Teen Entitlement Issues

“I want it. I want it now. Give it to me. You owe it to me. Pay up or I’ll blow up.”

The problem has been called a variety of names (Classic Silver Spoon Mentality, Affluenza, Entitlementitis, Spoiled Brat, Monetarily Mangled) and the essential element is the belief that one deserves the best of almost everything without having to earn it. Something I call quid pro nihilo as opposed to quid pro quo, something for nothing rather than something for something. There is a failure to accept that things must be earned – disbelief in the Principle of Mutual Interchange.

The usual justification for receiving a reward is that somebody else has it. “Jimmy is getting a new Porsche; I should at least have a new car.” “Everybody else has a laptop; I should too.” Commonly, children with this behavior are called ‘spoiled.’ They may lack empathy and become totally absorbed in satisfying their own desires. Because of this, the child may become exploitative of his parents as well as others.

Where does it come from?

Much of what we deal with may be referred to as “the ravages of wealth”. Mostly the behavior comes from protracted experience of unearned prosperity combined with frequent parental rescues, unrestrained rewarding of the child and unbridled gratification of the child’s whims.

The child never learns that time and effort must be exchanged for compensation. Parents may buy into the idea of conspicuous consumption or may actually believe that popularity, acceptance, and self-esteem are contingent on having the right possessions. There are also certain psychiatric disorders and developments, which can result in entitlement behavior.

Why would any parent spoil a child?

The following are some reasons that parents cite for unrestrained gift giving; some may sound familiar:

  • “I just wanted my child to have the things I never did when I was growing up.”
  • “I thought that my teen wouldn’t like me.”
  • “I wanted my teen to be popular.”
  • “I thought that I was supposed to give my child everything that I could.”
  • “I wanted my teen to have friends.”
  • “I don’t want my child to have to worry about money.”
  • “I have told him about the value of money and he takes math; isn’t that enough?”
  • “It’s what the American Dream is all about.”
  • “I didn’t think that my child should want for anything.”
  • “I am just trying to make my teen happy.”
  • “I didn’t want him to feel bad.”

In many cases, it is difficult not to give gifts or to rescue.

What are the long-term consequences?

If not checked, this attribute will develop into a personality style which will remain throughout life.

  • Financial illiteracy – inability to manage money
  • Irresponsibility – inability to organize ones activities to gainfully accomplish life goals
  • Disturbed relationships – using others as objects to gratify his needs without giving up anything in return
  • Unhappiness – long-term dissatisfaction with failure
  • Alcohol and drug abuse – trying to fill the empty space left by the perception that he has been treated unfairly by the world
  • Externalization of blame – the individual never learns his own part in causing problems and solutions
  • Frustration Intolerance – due to continued blaming and feeling not in control of the situation
  • Impulse Control Problems – due to a combination of immaturity in delaying gratification, anger, and unhappiness
  • Frequent anger/rage – secondary to frustration intolerance and externalization of blame
  • Idealization/Devaluation – Secondary to externalization of credit and blame
  • Grandiose Fantasies – to avoid overwhelming anxiety and emptiness

What can we do?

The problem is serious and the solution is difficult to implement and continue. First, do not expect that your child will be completely understanding or accepting of your explanation and do not expect your child to be happy with the changes. Explain the error in unrestrained giving. Explain that life is not fair and that the fact that others may receive without earning does not justify the practice. Teach the difference between a ‘want’ and a ‘need.’ For example, needs include basic clothing (such as the used clothing at a thrift store), basic shelter (a start might be a homeless shelter or the back seat of an old vehicle), basic food (bread, beans, rice). Not that only the basic needs would be provided but that these essentials would satisfy the basic parental responsibilities under the law.

Start from a ‘zero-base’ on budgeting privileges and nonessential property. Reinforce the connection between work and compensation in allowance, privileges, etc. Establish accountability for actions to teach responsibility. Force the child to live within the means provided and earned. Do not rescue the child if there is dissatisfaction. Emphasize the concepts of expanding wants in the face of limited resources. Stay emotionally neutral in implementing consequences or not rewarding poor performance. Becoming angry distracts the child from associating behavior with consequence by allowing the child to view the consequence as a product of your anger. Do not reward anger and acting out by giving the child what he wants, rather explain that anger and acting out prevent gratification. Put your teen to work.

Principles to Teach and Learn

  • Learning to take in information rather than going to instant debate
  • Teaching delayed gratification
  • Teaching impulsivity avoidance
  • Learning to prioritize
  • Learning not to ruminate about inconsequential matters
  • Learning to stay within age appropriate boundaries
  • Learning to deal with frustration in socially acceptable ways
  • Learning self-reinforcement for appropriate behavior
  • Becoming coach and cheerleader
  • Learning to view others with empathy and seeing things from their point of view
  • Developing a balance between giving and receiving

When to contact a professional

If the parents are unable to correct the entitlement behavior through teaching, a professional consultation is advisable. Certain mental disorders can result in entitlement behavior. These include but are not limited to Bipolar disorder, Delusional disorder, Paranoid Schizophrenia. Other mental disorders include entitlement behavior as a manifestation.

These may include Conduct disorder, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, Adjustment disorder with disturbance of conduct. As well, Alcohol, Drug, and Tobacco abuse and dependence may have entitlement behavior as the only indication.