I have parents ask me all the time: how do I motivate my child to do better in school (do chores, help out around the house, be nice to their siblings)? What do you do with an entitled teen – who expects to get the latest video game or a cell phone?
Answer: help your family learn the relationship between privilege and responsibility.
When my son started middle school, he started talking about new privileges he wanted. But, he also knew us and our family, and he knew that if he wanted an increase in privilege then he had to have an increase in responsibility.
How did he know to do this? It wasn’t from watching some “life hack” youtube video on how to get what you want from your parents. When our son was born and we had him baptized, our church gave us an awesome baby book. And even though I was still sleep deprived and exhausted, I remember reading this line: as your child grows up, equate getting a new privilege with having a new responsibility.
That stuck in my mind. And with each year, whenever our children have asked for a new privilege (autonomy or independence), we have tried to show them how to do age-appropriate tasks that encourage independence and responsibility.
When they were really young, our children would help with clearing off the dinner table, picking up their toys, sweeping the floor, and even getting themselves food out of the refrigerator and water from the faucet. I can remember one day when my son was maybe three or four, and his friend was over eating lunch with us. When they were finished eating, his friend started to get up from the table. My son gently told him, “We take our plates to the sink. Like this.” And he showed his friend how to do it.
There have been times when it would have been sooooo much easier to do it FOR my children. And there are many times when I have. But I try to parent with the longer-term in mind and be patient, give them space, and let them make a mess or mess up.
If you have younger children, teach them responsibility now. Instead of putting the toys away for them, show them how to “restore” their space and take care of their environment (so Montessori!). Give them a space where they can put away their dish, cup, and silverware. Show them how you can read more books together when they pick up their room and put their books on the shelf. As they want autonomy (“I do it myself!”), you can give them the space to practice being responsible.
If you have older children, or an entitled teen, you can still make some changes! There is hope! Maybe your child has equated privileges with entitlement. We can shift this. You’ll need boundaries and consistency. You’ll need some good talks with your child and some inner strength on your part to weather the ups and downs of their emotions.
Just because you are a middle schooler doesn’t automatically mean you get a phone.
It doesn’t mean you automatically get to stay up later than your younger siblings.
It doesn’t mean you automatically get to skip out on going places as a family and stay home by yourself.
It doesn’t mean you automatically get more independence.
It doesn’t mean you automatically get that video game all your friends have.
Want to play a sport? Set out your equipment beforehand, get dressed when it is time, and fill your own water bottle.
Want to stay up later on the weekends? Show how you are capable of doing this by getting up in the morning and still doing your chores – without being cranky or us asking you to them.
Want a cell phone? Show how you are responsible and care for your things. Share with us how you make good choices. Initiate conversations with us about phone safety and proper use. Write up a cell phone contract with us.
With any increase in privilege comes an increase in responsibility.
Keep this in mind the next time your tween or teen asks for a privilege. Over time, it will help them relearn that a privilege isn’t an entitlement. AND they will feel like more responsible, empowered young adults.
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