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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.


Dealing With Difficult Teens

Has your teen figured out that he can live without a care in the world for the problems his irresponsible behavior creates, or the stress it puts on you as a parent? Do you spend all your time worrying about him or trying to figure out how to get him to behave differently?

Whenever I see a teen who is irresponsible, and happy to be so, I know his parents are the ones who are quite miserable. The more they try to take control and change their teen’s poor choices, the worse the behavior becomes. It’s what I call “the spin cycle,” a downward spiral in teen behavior that often results in their life spinning totally out of control or ending in dire consequences. And the whole family spins out of control, too.

The good news is that there is a way out of the “spin cycle.” Life doesn’t have to revolve around chasing your troubled teen’s problems and fixing them. Parents can stop it by handing the problems their teen creates right back to them, giving them responsibility for both their choices and the outcomes of their choices.

Until your teen is given responsibility for the problems he causes, he won’t stop causing them.

It’s not a mystery. Your child behaves irresponsibly because he is irresponsible. He’ll not magically become more responsible or mature, or wise. He won’t grow out of it. Responsibility is a learned behavior that comes from facing the consequences of one’s deeds, and the more dire the consequences, the more likely and quickly the lesson will be learned.

It would be impossible to change everything in your teen’s behavior all at once, so let me offer one simple example: Say your 16-year-old is failing in math for the second time. You have gone through this struggle before, and you know your son is fully capable of passing his math class (he has the aptitude, but lacks the attitude). So, you begin a process of systematically limiting how your child spends his time, help him complete lists of homework and study assignments, check daily to see his homework is finished, ask for weekly progress reports, and speak with the teacher every other week to make sure your child is on track, with passing grades.

Sounds like a good plan, right? Wrong! When you jump into the “gung ho” mode of parenting, like you had to do when he was a child, you make your son’s problems your own problems. Managing problems for a teenager never works! He needs to learn to solve his own problems in life.  He’ll never take responsibility for his actions if he knows you’ll fix things for him.

A better approach might be to try something a little more drastic, but tons more effective. Hand the problem back to him; making him responsible to solve it. First, tell him that you welcome any questions about homework and you are willing to help him if he asks for it (even though you know he won’t). But you won’t bother him to make sure he’s keeping up on assignments, to see that he has passing grades, or to say one word about school for six weeks.

Next, tell him that at the end of six weeks you will check with his teacher to see if he has completed all of his homework assignments and has a passing grade. If even one assignment is missing, even just one, or if the grade has not improved . . . you will park the car and cancel his cell-phone. In fact, until he improves his grade, he can ride the bus to school and he’ll have no way to text message or chat with his friends.

You see, the really great thing about how many “things” kids have these days, is that they can be taken away, one by one, as consequences for bad behavior. In my teenage years, I had no cell phone, no Ipod and no computer, so grounding the car was my parents’ only choice. And to this day, I still remember the times and circumstances of when my car was grounded.

But here’s the point where many parents fail. They cave in. They don’t follow through or they lessen the consequences due to sad, remorseful pleas from their teen. They think they are “loving” their teen by doing so, but in this case it’s not doing your teen nor your relationship any good. If you don’t follow through, you’ve made an empty threat that will only serve to teach your teen that you really don’t mean what you say and that he is not really responsible to manage the problems he creates.

What’s worse, if you don’t follow through, his behavior will likely deteriorate, and after a few “feel good” minutes, hours or days of happiness for letting him off easy, the poor choices will return. So don’t make a threat if you can’t follow through with it — to the letter. No remorse, and no letting him off easy.  The first few times need to be the whole nine yards.

Once your teen realizes you mean what you say, and that sooner or later you intend to hand him responsibility for every part of his life, then your life will improve as well. Your teen will know that you keep your promises, and a simple reminder about the “math” incident might be all it takes to help your teen remember that he is responsible to solve the problems his behavior creates. More importantly, your teen will learn from his mistakes.

To summarize, don’t step in to fix the irresponsibility or poor choices of your teenager. Instead, help him realize that his choices always have consequences, that may even drastically change his life. It is totally up to him whether the results of his behavior will be good or bad.

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.


Why Every Teen Needs a Job

Excuse me for a moment while I boast, but in fourth grade I discovered that I had a knack for selling stuff. You know those candy bar drives schools put on to raise money? Every student was saddled with an inventory of 2 cases of inexpensive chocolate and charged with hawking what they could to neighbors, friends, and family. It was a ritual despised by parents and kids alike. But when I saw the prizes I could win by selling these mediocre treats I was inspired to do whatever it would take to make my candy campaign successful. So I hatched a plan to offer free samples of the chocolate bars to potential customers, and then charge a little bit more for the candy bars to make up the difference. At the end of the drive, I had managed to sell sixty cases of chocolate bars! Not bad for a ten-year-old kid! But before my head swells too big, let me admit that I’ve also had a few failures in my work career. I’ve even been fired from a job (3 times). It didn’t feel good, that’s for sure, but the lessons I learned have stuck with me.

Here’s the point of these personal illustrations: kids need jobs! And no amount of after-school activities, social clubs, sports programs, or music lessons can replace the education and life skills gained at work. These days, parents may be tempted to focus too much attention on their kids. We used to call this “spoiling” our kids. But doing too much, or giving too much to your teens without asking any responsibility from them in return may result in an entitled teen, who becomes an entitled adult. And there’s no better way to teach responsibility than requiring your teen to have a job. Sure, maybe the pay off is not immediate. But the void left when kids don’t work is felt later on in life.

What happens when your son or daughter gets married and the clash of finances begins? It’s one of the main reasons marriages dissolve. Young couples that haven’t had much experience handling their own finances don’t understand how to create and live under a budget, so they fight about who is spending what or they use credit cards to supply all their wants and needs. Pretty soon, they’re in a financial hole that takes decades to escape!

Mom and Dad; now is the time to start instilling the value of work and the principles of financial management. When your teenagers begin a job, they can look forward to learning a few lessons along the way that will help them succeed throughout their lives.

Learn How to Listen

Parents often tell me, “My kid just won’t listen to me!” However, this bad habit will start to wither away once your son or daughter starts working for a boss. They’ll understand quickly that respect and attention are essential in order to earn that paycheck at the end of the week. You can’t mouth off to a superior (well, you can, but you won’t have a job very long). You have to listen to instructions and have the maturity to carry them out. If your teen is not grasping this lesson at home, he will definitely be able to learn it at the workplace.

Learn to Handle Finances

What’s that old proverb? Give a man a fish, and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he’ll eat for a lifetime. Applied to the area of finances, this time-tested bit of wisdom holds water. We can give teenagers an allowance of money, pay their bills, finance their hobbies, and supply their needs and wants. But when we do this, we are really robbing them off the chance to earn and handle money on their own. Hear me out here: I’m not saying you shouldn’t provide anything for your kids. As a parent, it’s your responsibility to care for their basic needs. But it’s possible to take this too far. Some parents never turn down their teens’ requests for cash, and are always buying them bigger and better toys. It’s wiser to encourage your teens to earn money and budget for what they want. A dollar earned is more valuable than a dollar given. When teens realize the effort that goes into making money, they’ll understand the value of being good stewards of what they have. So every year, slowly step back from financing their lives. One year, let them pay for gifts for Christmas and birthday parties. The next year, have them help pay for school clothes. When they get a license, let your son or daughter pay their car insurance. In college, have them pay for books or the interest payments on their school loans. Of course, they’ll need a job to pay for all these things. But that’s good! Give them the opportunity to handle money at an early age, and you’ll be preparing them for a financially healthy life later on.

Learn to Work Well

It’s not all about the dollars and cents. Having a job can instill a sense of accomplishment and purpose in a teen’s life. Your child can learn what it means to be devoted to doing quality and valuable work. There’s nothing quite like the feeling that comes from a job well done. So start early, and give your child chores around the house and praise him or her for a good job. If your teen mows the lawn, comment on how good the yard looks. If your kids are in charge of feeding and walking the animals, let them know that you appreciate their work. Reinforce the idea that working with your hands is worthwhile and meaningful. Work is not something to be avoided, but something to be embraced and done with an eye towards excellence.

Learn Their Own Potential

There may be some moms and dads reading this thinking, “Frankly, Mark, I think teenagers shouldn’t have to jump into the working world so soon. I mean, they’re just kids! They don’t have the tools necessary to handle that type of responsibility.

But that is just not true. Teenagers have more potential then we often give them credit for. Let’s go back a hundred years. What would we find? Seventeen-year-olds running the family farm. Fourteen-year-olds managing large animals. Nineteen year-olds leading armies into battle. Sixteen-year-olds getting married (Of course, this doesn’t mean your high-school daughter should run off and marry her boyfriend). Were kids inherently different back then? I don’t think so. Teenagers today are not all that different from the teenagers of yesterday. The problem is, we expect less of them or don’t give them the opportunities to earn maturity. Give a teenager a project that has substance, or meaning, or adds value, and you’ll find them rising to the challenge and displaying levels of character you might have never seen before! Work can bring out the hidden potential in your child.

Learn Valuable Skills

Mom and Dad, let me ask you this—have you replaced your teen’s work with after-school activities? Now, there’s nothing wrong with soccer practice, violin lessons, or being in the chess club. Will every child who shoots hoops after school become a basketball star? Probably not. But every child will eventually join the workforce. Instead of forcing activities on your child that he or she may not continue later on in life, why not give them a chance to develop the skills they will need to have a career one day?

If your teen’s schedule is too packed for a part-time job, it’s time to evaluate the priorities. Provide the time needed to take on a construction job, or fold clothes at the GAP, cook fries at the drive-thru, or groom neighborhood animals. Let your teens find work. That way, you’re supplying them with needed skills they will use for the rest of their adult life.

In this culture, work is being viewed as a lifetime punishment with no possibility of parole. And while our teens are over exposed to the issues and subjects of adult life, they are under exposed to needed responsibilities. We have teens who can build complex software from the ground-up, but can’t socially interact with supervisors or people in charge.

A job can change that. And you’re not a bad parent for making your teenager get a job. In fact, you’re giving them a priceless gift. You’re teaching them the value of work.

 

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.