“My daughter acts like the world revolves around her.”
“My teenage son only cares about sports, video games and himself.”
“My daughter cares more about her phone and her friends than she does this family.”
Parents, if you have ever spoken these words this article is for you.
It feels like an epidemic—So many modern children and teens act as mean, spoiled, entitled kids.
While no parent dreams of raising a child that would be described with these negative words, we have to wonder: what is fueling this epidemic? What is happening to our kids?
A PARENT’S CONTRIBUTING ROLE
There are a number of contributing factors to this entitlement syndrome: youth culture, cell phone use, media influence, money, housekeepers, lack of chores, focus on sports, grade obsession.
But there is one contributing factor that matters more than all the others: Parents.
Parents, if you feel you have a mean, spoiled, entitled kid in your home, then you may need a parenting wake up call. You are probably part of the problem. And yes, research supports this. (NOTE: It doesn’t help to call kids names like “mean,” “entitled,” etc.)
Question: As a Family Coach, how often do you think I hear parents say the following phrases to me?
“Sean, I don’t allow my kid to hurt or to fail. I always bail them out so they do not have to face the consequences of their actions.”
“Sean, I don’t care how my kid treats me or the family. It’s easier to give them what they want.”
“Sean, I am a helicopter parent.”
Answer: Never. I never hear those words. Parents will not say these things to me because it’s difficult (and embarrassing) to see ourselves as part of the problem.
Enablers often don’t understand that they enable.
Spoilers don’t want to see how they are contributing to their child’s “entitled” attitude.
Helicopter parents don’t want to believe that they are helicopter parents.
Attention: enablers, spoilers and helicopters—STOP.
Your intentions are good. You are doing your best to love your child and to raise him or her to become a loving, responsible adult. But something is wrong. You are getting in your own way.
Allow me to show you another way to parent: a way to stop enabling, spoiling and helicoptering.
It’s a “positive parenting” approach that I call “natural consequences: reaping and sowing.”
Reaping and sowing are farming terms. A farmer “sows” a seed when he plants it in the ground and waters it. The farmer “reaps” when he collects the harvest.
Allowing our children to reap what they sow is one of the most important things a parents can do for a child.
In this intentional approach, we as parents set the bar high for behavior. We also set the bar high for an emotional connection between children and parents.
As parents, WE reap what WE sow. Here are our expectations as sowing parents:
We expect our kids to be kids, and to act like kids. This means that we expect them to make poor choices, act immaturely or irresponsibly, and be overly emotional. We should not be surprised. This is how all young not fully mature human beings feel and behave.
We expect adults to act like adults. We expect ourselves to make good choices, to act wisely when emotional, and to behave maturely and responsibly. When we make mistakes, we say, “I was wrong,” in front of our kids. We apologize. We do better next time. We expect ourselves to be consistent. This is how fully grown human beings should act and behave.
Our children can expect that we will not ignore or enable their poor choices. Instead, we will respond to them with emotional connection, empathy, gentleness, and education.
We expect our children to treat us, other family members, people of all kinds, and all living things with love and respect.
We expect our kids to need some time to calm down; then they can admit their mistakes with humility, kindness and sensitivity.
We expect that our children will reap the “Natural Consequences” of their personal behavior, both good and bad.
We expect that our children will learn from us adults, as we parent them in these expectations. We are their teachers. Our children will learn how to show love and empathy towards others; learn how to have self-control over temptations and their emotions; learn how to be part of a family team and contribute to it; and learn the value of sowing good things. Then they can reap good things. That is how the world works.
Below is the FIRST of THREE real-life examples of a child/teen demonstrating the actions and attitude of a mean, spoiled, entitled kid. In my coaching work with families, I have found that many parents don’t realize that they are hindering natural consequences from taking place in their home.
In each script, I will illustrate a common parent response to a child/teen’s poor behavior. Next, I will help you to see how that parent’s response is not helping their child to mature but is instead contributing to the Mean, Spoiled, Entitled Kid syndrome. Finally, I will suggest a better parenting response, a response that will help parents create a caring, mature, responsible young adult.
MEAN, SPOILED, ENTITLED ACTION #1
To make it to sports practice on time, Johnny and his mom need to leave in five minutes, but Johnny has not suited up. Nor has he done the small chore his mother reminded him to do one hour ago, “Don’t forget your chore to empty the dishwasher.”
Johnny knows this task should be done before practice and before his mother cooks dinner.
Johnny responds, “I KNOW, Mom!” but he goes back to playing on his Xbox. It’s now time to leave for practice.
He races to his room, changes quickly, then heads towards the door. His mother realizes he didn’t empty the dishwasher and says, “Why didn’t you do that?” He says rudely, “Stop mom! I just forgot! I’ll do it when I get back. Stop being so dramatic!”
As they are getting into the car, Johnny’s mother says, “I’m not happy about what just happened.” Johnny responds sharply, “I get it mom, I’m sorry,” but it doesn’t sound like he’s sorry. Mom takes Johnny to practice. No one speaks during the car ride. Johnny gets to practice on time. When he sees his friends, he tells them, “My mom is being a such a bitch.” This makes his friends laugh.
Mom returns home and starts to prepare dinner. She sighs as she empties the dishwasher. An hour and a half later, she drives to pick Johnny up from practice. No one speaks. Back home, Johnny silently eats the dinner his mom cooked, says thanks, and heads up to his room to do his homework. Mom kisses him goodnight.
Three Parent Messages Sent to Child:
- Johnny’s hobbies (Xbox), his sports and his homework are more important than respecting his mother.
- Mom doesn’t need care or kindness from her son. She doesn’t really have feelings.
- It’s OK if Johnny prefers Xbox over doing his chores. Mom will do all the chores if her child doesn’t do them.
Johnny is acting like a mean, spoiled, entitled kid.
An Alternative Parenting Approach That Fosters a Mature, Caring, Responsible, Young Adult
Mom responds to Johnny’s behavior in this manner:
Background: Even before this event has taken place, Mom has written out the family’s “House Rules and Expectations.” Everyone is familiar with them. There are no surprises. These expectations include caring for each other and contributing to the household by doing their assigned chores on time.
Mom: Johnny, I know that practice starts in a few minutes, but I have something important to tell you. My feelings are hurt. I feel sad, disrespected and uncared for. Now, I really don’t feel like taking you to your sports practice when you treat me like that. This is a natural consequence for your behavior towards me and not doing your chore.
Johnny: What! Why!? Mom that’s not fair!
Mom: Yes, it’s fair, Johnny. In this family we are expected to be kind and responsible. We can talk about this if you’d like.
Johnny: You are horrible, Mom! Why are you being so dramatic? Fine, I will empty the dishwasher.
Mom: Yes, please do. But I am not going to take you to practice today. I don’t feel safe talking with you if you are going to call me names. I feel hurt because you just said I was “horrible” and “dramatic.” That is name-calling. I feel more hurt now. I’m going to take a time-out and go to my room to cool down.
Johnny doesn’t handle this well. He might 1) erupt into a temper tantrum with more verbal abuse, yelling, manipulating, and/or begging, or 2) angrily empty the dishwasher hoping his mom relents.
Mom goes to her room by herself. She DOES NOT take him to this practice. She follows through with her consequences. She does not back down.
When and ONLY WHEN Johnny has calmed down, does the conversation continue. When Mom feels better and sees Johnny calm (which might take some time), she will approach him or let him approach her.
Mom: I want to talk with you to make sure you know why I made that decision, is this a good time to talk?
Johnny says calmly, but rudely: I get it. I didn’t empty the dishwasher. What else is there to talk about?
Mom: Johnny, it’s so much more than that. There are three important reasons why I decided to not drive you to practice today. I need you to understand them, so this doesn’t happen again.
Johnny, I am your mother. The only mother you will ever have. I love you more than words can say. I love seeing you happy and I love driving you to practice. But I have feelings, Johnny. I am a person with emotions. Sometimes I feel happy. I told you that I felt disrespected, sad and uncared for. You didn’t respond to me with care. I wish you would say to me, “I love you, too, Mom. I really don’t want to speak to you like that. I know that must not feel good to be spoken to like that.”
Johnny: I did that! I DID say I was sorry!
Mom: Johnny, although you said the words, “I get it mom; I’m sorry,” I didn’t feel you were sincere. I felt disrespected and uncared for. It felt like you were just saying it to brush me off so I would shut up and take you to practice. Yet, you wanted me to show care for your feelings, and take you to your sports practice. It doesn’t make sense to me. In this family, we need to care about each other’s feelings, and that includes mine.
Johnny: I get it. You are punishing me.
Mom: No. That’s not it. I am not punishing you. I am allowing you to see the emotional consequences of your actions. I didn’t hide my pain or emotions from you. This leads me to the second reason why I didn’t take you.
I didn’t take you because your actions communicated a message to me that you care more about yourself and your sports practice than you do about me and this family. As I have told you before, this family being emotionally close is more important than any game, any sport, any activity any of us have.
Johnny: Mom, that’s not true. I care about this family more. I do.
Mom: I believe you do. But Johnny, sometimes your words and actions say differently.
Johnny: They did? All I did was not empty the dishwasher. What’s the big deal? How is that even connected?
Mom: It’s very connected. I want you to know that the third reason I didn’t take you to practice. It is because your actions communicated that you believe that you don’t have to contribute to the system of this family.
Mom: Johnny, you ignored my request to empty the dishwasher for over an hour and instead you chose to play Xbox. I need you to know that you emptying the dishwasher is much more than a boring chore that you have to do. Emptying the dishwasher, doing the other things we ask you to do, including your schoolwork, are important ways that you contribute to this family.
Do you now understand why I didn’t take you to sports practice, Johnny?
Johnny: Yes, mom. I get it. I’ll do better at showing you that I care. I do care.
Johnny is being raised to become a mature, caring, responsible young adult.
Three Important Reminders For Parents:
1. There was no punishment here, just natural consequences. The consequences were chosen to encourage an emotional connection between family members and to realize household expectations.
2. Mom regulated her own emotions. She did not react with surprise consequences, malice, threats or abuse.
3. Mom was not being dramatic. She made this a teaching moment. She taught Johnny EQ, emotional intelligence. She understands that emotional connection and empathy is the bloodline that keeps families healthy, and she thrived in this teaching moment.
Parent Action Steps:
1. Create a written “Rules of the House.”
2. Create a fair Chore Chart for all of your children, based on the developmental stages of each child. Review every few months. Let your children have input.
3. Whether written or verbal, all EXPECTATIONS need to be clear regarding grades, sports, behavior, use of words, etc. It is good to have them in writing and to remind everyone verbally in a calm manner when you need to.
4. Create a Phone Contract.
5. Teach emotional intelligence. Teach empathy. Allow yourself to feel emotions in front of your children. Regulate your emotions so that “in your anger, do not sin.” Communicate your emotions with words and body language. Allow your family members to clearly see and hear each other’s pain.
6. Allow your children to reap what they sow. Help your children understand that there are consequences to all actions.
7. Follow through. Be consistent.
Click HERE for “Part 2: Mean, Spoiled and Entitled No More,” which includes two more relatable scripts regarding teens and their cell phones.
Click HERE for “How to Be Close to Your Teen/Child,” another article on emotional connection.
How we help teens and parents:
Sean Donohue Family Coaching provides coaching and mentoring to hurting and defiant teenagers, and we show parents how to restore love, order and communication to their family. Serving families in person in the San Fransisco Bay Area and Sacramento, and worldwide through Skype, FaceTime and Zoom.
If your family is hurting or struggling with communication or defiance, we would love to partner with you and help you to restore love and communication in your home. We come to you. We don’t want or need “an office.” We connect with teens while doing activities they enjoy doing and meet with families in their homes.