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5 Ways to Address Selfishness in Your Teen

It’s been said there are only three things a teen cares about: “me, myself, and I!” While teens naturally see the world from a self-centered perspective, parents can help redirect this tendency. In this article, I’ll offer five practical ways you can help your teen become more considerate and others-focused.


1. Acknowledge the Problem
Kids are born selfish. As parents we rearrange our lives to please them. We want them to be happy and have everything. So why would your teen want this arrangement to change? If your teen feels entitled to get what he wants, when he wants it, then you need to acknowledge the problem you’ve created. Entitlement means you’re doing too much for your teen. The time has come to stop giving him everything and let him work for what he wants. It’s good for your teen to take control of his own life and for you to let go. That’s the goal after all. No one wants a 30-year-old clown who sits at home on the couch playing video games all day.

Take a moment to look at your attitudes and behavior. Sometimes teens are simply modeling the selfish entitlement they see in Mom and Dad. It’s hard to own up to it, but we need to be honest about our own failings, if we want the atmosphere in our home to change.


2. Build Maturity by Giving Responsibility
One way to address selfishness is by helping your kid grow in maturity. Maturity is a by-product of responsibility. Little by little, as your teen gets older, you must release the control you have over their lives and allow them to take responsibility for their own lives. This may look like making their own lunch, doing their own laundry, helping with more chores at home, getting themselves to and from school, or paying for their own entertainment. As you hand over control to your teen, keep communicating and training them, but don’t forget to give them space to figure out how to handle their own problems. When they mess up, don’t immediately criticize them, or tell them what to do. Instead help your teen figure out what went wrong and how they can do better next time to get to the place they want to be.


3. Require Your Teen Get a JobCompared to older generations, teens today are less likely to have a part-time job. This rite of passage into adulthood is a valuable opportunity to gain life skills and maturity. Even in an entry-level workplace, teens learn important skills, like showing up on time, scheduling, learning how to deal with other people, and acknowledging the authority of their managers. Workers do what’s required and respect others, or else they lose their job. A job will help your teen practice responsibility and build maturity. They will also learn to appreciate what their parents provide for them when they see their first paycheck. Hard work is required to get what they want. Life won’t be simply handed over to someone who demands it. For some teens, this is a new and much-needed life lesson.


4. Look For Ways to Show Your Love That Don’t Involve Giving Your Teen Something
You may want to give your teen everything, but you don’t owe your teen anything. They don’t have to have the latest phone, brand-new clothes, fast food goodies, and constant entertainment. Stop buying gifts to win them over. Instead, think of ways to show your love that don’t cost money. Require your teen to work to earn the extras she wants. Ultimately, all the stuff gets lost, broken, or discarded. The best gift you can give your teen is to spend time together to build a closer relationship. Give your attention freely. Work on a project together. Show physical affection. Ask their opinion or input and really listen to your teen.


5. Believe in Your Child
Parents get discouraged when they see behavior they don’t like. But don’t be surprised by selfish behavior. Instead of getting frustrated, give your teen grace. Learning to be mature and selfless is a life-long journey. Instead, look out for those times when your teen offers to help others, picks up his mess, gives up his own way or expresses gratitude, and praise him. Tell your teen how proud you are to see him maturing. Trust me, your teen wants your love and approval, so give it freely when it is deserved.


Hey moms and dads … I feel like I’m preaching to the choir when I remind you that teens are selfish. Like all of us, they were born that way. As parents, we rotate our lives around them by pleasing, protecting, and providing for them. Our constant attention affirms the idea that everything in life will revolve around them. It’s a wonderful way to live until you get to the teen years. Then, your little selfish one needs to learn that this world doesn’t revolve around them. What once was cute behavior is now foolish, and truth be told, if their foolishness continues they will lead miserable lives. It’s important for all parents to help break this pattern of selfishness and push teens to selflessness as their view of the world changes and they mature into healthy adults.

Author: Mark Gregston

Mark Gregston began working with teens more than 40 years ago as a youth minister and Young Life director. He has authored nearly two dozen books, has written hundreds of articles, and is host of the nationally-acclaimed Parenting Today’s Teens podcast and radio broadcast.