Teens Who Demand and Parents Who Don’t

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Let the demanding teenager know that it’s time to take more responsibility for what they want or need. Tell them that good ol’ mom and dad won't give them everything they want.

Teens today seem much more demanding than recent generations.  That’s relatively new, but what’s not new is that teens are also less mature today. Add the two together and what you get is kids who expect their parents to be a walking, breathing ATM machine.

Parents who continually meet the financial demands of a teen fail to realize that they are unwittingly postponing their teen’s development into a responsible and mature adult.  That’s because generosity and a parent’s desire to provide for their child often gets misinterpreted by the teen, leading them to believe that this provisional lifestyle will continue endlessly.  They want more and more and appreciate it less and less.

It echoes the attitudes of the Prodigal Son found in scripture, with one difference. Today’s prodigals don’t leave home.  In fact, they are comfortable at home because they can continue a self-centered and lavish lifestyle right under their parents' noses, with no real-life consequences to help them come to their senses.

Don’t get me wrong.  There’s nothing inherently wrong for parents (and grandparents) to want to do great things for their children. But when the teen years come along and the child has not learned how to earn and manage their own money, then the overindulgent parent is unintentionally cutting short their teen’s ability to make it out in the real world.

I hear from parents every day who want to place their teenager in our Heartlight Residential program for troubled teenagers.  Many of these kids come from homes where parents have lavished on them everything they ever wanted and required nothing of them in return.

We have little ability to change the materialistic world in which our teens live. But I have no doubt of our ability to change what we will and won’t give a child.

So, my recommendation is this. Let the demanding teenager know that it’s time to take more responsibility for what they want or need. Tell them that good ol’ mom and dad will help them make good buying choices and may provide ways for them to earn money, but they will no longer give them everything they want.

I’m usually pretty straightforward with a teen in such a conversation. I’ll say, “Thanks for telling me what you want. But I need you to know something.  Every time you ask, I get a feeling that it’s more of a demand than a request. I just want to let you know that as your parent, I owe you nothing, but I want to give you everything. For right now, my greatest gift to you would be to help you learn how to make and manage your own money.”

This immediately lets your child know they need to lower their expectations about what you will provide, and allows them to begin assuming responsibility for what they want.

For instance, “Honey, asking for a cell phone is important to you, and I know you would really like to have it. It’s important for me to allow you to take responsibility for it, so let’s talk about what you can do to make it happen. I’m willing to help you find an inexpensive way to have a cell phone, and you’ll need that since you’ll be paying for it.”

But if your child is still young, you can head off such “entitled” attitudes. Begin early to teach them financial responsibility. For instance, when they are 13, they can begin to manage a checking account and pay for minor expenses like lunch money out of a weekly allowance. When they are 15, they can get themselves out of bed for school, do their own laundry, clean their own room, learn how to cook for themselves, and get a summer job to cover some of their own wants and needs.  When they’re 16 and can drive, an after-school or weekend job will help them pay for gas, auto insurance and other needs.

Starting sooner to teach your teen how to work to make money will give them a greater feeling of independence and self-confidence and prepare them for the day in the future when they tell you they are starting out on their own.

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