An issue that many parents find especially frustrating is having a teenager who exhibits an attitude of entitlement. Scottsdale Pediatric Behavioral Services owner and clinical director, Dr. Jacob Boney, consistently hears parents complain that their child is “just so entitled and spoiled that they think they deserve everything and don’t appreciate anything”. These parents are often at the end of their patience and looking for guidance in getting rid of that kind of behavior and somehow turning their teen into a caring and considerate person.
One of the first points that Dr. Boney makes is that it is incorrect to look at this as a subjective kind of value-based parenting issue when, in reality, caring, empathy and consideration for others are very much behavioral skills. The good news is, as such, the issue of entitlement can be addressed just like any behavior.
The best time to start, of course, is early in the child’s life, but, whatever the current age, the place to begin is with emphasizing a good work ethic. Years of experience have shown that what the most entitled, spoiled and unappreciative teenagers have in common is that they see no connection between what they do and what they have. They are used to having things given to them and getting what they want for free. This results in their not recognizing the value of those things they do have.
Parents can start by reassuring the teen that, as the parents, they are going to provide what is needed, but, if something special or extra is wanted, like an upgraded cell phone, a new video game or a better car, then it is going to have to be earned. This is where it is made clear that those things are valuable, that they cost us as parents and should cost the teen something, also. The cost could be managed by way of chores, grades or exceptional behavior that was previously discussed as an incentive. Provide options as a way of giving the child some level of control in the process but remain consistent about not giving anything beyond the basics for free.
Make sure that all the extra special things your teen has access to are linked to the most important behaviors that you’re trying to get. A lot of times parents get in trouble because they try to treat all of their children the same or are trying to be fair. This is counterproductive. You cannot treat all behaviors equally. If you want better behavior, then you must be willing to withhold rewards when you are getting below average or just normal behavior.
It is important to minimize arguing and negotiating as much as possible. This gives the child a feeling of being equal to the parent. Many teens feel that, if the parents have some level of success, somehow that successes belongs to them, also, and constant bickering back-and-forth or having an equal opinion or say in making decisions reinforces that. Don’t allow that mindset to be a part of the home environment. There are times when a parent needs to say that this is a decision that was made for this reason, and we are not going to argue about it. These are your options, so pick the one that works best for you.
Allowing your child to have control over certain variables provides an opportunity to prove competence and improved decision making skills. Choose something that you are comfortable with, something that will help them practice managing control effectively. Be very encouraging and reward them when doing something that is of service to others. Make that a big deal and consider planning events where you do those sort of activities with your teen. Doing that will help take your teen outside of themselves and begin to look at the world from the perspective of the needs of others.
Utilizing evidence based practices and the scientific principles of Applied Behavior Analysis, the Scottsdale Pediatric Behavioral Services team provides assessment, treatment and consultation for a wide range of behavioral issues. We work with a variety of children, families, schools, hospitals, mental health agencies and local community organizations to provide these services. If you have any questions about how to help guide an entitled teen or would like more information about any of the services offered by our team, please feel free to contact us by phone at 480.410.4040, email us at [email protected], or click here for our convenient online form.