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