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Dealing with Spoiled Teens

“My son is a hoarder,” the distraught mother told my friend. “I don’t know what to do about it. He just has so much stuff in his room. I try and throw things away, but he pitches a full-on fit! And his grandfather doesn’t help the situation by constantly buying him things.”

Brat to Brat-worst

Mikey is all of four years old. The writing is clearly on the wall (which Mikey apparently also does—literally and with impunity). This child could be described as a brat on his way to becoming a brat-worst. But it doesn’t have to be this way!

Everyone suffers from the consequences of our entitlement culture—not just parents and children, but society as a whole. Unfortunately, in our materialistic culture where “stuff” equates to love, indulgent parenting is all too typical.

We can make several observations about the parenting style of Mikey’s mom:

  1. She takes no responsibility for her son’s hoarding problem—worse, by employing the term “hoarder” she implies that her four year old suffers from an uncontrollable addiction;
  2. She lets her terrorist tyke call the shots—with mom acting like a helpless victim of her child’s whims and wants;
  3. She doesn’t deal with her child’s temper tantrums as she tries to exert control over “his” problem; and
  4. She allows Mikey’s grandfather to indulge him—rather than establishing appropriate boundaries.

You can already picture Mikey as a teen. Even as an adolescent, his room will still be full of toys. They’ll just be more sophisticated—and expensive. For guys that usually means a “gaggle” of gadgets—much of it given to them by their parents. For girls, it may be less about video games and more about clothes. Lots and lots and lots of clothes.

And maybe you’ve noticed that kids who are given everything are rarely grateful for anything.

Affluenza

There’s a word for this rampant social disease: It’s called “affluenza.” A more publicized example of this ailment is the case of Rachel Canning. After they kicked her out of the house, this “emancipated” New Jersey high school senior sued her parents for weekly support, private high school and even future college tuition. Their reason for giving their daughter the boot? She refused to comply with their reasonable household rules, such as being respectful, keeping a curfew, doing a few chores and ending a relationship with a boyfriend who was a bad influence. Shockingly, the judge ruled in the teen’s favor. This bizarre ruling gave carte blanche (at least in New Jersey) for any entitled teen to say to their parents, “I don’t want your rules, but I want everything under the sun and I want you to pay for it!”

Now, this may seem like an extreme example of entitlement gone wild, but the very fact this case even made it to court is indicative of a disturbing mindset in our culture. So where do we ascribe blame? Squarely on the parents. In response to the Rachael Canning case, one blogger wrote: “She’s 18. Their legal responsibility has ended. Their moral responsibility… not so much. Talk about setting a kid up to fail… after the way they raised her, well, they have reaped what they sowed. She’s going to learn some hard lessons. She will either sink or swim.”

From the Palace to the Pig Sty… and Back Again

Consider the classic “sink or swim” Bible story in Luke 15. Most of you are familiar with the story of the prodigal son who demanded his inheritance early so that he could spend it on “riotous living.” In Luke 15:12, the rebellious son says, “Father, give me my share of the estate.” For whatever reason, this young man had a pretty demanding “gimme-gimme” sense of entitlement. More than likely it was because he never had a need for anything since the family was obviously wealthy.

So, as was the custom in those days, the father went ahead and gave him his portion of the estate. The son gleefully took it all and moved away. But he had soon blown through his entire inheritance. Half starved, he then banked on his buddies to help him out in his time of need. Only then did he learn the meaning of “fair-weathered” friends. In Luke 15:16 we read, “… but no one gave him anything.”  Whether they were acting as selfish as he was, or were just fed up with him, their response told him that he needed to do something different from now on or else he wouldn’t survive. The very next verse brings it all home.

In Luke 15:17 it says, “…he came to his senses…” He saw the light. When the money ran out and everyone stopped feeding this young man’s foolishness, he finally hit rock bottom. It took a very traumatic experience for him to have his day of reckoning. Only then did he finally begin thinking more clearly about life, liberty and what that all actually costs. This parable wonderfully illustrates a radical turnabout for a pampered, selfish child who was forced to face the realities of life. (Although that “turnaround” may have never happened had Jewish law back then allowed rebellious children to sue their parents!)

Lavish Now… Live with it Later

So why do parents lavishly and foolishly give material things to their children? Some say it is their “right” to spoil their kids — and there is truth to that. The truth is not as much regarding the parent’s rights, but that, yes, it will spoil their kids. Such children are in for a rude awakening when real life “comes a callin’.” Interestingly, in follow-up news stories about Rachel, when she was finally forced to go to work, she apparently was not able to hold a job. She also filed a restraining order against her boyfriend because of physical violence—the same boyfriend her parents had forbidden her to see. By that point, she may have been wishing she still had parents who she could turn to for comfort.

Sometimes a parent is being extra generous out of an “I’m-giving-my-child-what-I-lacked-as-a-child” attitude. Or, perhaps the gifts are being used as leverage to improve the attitudes and cooperation of the teenager. In either case, the kids on the receiving end can become pretty comfortable with such generosity. As we’ve seen, it can lead to immaturity, irresponsibility, selfishness and a hard time understanding finances and the obligations of real life when they become adults.

I know it’s tough for loving parents to limit their giving of material things to their children, especially when they have it to give. But it’s important to keep that impulse in check. If you can’t help yourself, and want to give your teen everything, at least call me first so that I can tell you the kind of damage that causes. I’ll tell you the stories of some of the teens who are sent to our Heartlight residential program. For them it can take months of therapy and doing without material things to bring them back down to earth.

Take this Shovel and…

Take a cue from this parent who writes, “When my son wanted a pair of ice skates I handed him a shovel and told him to go knock on doors and offer to shovel snow. When he wanted a new bike I gave him a lawn mower and a gallon of gas. He is now 34, owns a multimillion dollar business and he never went to college (too busy working).”

Another good way to counteract selfishness and financial foolishness in a teen is to teach them to give of themselves and a portion of their finances to others who are in need. Bring them down to the local mission to volunteer in the food line. Require that they help an elderly friend or a shut-in neighbor once a week. Take them on a short-term mission trip to a place in the world where kids have nothing. When they interact with others who are helpless and in desperate need, they soon realize (without having to hit rock bottom themselves) how important it is to manage their own life and their money.

If you’re an adult prodigal, resist the temptation to lavish upon your teen everything their little heart desires. That doesn’t mean you withhold every good thing—just that you use wisdom. Two “good things” your teen desperately needs are the ability to value hard work and to handle money. Admittedly, it’s much tougher to padlock the barn door after your untamed teen has been free to run around with an “my-parents-owe-me” attitude. But trust me; if you rein them in now, they’ll thank you later. You’ll also greatly reduce the risk of your teen taking you to court!

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.orgYou 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.


The Cure for the Diva Syndrome

Mom and dad, don’t look now, but a dangerous infection might be running rampant in your home. This contagion can infiltrate your life, gain control, and rule your family with sarcasm and incessant demands. Now, you may not recognize this disease at first. That’s because this fiendish infection disguises itself, using your teen as its innocent host. The scientific name of this virus is bratticus narcissitcus; but my friend Bill Ziegler (a school district superintendent) calls it, “The Diva Syndrome.” And it can wreak untold damage on your home and family.

All kidding aside, many parents are facing teens who exhibit narcissistic and self-absorbed characteristics. Their children wake up every day with one thought: “What is everybody going to do for me today?” But here’s the truth; all teens are pre-disposed to be divas! It’s part of our sinful nature to think that everyone is working for me and everything is “Mine!” No one has to teach us to be selfish. We’re born that way. Just watch how toddlers reach for every toy they see and get upset when they don’t get what they want.

Perhaps the symptoms of selfishness, pride, and conceit aren’t that pronounced in your teen. Maybe it’s just a phrase, right? Wrong! A me-first outlook is not something teens simply grow out of. And when your son or daughter carries this selfish attitude into the next stage of life, the consequences are a lot more severe.

So how can you transform that selfish diva into a caring person? Here’s a few practical pointers.

Make It Uncomfortable

I get it. As moms and dads we want to give our kids the best things in life. If we didn’t have it growing up, we want to make sure our kids do. However, we have to be careful. Provision can quickly transform into enabling. Sometimes we need to ask ourselves, “If I give this to my teen, will it help her become a responsible adult or enable her to be a pampered kid?

Sure, you can give your sixteen-year-old a car when she gets her license. But would handing over the keys teach her a valuable lesson about working and saving? Instead of taking your teen to the dealership, strike up a deal. You’ll pay for half of the car, and they have to pay the other half. This method is not as comfortable or as easy as simply giving a teenager what they want, but in this way, we’re actually helping our kids. We’re giving them the opportunity to gain necessary skills for the future. We’re training them to do the hard work that it takes to get what they want. And don’t you think your daughter will appreciate that car all the more because it’s her money that helped pay for it? You bet!

If you are providing for your teen’s every need and want: Stop! You’re simply feeding the diva syndrome! Push your teens out of the center of their universe by giving them assignments around the house to pay for cell phones, earn money for sneakers, and save for the class trip. Or encourage them to take an after-school job in order to provide for themselves in some capacity. Let them feel the satisfaction of hard work and reward. Stop enabling your child and you’ll train them out of their inner diva.

Share Those Feelings

The classic symptom of a diva is a callous disregard for other people’s feelings. A teenager displays this nastier side when they treat others with scorn or derision, or are rude and sarcastic. But insensitive behavior doesn’t mean your teen is missing a heart. We’re all born with the ability to empathize, but like a muscle, if we don’t exercise it, our empathy atrophies.

I know parents who have told me, “My kid is my whole world.” That’s a dangerous value system, moms and dads. When we allow our kids to be the center of the universe, we’re not giving them the opportunity to place other’s feelings and concerns above their own. And so that empathy muscle stagnates and is replaced by a superiority complex. Philippians 2:3 tells us, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.” This is a needed lesson we can help our teens live out.

When disrespect rears its ugly head, point out the negative behaviors your teen is displaying, and describe how they make you feel. Start by saying something like, “You cannot call me stupid. Not only is that extremely hurtful to hear from someone I care about, it’s disrespectful. It makes me feel like my opinions and values are not important.” Explain how insults, put-downs, and sarcastic remarks can damage other people.

Let your teen practice empathy in the home as often as possible. A friend of mine came up with an ingenious way to give the compassion muscles in his kids a workout. He told each of his sons that before they could take a girl out on a date, they had to take their mom out first. They had to open doors, pay for meals, engage in conversation, and conduct themselves as gentlemen. If mom didn’t give them an “A” on the date, they would have to try again next month, until they could learn how to treat a lady on a date. The boys quickly learned how to value someone above themselves, and slowly destroyed that diva inside. Plus, those young men became the boyfriends that every girl wants to date!

Require Contribution

It seems to me that many young people today have a sense of selfish entitlement, looking to take rather than looking to contribute. It’s a generation of kids who have grown up believing that simply by existing, they deserve all the world offers. But this trend can be reversed. All it takes are parents who have the courage to require their kids to make a contribution.

What does that look like? It could be something as simple as mandating chores around the house. Teens can pull their own weight by doing household chores each day. Also, allow them input into family decisions, like where to vacation, where to go out for dinner, or what charity to support each year. One dad I know makes sure that each of his teens donates to an organization that works with needy children all over the world. His teens are empowered as they see the dramatic difference their small contributions have on the lives of children in other parts of the world.

That selfish diva in your house needs to go. That doesn’t mean you throw out your son or daughter. But it does mean your teen needs you to train them to drive out their narcissistic nature. We’re all prone to be selfish and self-serving. But these habits can be broken, and, with guidance and practice, your teen can transform from a selfish diva into a giving, caring person.

Mark

 

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.orgYou 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.  Here you can download the Parenting Today’s Teens App, a great way to listen on your schedule.

 

 


Teens Who Demand and Parents Who Don’t

Teens Who Demand and Parents Who Don’t

Teens today seem much more demanding than recent generations.  That’s relatively new, but what’s not new is that teens are also less mature today.  Add the two together and what you get is kids who expect their parents to be a walking, breathing ATM machine.

Parents who continually meet the financial demands of a teen fail to realize that they are unwittingly postponing their teen’s development into a responsible and mature adult.  That’s because generosity and a parent’s desire to provide for their child often gets misinterpreted by the teen, leading them believe that this provisional lifestyle will continue endlessly.  They want more and more and appreciate it less and less.

It echoes the attitudes of the Prodigal Son found in scripture, with one difference. Today’s prodigals don’t leave home.  In fact, they are comfortable at home because they can continue a self-centered and lavish lifestyle right under their parent’s noses, with no real-life consequences to help them come to their senses.

Don’t get me wrong.  There’s nothing inherently wrong for parents (and grandparents) to want to do great things for their children. But when the teen years come along and the child has not learned how to earn and manage their own money, then the over indulgent parent is unintentionally cutting short their teen’s ability to make it out in the real world.

I hear from parents every day who want to place their teenager in our Heartlight Residential program for troubled teenagers.  Many of these kids come homes where parents have lavished on them everything they ever wanted and required nothing of them in return.

We have little ability to change the materialistic world in which our teens live. But I have no doubt of our ability to change what we will and won’t give a child.

So, my recommendation is this. Let the demanding teenager know that it’s time to take more responsibility for what they want or need. Tell them that good ol’ mom and dad will help them make good buying choices and may provide ways for them to earn money, but they will no longer give them everything they want.

I’m usually pretty straightforward with a teen in such a conversation. I’ll say, “Thanks for telling me what you want. But I need you to know something.  Every time you ask, I get a feeling that it’s more of a demand than a request. I just want to let you know that as your parent I owe you nothing, but I want to give you everything. For right now, my greatest gift to you would be to help you learn how to make and manage your own money.”

This immediately lets your child know they need to lower their expectations about what you will provide, and allows them to begin assuming responsibility for what they want.

For instance, “Honey, your asking for a cell phone is important to you, and I know you would really like to have it. It’s important for me to allow you to take responsibility for it, so let’s talk about what you can do to make it happen. I’m willing to help you find an inexpensive way to have a cell phone, and you’ll need that since you’ll be paying for it.”

But if your child is still young, you can head off such “entitled” attitudes. Begin early to teach them financial responsibility. For instance, when they are 13 they can begin to manage a checking account and pay for minor expenses like lunch money out of a weekly allowance. When they are 15 they can get themselves out of bed for school, do their own laundry, clean their own room, learn how to cook for themselves, and get a summer job to cover some of their own wants and needs.  When they’re 16 and can drive, an after-school or weekend job will help them pay for gas, auto insurance and other needs.

Let alone keeping idle hands busy and out of trouble, starting sooner to teach your teen how to work to make money will give them a greater feeling of independence and self-confidence and prepare them for the day in the future when they tell you they are starting out on their own.

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 39 years, has two kids, and 4 grandkids.  He lives in Longview, Texas with the Heartlight staff, 60 high school kids, 25 horses, his dog, Stitch, 2 llamas, and a prized donkey named Toy.  His past involvement as a youth pastor, Young Life area director, and living with over 2,500 teens, has prepared Mark to share his insights and wisdom about parenting pre-teens and adolescents.

You can find out more about Heartlight at www.HeartlightMinistries.org.  You can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.

For more information and helpful resources for moms and dads, check out our Parenting Today’s Teens website at www.ParentingTodaysTeens.org, It’s filled with ideas and tools to help you become a more effective parent. Here you will also find a station near you where you can listen to the Parenting Today’s Teens radio broadcast, or download the podcast of the most recent programs.