How to deal with an entitled tween (and stop the ungrateful behaviour before they hit the teenage years)

boy laying on bed

Surviving the School Holidays with an Entitled Tween (and dealing with ungrateful children)

Summer is well under way for us down here in Australia, and that means school holidays.  December became a blur of Christmas parties and end of year celebrations. Christmas left a mound of presents from family and friends who’ve spoilt our kids rotten with new gifts (possibly fuelling these ungrateful children). 

Early January for a lot of us has been spent at the beach, camping or travelling. Which all means buying things. Toys, fast food, entertainment, endless craft and slime kits, iTunes cards, and ice-creams.

Now, here we are, in the final (hardest) slog of the school holidays (just under two weeks to go but whose counting?). With more than a month of trying not to say ‘yes’ to every request. We’re now really cracking down, pulling in the reins and saying no more often. The kids are getting back in contact with friends – making plans for movie dates, shopping trips, sleepovers, and a million other costly excursions. When everyone is looking to get back to routine, but there’s still a couple of weeks to go, it can be hard to keep saying no.

Saying no outright for many tweens and teens brings out tantrums, attitude and negative behaviour. So how can you break the sense of entitlement, get things back on track, and save your wallet in the meantime?

Why is it an issue?

Firstly, it’s important to understand why entitlement is such a big issue. Of course, it’s easy to give in, avoid any drama and give them what they want. After all, they’re only young for a little while, and it makes them so happy. Only it doesn’t in the long term. 

Giving in to demands constantly means that our kids aren’t being encouraged to develop the resilience, self-esteem and coping skills. Skills that will help them though their teenage years and into adulthood.

Giving them impulse control, helping them to learn to manage their emotions. As well as to have empathy for others and gain self-discipline doesn’t happen overnight when they become teenagers. Resilience is built up by teaching them to handle small disappointments and saying no (as much as it hurts you to do it too), so they can handle bigger setbacks later.

Your tween is not just being a spoilt brat – they’ve got a lot of change going on right now

So, did we create these ungrateful children? Did we create these monsters as parents? Maybe a little bit. But that doesn’t mean it’s all our fault (even if they tell you it is). The pre-teen years are a time of immense change, physically, hormonally, socially and emotionally. As they develop their sense of self identity, they can become highly ego-centric. All those hormones and changes make it difficult to empathise and see issues from other viewpoints.

With the physical and social changes, they can become obsessed with their image, and how they are seen by their peers. This was hard enough for us to handle in the 90’s. It is even tougher in the internet, Instagram and YouTube age. Tweens are now constantly bombarded with messages of not being enough without the right look and accessories. As they are increasingly away from their parents emotional support to their friends. They are testing new friendships and groups to find their place in the world.

As tweens try and establish their identity, they can be very black and white with their views, and have a strong, but undeveloped sense of justice, leading to those famous mood swings and sensitivity that you haven’t seen since the toddler years.

The tween years is an important time to establish the differences between rights and privileges

Sometimes this needs to be spelt out explicitly. That having the latest app, technology or clothing is not a right, but a privilege. A privilege that needs to be appreciated and where necessary, earned, or even sometimes gone without.

Children have the right to:

  • A safe physical and emotional environment
  • Access to adequate food, clothing and shelter
  • To know they are loved and valued
  • To be educated

This doesn’t mean they will:

  • Never be disappointed, or experience hardships
  • Have unlimited access to technology, phones, internet and devices
  • Have the latest clothes, shoes and accessories
  • Get driven everywhere they want to go
  • Have meals or mealtimes different to the rest of the family
  • Have someone else solve their problems for them
  • Unlimited funds for social activities

Tween girl holding skateboard

How do you fix an entitled tween/ ungrateful children?

When your tween acts entitled, it can be hard as a parent. I know I’ve had my fair share of battles with my own kids, particularly during the pre-teen years. So, how do we overcome the sense of entitlement and deal with ungrateful children? How to we encourage the type of behaviour that makes your tween a delight to be around (instead of counting down the days till school goes back). This comes back to some of the needs that all tweens and teens have, and how we can meet those needs. Here’s a few points you can use when you are struggling with it at home.

1. Give them a sense of responsibility

Everyone loves to feel needed and feel that they are making a meaningful contribution. Helping your tween to take responsibility around the house, and for themselves improves self-esteem and their sense of self-worth. While they certainly won’t thank you for it now and will complain loudly at the injustices of the world you put on them, inside they will appreciate that you value their contributions.  

Here’s our essential guide on pocket money and jobs to get you started.

2. Hold them accountable

Learning that actions have consequences is part of growing up. It might be the natural consequence of failing to study and getting low marks on a test, or the punishment imposed when they break family rules. Holding them accountable and not stepping in to save the day teaches them that they need to start taking charge of their own actions and being accountable.  

3. Encouragement

There is a saying that the way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice. So, make it a positive, encouraging, love filled voice they hear from you more than the negative complaining one.  

4. Give them boundaries

Setting the limits of acceptable behaviour is a necessary part of parenting. When the outside world is telling them, they can do anything they want, they’re going to come home and try out those behaviours in their safe space, with you, first. Setting firm boundaries and expectations, and enforcing them, gives tweens the security to know the limits, and can reduce anxiety and uncertainty. Having limits set by parents means tweens aren’t self-setting limits on acceptable behaviour and creating their own sense of entitlement.

5. Life’s tough sometimes

Nobody said it was easy, or so the song goes. As much as it hurts to see your child go through struggles (even the injustice of not getting the right shoes/clothes/technology etc), we’re not doing them any favours by shielding them from failure and disappointments. Building resilience to challenges means stepping back and helping them grow through the tough times, not stepping in to fix it for them.

It is possible to break the entitlement mentality

All tweens and teens have a sense of entitlement that comes with the age. How they express that and the impact it has on your family comes down to how we as parents respond to their behaviour. Changes won’t happen overnight, but with persistence and patience, you’ll get there. And the rewards of a self-confident, resilient teen, who take responsibility for themselves and their actions will make it all worth it. One day.

If you’re in the depths of tweenage tantrums and school holiday entitlement – hang in there. Ungrateful children can’t be instantaneously fixed. Changes won’t happen overnight (but school going back will help!)

Some final tips to get through the holidays and change the mood:

  • Set a budget challenge – give them a set budget for the week and encourage them to get creative in ways to spend the least amount of money.  Look up free and low-cost things to do at the local library, community centres, and community groups to get started.
  • Check out the Barefoot Investor for Families for money management ideas and activities that will get them engaged in their own spending and money management – we’ve reviewed it here with our best takeaways.
  • Get their friends parents on board – share the load with low cost events like picnics, sleepovers, BBQ and disco nights that will give the whole family a chance to relax and have fun before the school year starts.
  • Have a fast food night at hometake a break from eating out and re-create your favourite take out at home – Indian, Japanese, Mexican and Italian dishes are easy to recreate and kids love to share the cooking. My kids love to help me prepare tacos – even my five year old helps mash the avocado up!

  • Tap into their inner toddlers – get out the paints, play dough, glitter and glue and let them get messy and creative.

  • Let them burn of their energy – go for a bike ride, take some balls and run at the park, or put on a yoga video on YouTube. If it’s hot go to the pool. We’ve been putting the sprinkler on late in the afternoon to cool everyone down in the 40 degree heat. The ten year old enjoys it as much as the five and two year old!

kids playing on school holidays

Charmaine Chung
Charmaine Chung

Charmaine Chung is one half of the lady boss team behind Somewhere Between, a resource for super mamas everywhere raising kids in the feisty pre-teen and early teen years. Beginning her career in retail fashion, before moving onto the music industry, working for major record labels, Charmaine eventually moved from Sydney to Laos to follow her dreams of starting a family. Four kids and 14 years later, she’s back in Canberra where motherhood has won her over, leading her to develop Somewhere Between - for mums just like her - raising kids who are navigating that space between their childhood and teenage years.

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