What have you done today to help your teenager grow in maturity?
Some parents feed their teen’s selfishness into adult years by continuing to rotate their life around them. I tell parents that at age 15 it is time for them to begin aggressively helping their teen get over a selfish mindset.
Instead of always wanting to be “served” by mom and dad, older teens need to do things for themselves and also learn to serve others. After all, they are potentially only a few short years away from having to live totally unselfishly as parents themselves.
Scripture says, “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought….” (Romans 12:3 – NIV).
This is a good principle to teach to your teens at this stage, since selfishness is just that — thinking more highly of oneself than others (including you). Should this selfishness be allowed to grow during the teen it years will only accentuate into other problems after they leave home.
So how do you put an end to your teen’s selfishness?
First, you need to put on the brakes! Stop doing everything for your teen. Quit jumping every time he says “frog.” His control over your life and the life of others in your family is to cease, beginning now. Review the negative habit patterns you established in your home in the early years, and let it be known in a gentle way that you’ll no longer be doing a lot of the things that you had been doing to help them as a younger child.
Break the news to them in this way:
- I’ll no longer be doing your laundry.
- I’ll no longer get you out of bed in the morning.
- I’ll no longer accept childish whining from you.
- I’ll not be doing what should be your chores, like cleaning your room or bathroom.
- I’ll no longer nag you about what you need to accomplish.
- I’ll no longer pay for gas or give you spending money unless you earn it.
Get my point? You have got to stop doing some things, so that your child can start learning to do some of these things for themselves. You stop to get out of the way, so he or she can start.
If you don’t do this, your teen is not being required to grow up. And I see a great number of kids today that remain immature into early adulthood. That happens not because of forces of nature or culture, but because parents enable it.
So the first step is to just stop. Can you do that? And I mean both parents, not just one.
The second step then is to have a discussion with them about why stopping. It doesn’t have to be a deep philosophical discussion about their need to learn responsibility. I would leave it as a simple, “Because you now have the ability to do it for yourself and I don’t want to do it anymore!” Any comments beyond that will only stir up further fruitless discussion. Let your teen know that you’re not doing “it” (whatever “it” is) because you don’t want to do “it” any more. You’ll be amazed how it will put him in a position of not being so demanding of you, and will put you in a position of not having to do everything for them.
Sometimes it is best to let teenagers know that they will have to start these new responsibilities “this summer,” or, “when school starts,” or, “when you turn 15,” or, “the first of the year.” That way you prepare them for the change that is coming. Don’t drop it on them overnight. Maybe even work with side by side them for couple of weeks as you make the transition, but be clear when your assistance will stop and that you’ll not do it yourself during the transition period. They have to help.
Again, here’s what to tell them:
- They’ll be doing their own laundry and if not, they’ll have nothing to wear.
- The alarm clock you are putting in their room is so they can wake themselves and get to school on time. If not, they’ll get in trouble at school.
- That you expect respectful talk and no more childish whining.
- That you’ll help in emergencies, such as typing their homework if their fingers are broken (use a little humor). This is something one adult would do for another if they needed the help.
- That you’re not going to nag them any more. You’ll ask once and that’s it. Then, they’ll have to suffer the consequences if they don’t do it in a timely fashion.
- That they’ll have to begin earning some money to pay for their own gas for the car. You may pay for the insurance and some upkeep; but that’s it.
- That they’ll have to clean their own room. If they want to live in a dump, that’s their choice. If they want a clean bathroom, you’ll purchase the cleaning materials, but that’s all. They’ll have to change burned out light bulbs, wash towels, and scrub their own toilet. Say you can’t do those things for them because you can’t breathe when you’re in their room for the smell of the dirty shoes, socks and shorts.
I’m sure that when you present these things to your son or daughter, you’ll get to see their selfishness in action. They won’t like it and may even throw a tantrum. If so, then it only says that you should have started this process sooner. They’ll drop the ball a few times and have to suffer the consequences as a result, but be sure not to rescue them from their selfishness nor lessen the consequences. Doing so will only cause selfishness and immaturity to continue.
It’s a common phrase I use with kids. “I owe you nothing, but want to give you everything”. This phrase allows me to communicate a “counter” to their selfishness, and promotes a concept of respect.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a residential counseling center for struggling teens located in Longview, Texas. He has been married to his wife, Jan, for 40 years, has two kids, and four grandkids. He lives in Longview, Texas, with the Heartlight staff, 60 high school kids, 25 horses, his dog, Stitch, two llamas, and a prized donkey named Toy.
His past involvement as a youth pastor, Young Life area director, and living with more than 2,800 teens has prepared Mark to share his insights and wisdom about parenting pre-teens and adolescents. You can find out more about Heartlight at HeartlightMinistries.org. You can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.
Mark is also the host of the radio program Parenting Today’s Teen; heard on over 1,600 radio outlets nationwide. Visit ParentingTodaysTeens.org where you’ll find more parenting resources and find a station near you that carries the daily 60-second features or the 30-minute weekend program. Download the Parenting Today’s Teens App for Apple or Android, it’s a great way to listen on your schedule.