Entitled Kids, Defensive Parents

We have been in a new era of child rearing for quite sometime now. This new era was supposed to be an improvement over the old one, in which disciplining children was based on an unreflective use of fear, punishment and “do it, because I said so.”
Today’s parents seek to raise their kids in a more enlightened way. They want their children to feel empowered, self-confident and self-assured. Many parents, however, are getting more than they bargained for and are shocked when their entitled kids act in an insolent, arrogant manner. Overwhelmed with self-doubt, parents find themselves on the defensive, not sure how to respond to this monster they created.

We have been in a new era of child rearing for quite sometime now. This new era was supposed to be an improvement over the old one, in which disciplining children was based on an unreflective use of fear, punishment and “do it, because I said so.”

Today’s parents seek to raise their kids in a more enlightened way. They want their children to feel empowered, self-confident and self-assured. Many parents, however, are getting more than they bargained for and are shocked when their entitled kids act in an insolent, arrogant manner. Overwhelmed with self-doubt, parents find themselves on the defensive, not sure how to respond to this monster they created.

Here’s a typical example:

The parents were at their wits’ end trying to understand what happened to Heather, their 12-year-old daughter. Her overwhelmed mom said, “She used to be sweet and caring. She loved showing me her school work and telling me about her day. Now, she’s completely changed and is totally out of control!”

Mom then described the latest incident.

“Heather, get your books off the couch and put them in your room.”

“Why? I don’t need to.”

“Yes, you do need to. I’m asking you to do it.”

“No, it’s stupid. I don’t want to do it.”

“Heather, you’re not the only one who lives here. This house is a mess and I want it cleaned up.”

“So clean it up.”

“Stop being fresh. You’re asking for it.”

“Get off my case. Every time you see me watching TV, you get a bug up your ass. What’s your problem, mom? Why don’t you get a life?”

In most households of yesteryear, this conversation would have been unthinkable. If perchance it occurred, the child would have received a severe punishment or beating. Yet, the most amazing thing about this type of dialogue is that it’s not that unusual in today’s families.

The notion of entitlement has dramatically changed the parent-child relationship, leading kids to believe that:

– They are their parents equal.

– They should be entitled to make their own decisions.

– They should get what they want.

– They should show respect only if (they think) you deserve it.

– They have a right to talk back to adults in any manner they choose.

– They should be able to argue incessantly until their parents relent.

Many parents are desperate to gain back the control. After “trying everything”, they end up concluding that nothing works. It’s hard to maintain the upper hand when:

– punishing your child begets an arrogant retort,

– lecturing your child begets a ‘who cares’ shrug,

– explaining what you want begets a contemptuous comeback,

– enforcing a rule begets soap opera theatrics.

Frustrated, parents may end up behaving in a way that makes them feel ashamed of themselves – cursing at their kids, yelling obscenities, slapping them, saying awful things that they later regret. Or, parents may stifle their anger to prevent such a scene – feeling ashamed of what they’re feeling, embarrassed that they’re the parents of such an out-of-control kid.

Then, just as they are ready to disown their offspring, their kid makes a turnaround – speaking respectfully, acting nicely, even showing concern about their family. That’s when parents become increasingly confused. Have they exaggerated the situation? Is this just a stage that their child is going through? Will their relationship with their kid ever improve?

For parents who deal on a daily basis with the needs of entitled kids, life can feel like a never ending struggle. Hence the need for ground rules to maintain a modicum of control. Here are the basics:

Don’t allow your child to bully you, call you nasty names or otherwise treat you disrespectfully.

If he does, you must divert the conversation, making the manner in which he speaks to you the new topic of conversation. If he invokes freedom of speech issues, (“I can say what I want; it’s a free country”), don’t take the bait. Tell him in a strong voice that you won’t tolerate being spoken to in that way.

Having stated your position, you don’t need to go into a full blown lecture. He knows what you mean. A child, however, models what he hears. Thus, you will have no leg to stand on if you curse him but expect him to abide by different rules. Today’s kids don’t buy the argument that it’s okay for you because you’re the adult but not okay for them because they’re the kids.

If your child backs off or (miracle of miracles) apologizes, congratulations! You’ve made your point. But if he keeps speaking to you disrespectfully, walk away. If he follows you, do not interact. Your message, “When you speak to me respectfully, I’ll be ready to listen,” needs to be reinforced.

Your responsibility as a parent is to make reasonable and age-appropriate rules.

Parents set the rules, kids resist the rules. Though you may entertain a discussion about modifying the rules, do not simply cave in to their demands. If you do, the power structure of the family becomes inverted. The result: Turmoil and Trouble, with a capital T.

Don’t punish your child when you’re feeling out-of-control.

If you do, you’re sure to regret what you’ve done. When you feel calmer, you’ll recognize that you have gotten yourself into a quandary. Let the punishment slide and you weaken your authority. Keep the punishment intact when you both know it’s foolish and you lose your credibility. Best to create a punishment after you’ve given it thought. If possible, make it educational and enforceable. For instance: Which do you think would be a better punishment for breaking curfew? No TV for 2 weeks or composing a 2 page essay on the responsibilities of a parent plus a mandatory discussion on the topic.

Don’t allow yourself to be manipulated by your child’s half-truths.

You can listen to your child, hear him out, and even respect his take on a matter. But don’t give in just because your child is grinding you down. Entitled kids are all budding lawyers who know how to present their case, stand on their rights and denigrate you and your position. Don’t be intimidated. Think before you respond. If you need more time to come up with a response, say that. If the diatribe is getting out of hand, end the communication with a simple but direct, “That’s it; conversation’s over.”

Fake confidence, even if you don’t feel it.

Should you require your child to put away her laundry or let her just leave it on the floor? Should you give your child permission to stay home from school if he claims he’s got a headache or make him go anyway? It’s your call. No need to come across as an ogre, with no room for negotiation or input. But you do need to be in the parental role and make a judgment. Don’t be indecisive or wishy-washy. If you are, your child will use your weakness against you.

Because you are the parent, doesn’t mean you need to make all the decisions.

Indeed, if you want to encourage responsibility in your child, you need to let him make some of his own decisions. At times, it’s appropriate to tell your child that you have confidence in his judgment, saying, “It’s up to you to figure it out,” or “It’s your call.” Transferring the decision to your age appropriate child is very different from allowing him to usurp the authority from you.

Let your child experience the natural consequences of her actions.

Do not protect your child from the consequences of her behavior. Your daughter doesn’t put her dirty clothes in the hamper, she doesn’t have clean clothes. Your son failed his English class, he goes to summer school. Yes, you may need to suffer through a tantrum in which they complain about how unfair it is, but stick to your guns. Short-term appeasement invariably creates long-term regrets.

Indirect communication may be more effective than direct communication that’s ignored.

Instead of repeatedly saying “You’ve got to study more,” or “Clean up your room,” try a more indirect statement like, “Studying more can help you boost your grades,” or “It’s easier to find things when you organize your stuff.” Then say nothing. Don’t spell it out for him. Let less be more. A short circuitous message can be more meaningful than hours of yelling, nagging, and lecturing.

Compliment your child without going overboard.

Simple sentences, like “I admire the way you handled that,” or “Good grade, way to go,” are best. If your entitled child already thinks she’s the greatest, you don’t want to gush approval and reinforce her thinking about how wonderful she is. Yet, you also don’t want to refrain from complimenting her, even though your relationship is strained.

Finally, make sure your child views you as a well-rounded person, not just as a parent whose primary job is to satisfy your kid’s every whim.

If your family is overly child-centered, you are feeding into the dynamic of the entitled child. Enlarge your interests. Instead of talking only about your child’s day, tell your child something about your day. And make it interesting! If all you talk about are the chores you’ve done, you’ll sound like a drone. Instead, talk about an interest you’re nurturing, a friend you met, a trip you’re planning.

If your mind is drawing a blank, it’s way past due for you to put time and energy into growing yourself.

Copyright 2006
Linda Sapadin, Ph.D.

Initially posted on Therapist-Psychologist.com on 11/04/2006.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Linda Sapadin, Ph.D. is a psychologist in private practice who specializes in helping people build competence, enrich relationships and overcome self-defeating patterns of behavior. Dr. Sapadin is the author of:

NOW I GET IT!” Totally Sensational Advice for Living and Loving (Outskirts Press, 2006)

101 Great Ways To Improve Your Life Volume 2: Chapter Title: Overcoming Resistance: What’s Stopping You”
(SelfGrowth.com, 2006)

Master Your Fears: How to Triumph Over Your Worries and Get On With Your Life
(John Wiley, 2004, also published in Korean)

It’s About Time! The 6 Styles of Procrastination and How to Overcome Them (Penguin, 1996, also published in Japanese)

Beat Procrastination and Make the Grade: The 6 Styles of Procrastination and How Students Can Overcome Them (Penguin, 1999) 

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