Your 10-year-old son begs you to buy him the newest video game. He cries, “All my friends have it. Why can’t you be like all the other parents? They buy their kids the stuff they want!”
Or, your 16-year-old daughter is annoyed that she has to drive the old beat-up car to school. “I don’t want to be seen in this piece of junk! Have you seen what kind of cars the other kids drive!?”
If you’re like most parents, your pulse probably rises as you listen to your kids’ demands and witness their attitudes of entitlement. You might even be wondering what went wrong. It’s easy to get down on yourself and think, “How did I raise a child who is so self-involved? Where did they get the idea that I am on this earth just to serve their needs?!”
The truth is, self-absorption is not easy to live with. Children, particularly teens, believe that they are entitled to the things they want and need, and they feel that you should provide it for them on demand. They rarely recognize that their entitled attitude and insistence that they get what they want impacts others.
And let’s face it, teens and tweens can sometimes be arrogant with their belief that they are special. Many act defiant, demanding, and downright rude if they don’t get their way. They will plead, threaten, manipulate, and drive you crazy with the relentlessness of their demands and their righteous belief that they deserve whatever it is that they want.
Believe it or not, your child is not the only one. Their sense of entitlement is a normal and necessary stage of development on their journey toward adulthood. Therefore, your job as a parent is to steer them out of their self-centeredness and toward self-control.
Understand that kids do not yet have the power or resources to influence their world, but they believe that satisfying their desires is crucial to their survival. Their sense of entitlement helps them survive by going after what they think they need. Indeed, your child’s job is to demand things and communicate the urgency in obtaining them. There’s even something to admire about the passion that your child expresses.
As a parent, though, your task is to guide them and help them find a balance between their desires and self-restraint—not an easy thing for them or us. And while it’s frustrating and annoying to live with your adolescent’s self-absorption, knowing that it’s a normal part of their development will make it easier for you to deal with their urgent demands and attitudes without your strong feelings of anger, fear, or guilt.
Don’t beat yourself up if you give in to your child’s demands. Sometimes, they wear us down, and we say okay. Sometimes, we say yes because we feel badly for them or say yes because we feel guilty. And sometimes, we give in for reasons we don’t even understand in the moment. Therefore, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on your tendencies and behaviors so that you don’t inadvertently contribute to your child’s sense of entitlement.
Ask yourself these questions to help you recognize your tendencies and habits:
Our own needs can slip into our parenting if we don’t keep a careful eye on ourselves. That’s why it’s important to do our own self-inventory continually. At the same time, we need to help our kids manage their desires and learn self-restraint, limits, manners, and respect for their own and others’ boundaries.
Here are some tips to help you guide them away from self-centeredness while helping kids to maintain their passions in life.
Allow your kids to express their desires and demands and try to listen. Calm your inner voice down by remembering that they have a right to their feelings. Don’t be threatened; these are just feelings. Your kids wanting something doesn’t mean they have to have it. Nor does it mean that they are ungrateful, lousy kids or that you have been lousy parents.
Instead of blurting out comments like, “You only think of yourself,” or “You know we don’t have the money, so why are you asking,” or “You are so spoiled,” or “What’s wrong with you?” try comments more like:
“I understand how much you want that. I know it means a lot to you. We are willing to give you x dollars toward it – the rest you can either save up for or take from your allowance.”
Or, you can say:
“I know that you want this new video game. Perhaps we can get it for you on your birthday, but if you want it sooner, then maybe you can try to get an extra tutoring job or mow the lawn for Dad and make some extra money.”
This way, you’re putting the responsibility on your child to earn what they want, rather than saying no all the time or saying yes all the time.
Notice if your conversations are overly child-centered. “Do you need anything for your science project? What would you like for dinner tonight?” Try to balance these conversations by including yourself more. Say things like:
“I had a long day at work, and I’m looking forward to some relaxation time tonight. What’s on your agenda this evening?”
Try not to make your child the center of the universe – they are not. Don’t make them believe your purpose on earth is to provide for them by jumping quickly to their every request.
Here are some ideas to get your kids in the habit of thinking about others:
Every child, and particularly teens, wants, wants, and wants. Remember not to over-empathize with their pleading, begging, and crying. You can still empathize with your child without automatically giving in to their every wish. The danger of indulging them is that you risk resenting them, which can make them feel undermined, ungrateful, and unsatisfied.
Living in a society that prizes material things above all else is a force we must counteract. Watch TV together or look through ads online and discuss ways advertisers attempt to manipulate us. Enforce the old-fashioned values of success and perseverance, which come from developing a good character, not from being the best or having the most. Make sure you live by these values, as well.
When it comes to more difficult kids, the same applies: you have to hold on stronger and not let the intimidating and threatening behavior cause you to give in.
Let’s say your child is disrespectful and aggressive when they don’t get what they want. Their birthday or Christmas is coming up, and you are probably thinking of withholding their gifts since they’ve been treating everyone in the family poorly. This is understandable, but it’s not the most effective way to handle things in the long term.
Instead, hold them accountable for their behavior. Deal with the unacceptable way they are taking out their frustration on everyone when they’re not getting what they want. Let them know it’s unacceptable to act out that way and hand them consequences when you are both calm. Perhaps they lose cell phone privileges for a short time until you see better behavior. Perhaps they lose their social privileges and stay home so you can have a problem-solving conversation with them about better ways to handle their emotions. No matter what, make sure you teach your child successful ways to manage themselves when faced with disappointments and limits.
If your defiant child uses threats to get what they want, be sure not to let this behavior work. Stay in charge of yourself, and don’t let the intimidation control you. If they’re a young child, remove them from the situation if they’re ruining your holiday or yelling in public.
If they’re an older child, ask them to leave the house if they’re acting out during holiday festivities. They will need to pay for any damages if they destroy property. If your child refuses, you can take the money they owe for the damaged property and deduct it from a holiday gift (let them know ahead of time if this is what you have in mind).
Children need to be self-centered to successfully separate from us and create their own identity. Their need to believe that they are important and amazing is not a bad thing as long as it has its limits.
Remember, this is a normal stage of development, and you shouldn’t worry too much that this phase of behavior will never change. Being an understanding parent and setting firm boundaries will help assure that your child will blossom into an adult who likes themselves and knows how to get their needs met in the world while thinking about, caring for, and giving to others.
Related content: Narcissistic Children and Teens: Does Your Child Act Entitled?
For more than 25 years, Debbie has offered compassionate and effective therapy and coaching, helping individuals, couples and parents to heal themselves and their relationships. Debbie is the creator of the Calm Parent AM & PM™ program and is also the author of numerous books for young people on interpersonal relations.