. In the mean time they will see an opportunity to increase their power in the relationship by dividing parents against each other.
Therefore it is important that if there are 2 parents, both commit to establishing a regime of how to manage and parent your teenager. This might well take some negotiation and compromise on the “how” getting things done, but it is a worthwhile process to go through.
So there you have 8 things you can address in your parenting to reduce your teenager’s sense of entitlement.