What is worse than a spoiled child? A spoiled adolescent, because this young person is years closer to becoming a spoiled adult.
"Spoiled" is someone who thinks of no one but himself, who sees himself as the center of social interest and concern, who believes the satisfaction of his needs should overrule the needs of others, and who is insensitive and uncaring about what the needs of others are.
What is the spoiled young person "spoiled" for? He is spoiled for being inclined or able to nurture relationships of a caring kind.
"She takes up more than her share of importance in the family," was how one parent described her teenage daughter. "Life is all about her, with very little room for considering anyone else. Of course we love her, but right now we don't like living with her very much."
Adolescence can be a very self-centering process of growth as the young person becomes preoccupied with her own needs, increasingly unmindful of the needs of others.However, parents should not blame the teenager for acting spoiled since it is their doing that has usually caused him to turn out this way.
Indulgence and entitlement have done their enabling work. Through parental indulgence, he was given to and given into at every opportunity. Through special treatment and special exceptions made by parents, and through being always put first, he has developed a sense of deserving to get his way.
They couldn't resist the pleasure of pleasing themselves by pleasing their child, they couldn't set limits, they couldn't make demands, they couldn't say "no" and stand by it, and they couldn't stand to have their child unhappy or angry with them.
They would do themselves a favor now, and their teenager a favor later on, by preparing the young person to live in a caring relationship that served the interests of all parties involved, not just one. Entering adulthood, the spoiled young person is in danger of alienating a significant relationship he wants to last because the other person tires of his self-centered, one-sided ways and leaves.
The only time these self-centered young adult relationships seem to work is when they do so very well, and very badly, for a while. For example, the spoiled self-centered person finds a natural marriage fit with an other-centered person dedicated to serving and self-sacrifice, used to putting other people first. However, over time, the inequity between the selfish and the pleasing partner takes its toll.
Erosion of caring typically occurs. As the selfless person loses sense of worth from self-neglect, she loses caring for the relationship. And the self-centered person, finding himself in what amounts to a one party relationship - between himself and a submissive reflection of his needs -- becomes bored and discontent in the relationship. A spoiled adolescent may have a good time growing up, but is often in for a sad time later on.
So what's the antidote to becoming spoiled? Parents who are willing to insist on mutuality in which the young person learns to live in a two-way relationship with them. The principles of mutuality are three.
1)Reciprocity. Parents say and mean: "Just as we contribute to your well being, we want you to contribute to ours. Not only do we do for you, but you also do for us. We each give to and receive from each other in this balanced way."
2)Compromise. Parents say and mean: "Just as we give some to go along with what you want, we expect you to give some to go along with what we want. For the greater good of the relationship, we must each sacrifice some self-interest to get along with each other, to meet each other half way."
3)Consideration. Parents say and mean: "Just as we respect your sensitivities in what we say and do, we expect you to act the same with us. Neither of us should knowingly tread on each other's sore points and vulnerabilities because we do not want to hurt someone we love."
If parents feel like they are living on one way - the adolescent's way - terms, and they want to encourage reciprocal, two-way, behavior in the relationship instead of all give and no get, this is easily done.
Simply exploit the young person's dependence upon you (for permission, transportation, help, resource use, money, household services, and the like.) Commit to no automatic giving and insist upon a fair exchange.
Anytime the teenager wants something routine or reasonable from you, stop and ask yourself: "Was there anything I asked for that has not been given or that I would like to be given?" Then say, "I will be happy to let you have (or do) what you want, but before that, I need to you to do something for me."
And if the teenager promises to do it later to get something now, do not accept that offer. Promises, particularly from a spoiled adolescent, are often false currency. Only performance counts. So insist on getting something you want before providing what the teenager wants. The corrective parental message is: "Before I do for you, you need to do for me."
Parents have a responsibility for raising an adolescent that, more often than not, is not only nice for them to live with, but is also nice for other people to relate to now and later on.
For more about parenting adolescents, see my book, "SURVIVING YOUR CHILD'S ADOLESCENCE" (Wiley, 2013.) Information at: www.carlpickhardt.com
Next week's entry: Arguing with your adolescent.