First published on ksl.com
Please help us with our 17-year-old son. Despite all our best efforts and role modeling, we have raised an entitled child that expects things in life he hasn’t earned. He has been jumping from job to job, because he feels they are too boring or the pay is too low. He instead spends his time hanging with friends, sleeping too much, or arguing with us that we aren’t there for him, although we pay for everything and he even has access to a car. Honestly the entitlement attitude is wearing thin, but we don’t know how to fix it. We can see that we made life too easy on him, because when things don’t go his way he sulks and acts like he hates us, or blows up in anger over small things. How can we get him to accept some responsibility for his life now, without pushing him away?
We are seeing this more and more with the teens we work with. These aren’t bad kids, they just didn’t learn how to be responsible hardworking contributors as children, despite their parents best efforts to teach it. They are also displaying repressed anger and confusion about who they are, where they are going and how to get there.
It is going to take getting tough and enforcing some real consequences, and doing it consistently, to instill better work ethic and cure the entitlement in your son now. The attention-seeking, excuse-making behavior happens because teenagers seek negative attention over no attention at all, and often they don’t know a better way to ask for the love and attention they need.
It is a time of great change and confusion for teens, and often their entitled behavior comes from fear they don’t know how to get what they need on their own. If you can look beyond the sense of entitlement, you will see a child who is desperately lost and scared. He has huge fear of failure (the fear he isn’t good enough) and this is creating the selfish, egotistical behavior. You will have to be very encouraging, validating and firm with your consequences to fix this.
Introducing new rules that encourage better behavior is essential, but it must also include having lots of mutually validating conversations, where your teen feels heard, validated and encouraged. This ensures you are addressing the underlying fear issues while maintaining a loving connection. The best way to have this conversation is gently, with love, and frequently. There is a communication worksheet on my website to help you do this. Constantly reassure them you are there for them and you believe in them.
Set aside some time every week to do something (one on one) with your teen. Getting food together is usually your best bet. Then, work at listening and asking questions more than you talk. This is difficult for most parents and will take time and practice to master. You may consider some life coaching for yourself, so you get the tools and skills you need to really connect with and help your child.
Here are some ways you can teach work ethic and eliminate a sense of entitlement in your teen:
If you are struggling with this, get some professional help yourself and quick. You may benefit from some parent coaching while you get another coach to work with your teen. Either way, some consistent tough love and consequences are in order, and we promise the sooner you do it, the sooner you will get a son who cares about his future, wants to be successful, and cares about others. Professional help makes a huge difference.
It’s a critical right time now, and you still hold more power than you realize. Use consistent rules and consequences to reshape his attitude. You will be doing him and the rest of the world a big favor by doing this.
You can do this.
Kimberly Giles is the CEO of claritypointcoaching.com and a master executive coach. Nicole Cunningham is a master coach who specializes in working with teens.
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Kimberly Giles is the president and founder of Claritypoint Life Coaching and 12 SHAPES INC. She is an author and professional speaker. She was named one of the top 20 advice gurus in the country by Good Morning America in 2010. She appears regularly on local and national TV and Radio.