Do you have trouble getting your teenagers to do what they don’t want to? Do your entitled teenagers think their feelings come first in all things? How about your two-year olds or ten year-olds?
Of course, babies must try to get the world – their parents – to give them everything they need. They’d die if they didn’t get us to feed them even when it’s inconvenient for us – say, at two in the morning or when we want a romantic evening or we want two minutes of peace and quiet.
Our task is to teach them, in age and stage appropriate ways, as they grow up, that:
- Their feelings are not the most important things in the world.
- There are many times when tasks and other people are much more important than their feelings.
- They can change their feelings.
- They shouldn’t let themselves be ruled by their feelings.
- It's not the end of the world if they don't get what they want.
If they don’t learn these crucial lessons, they’ll grow up selfish, narcissistic and weak, with no self-discipline.
In fact, graduating well from college often demonstrates the ability to be self-disciplined, delay gratification and do many things students think are stupid and useless. Completing college shows job recruiters that the person is willing to do what’s necessary even under adverse circumstances – good qualities for a job, a marriage and being a good parent.
But if we’ve given into our kids from age two until they’re teenagers, we’re in for a tough time. It’s hard to begin to teach them those lessons when they’re teenagers. Think of most of the kids from “Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory;” examples of arrogant, entitled, rotten brats.
Nevertheless, we must begin. We must:
- Set boundaries and limits, with real consequences if they don’t participate gracefully and graciously. Asking without consequences is begging.
- Teach them that we will require them do some other things for other people and that some tasks are more important than whether they want to or not. To demonstrate maturity and responsibility worthy of rewards they must do these obligations willingly, pleasantly and competently.
- Acknowledge their feelings (“Of course, you feel that way”) especially when we point out that just because they feel that way, doesn’t mean they get what they want from us or from the world.
- Teach them not to waste their time fighting with us to get what they want, but instead to struggle to get what they want against the least of them and against the world. They cannot allow their anger to control them. Calling us names, cursing, yelling or physical violence will get them severe consequences – even the police.
- Praise and encourage the wonderful person we know or hope is still living deep within them, wanting to emerge and take charge of their lives. That inner spirit can learn other techniques to get what they really need.
The more even-handed and matter of fact we are, the more we apply our standards calmly and smilingly, but firmly and without negotiation or argument, the more we’ll succeed. If your teenager fights to the death over everything, you have a very serious problem.
I am certainly not saying that they never get to vote on what they do or even get to rule in certain areas. I am certainly not saying that we should break their spirits or beat them into submission.
I am saying that we insist they be part of a community that sometimes requires them to serve goals and relationships more important than their feelings.
Of course, they will resist. They will:
- Try to manipulate, harass, bully and abuse us like they’ve done before.
- Try to get us into arguments about what’s fair.
- Pretend that if they’re not convinced, they don’t have to do things they don’t want.
- Try to blame, guilt and shame us.
A good guideline for us might be, “I’ll consider what you want if you make it fun for me. And you will still have to do some things you don’t feel like. And you will never get what you want by whining, complaining or trying to beat me into submission.”
Usually, as the teenagers get close to leaving home on their own or as we prepare to throw them out, we begin to back off. We see that, as much as we worry, they simply won’t learn from our words of wisdom but, instead, they’ll only learn when the world teaches them these lessons.
We can prepare for when they’re gone by saying that we look forward to an adult relationship. We won’t nag them about all the things we do now when we see them every day and when they’re living under our roofs. After they leave, we’ll want to see them for fun times – whatever those happen to be. And the rule will be that we will do things that are interesting and fun. How’s that for a new relationship?
Of course, we also encounter people who think their feelings count more than anything else at work, and with spouses, friends, relatives and neighbors. If you’re dating a person who thinks they’re the center of the universe, get away as soon as you can. Don’t think you’ll change them. Let them learn on somebody else’s body, heart and spirit.
Since all tactics depend on the situation, expert coaching by phone or Skype helps. Call me to design a plan that fits you and your situation. And build your will and skill to carry it out effectively.