Encourage Confidence, Not Entitlement

I don’t like to jump on the bandwagon that today’s Modern Kids are self-entitled and lazy, but I’ve encountered a lot of families in my private practice lately who need help with a child who has difficulty taking responsibility for their own actions and behaviors. On the other hand, I’m also finding that just as many of my teenage clients are dealing with the exact opposite problem: low self-confidence. These kids appear stunted in life. They just don’t believe that they have what it takes to make it in life, so they don’t even try. Why does it seem like a lot of the reason why kids suffer from anxiety, depression, and self-harm are a direct result of feeling either entitled or a lack of confidence in their own abilities? Recent national representation studies might be giving us a clue. The 2016 monitoring The Future (MtF) survey found that kids are spending less time with peers, doing homework, and performing volunteer work, and spending more time at home with their parents. Jean Twenge, a generational psychologist and researcher at San Diego State University speculates in her book, iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy – and Completely Unprepared For Adulthood, that well-meaning parents have created an unrealistic environment in the home. She says, “In other words, as children they could live in a cocoon, with all of the fun but little of the work. Their parents made childhood a wonderful place with lots of praise, an emphasis on fun, and few responsibilities.” So if parents contributed to the problem, then how can we contribute to a solution too? Here’s the answer.  

The Cure For Entitlement

  Autonomy is the answer to the entitlement epidemic, but the concept of autonomy isn’t what you think it is. Providing a child or teenager with autonomy isn’t giving them what they want, when they want it – it’s giving them boundaries, guidelines, and expectations and allowing them to make the choice of staying within the boundaries or straying outside of them. By staying within the boundaries, the child attracts internal rewards such as pride in themselves, making the people they care about happy, or enjoying the process of the task. Oftentimes, tangible rewards also find their way in rewarding the child such as a trusting parent allows the child to stay at a friend’s house longer or they earn praise from the people around them. If the child decides to stray outside of the boundaries, the parent unemotionally provides predetermined consequences. For example, if a family expectation is that the child comes straight home after school, and they choose to stop at a friend’s house for an hour before coming home, the consequences of taking away the car is upheld. The concept of autonomy seems obvious – rules, rewards, consequences. That’s all it is right? But where many well-meaning parents go wrong with this concept is in one or more areas:
  • They aren’t clear on their individual family’s passions, values, and beliefs, so they don’t exactly know what they expect of their kids
  • Some parents do know what they expect of their kids, but they haven’t communicated these expectations clearly to the child
  • Finally, many parents have difficulty being consistent with both rewards and consequences – without this consistency, autonomy just doesn’t work.
When done correctly, autonomy also takes out the emotions of the situation. I’ve found that the #1 reason that most parents have problems being consistent with autonomy is that they don’t like to see their kids upset when they have to provide consequences. When a parent clearly knows what they expect of their child or teenager and they’ve clearly communicated the expectation and the consequences if the boundaries are crossed, then the parent feels less unsure of themselves when their kids must suffer the consequences. As a professional, let me reassure you that letting your child be uncomfortable is ok. They will survive.  

The Answer to Low Self-Confidence

  Autonomy is again the answer for a child or teenager who suffers from low self-esteem or self-confidence. This might seem counterintuitive, but by proving your child with a clear set of boundaries and expectations, you are also communicating to your child that you believe that they actually are capable of meeting these expectations. For example, a teenager from my private practice struggled with getting good grades. Her parents wanted her to do better in school – and they said that she thought she was capable of getting good grades – but their actions didn’t communicate this to their daughter. When she came home with a bad grade, instead of problem-solving ways to help her study better for the next exam (such as limiting tv time and phone time to increase time spent on schoolwork), they would comfort her and go to great efforts to make her feel better about her bad grade. Because of this unconscious communication of disbelief in their child’s ability to do well in school, the daughter took on this belief for herself and behaved as though she was a bad student. She even created scripts in her head that repeated over and over that she was not capable of being a good student. After working with these parents and supporting their use of autonomy with their daughter, she was finally able to end the year with passing grades in all of her classes. These parents even noticed a sharp increase in the self-confidence of their daughter. The belief that she was now able to get good grades also worked in other areas of her life too. She was acting in a more confident way when trying new activities and when performing in the school band.  

The Lesson

  As a parent to two kids myself, I know just how hard it is to see our kids struggle, but if our kids don’t learn how to overcome life’s struggles now, then they mature into young adults who are either entitled or not confident. Figure out your individual family’s passions, values, and beliefs and communicate these clearly to your child or teenager. Consistently live out these family passions, values, and beliefs by giving your child the autonomy they need to figure out how to make good decisions. If you need help creating a family environment that includes autonomy, or your child is struggling with mental health or behavior problems, then Modern Parenting Solutions can help. Call us at (909) 326-2562 for a free 20-minute phone consultation today or click the green button below to immediately set up an appointment on our online scheduler.

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Dr. Becca Ballinger is a clinical psychologist practicing in Redlands, California. She specializes in therapy for teens, tweens, young adults, and families. Call (909) 326-2562 to schedule an appointment.


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