The Pitfalls Of Privilege

Posted on October 12th, 2015


Congratulations, you’ve made it!

Parents, do you remember your days as a starving college student, having to choose between spending money either on gas, beer or food? Maybe you offered yourself up as a babysitter, mover, or even donated blood for some extra cash. As a kid, you might have had a first job pedaling a bike in the hot sun, thirsty and sweaty as you flung newspapers onto doorsteps for significantly less than minimum wage. You worked hard for the money you earned and you made careful decisions as to how to spend it.

It’s likely you are now a rockstar in your field. Whether you are a corporate ladder-climbing success, a tech-geek enterprising entrepreneur, or a maven money manager, poverty is no longer nipping at your heels.

BUT, now you are a parent living in the fabulous Bay Area – a hotbed of innovation, technology, new wealth, and….privilege!

As a therapeutic and educational consultant living and working in the Bay Area, I often meet with parents who find themselves appalled at their young teen’s entitled behavior, demanding the latest iPhone, Juicy Couture sweatsuit, or Xbox game.

I hear story after story of parents’ dismay over the piles of worn-once brand name clothing, hours wasted on endless shoot-em-up games, and lack of social awareness brought on by eyes and thumbs glued to social media. “This isn’t how we were raised!” is the heartbroken battle cry as parents struggle to understand how their offspring bear materialistic values totally contrary to their own. “Why is he / she like this?”

And of course, each parent notes, “We earned everything we have.”

Not only are parents annoyed, they are worried. They tell me, “She doesn’t seem to have a sense of self,” or, “He is so unhappy…but he has everything!”

“I feel like a vending machine,” said one parent.

So, how do we help our young people navigate growing up in the land of plenty while still valuing the benefits of hard work over expecting and demanding?

It is definitely a different world than the one we were raised in, but elbow grease and hard work are not things of the past. Here are some tips that my families have reported helped them turn things around:

1. Define for your teen what you will and won’t be purchasing in advance. Then stick to it. Recently I met with Charlie, whose parents were concerned about his issues with entitlement. Eleven year old Charlie lent me this advice: “My parents should buy me what I need for the positive things I am involved with, like sports. They should buy tennis rackets. But they probably shouldn’t buy me the things I want, like a model airplane or Xbox, even if I keep bugging them.” (“Out of the mouths of babes…,” as they say.) Make clear to your teen what will be provided to him or her – including the amount you are willing to spend on him / her per month – and differentiate wants versus needs. Some parents develop budgets with their teens based on this distinction, and then teach their teens to prioritize what they are buying. Once the budget it set, keep it in check.

2. Create opportunities to earn. Granted it’s tougher these days for a teen to get a job, but that shouldn’t stop you from recommending that if he / she wants additional items, he / she is welcome to find work. Take the case of Brandon, who thought he could manipulate his parents into buying him anything he wanted by threatening to deal marijuana. With some good boundary setting from his parents, Brandon learned it was time to get a job. Happily receiving his bi-monthly check from In-N-Out Burger, he reports feeling better about himself and the relationship he now has with his parents. “Yeah, I was such a jerk,” he recently admitted to me. He is currently saving up to buy a truck.Try skipping a week with the housecleaners and landscapers to offer some household jobs to your teen in exchange for sought-after items. You don’t think he knows how to clean and mow? Spend time and teach him. It will pay off: he will feel great about the item he earned.

3. Set clear boundaries on how free time should be spent. A lot of parent expenditures serve to fill in time with high-tech electronic babysitters. I often coach parents through defining what they would like their teen to be doing if they are not in front of a screen. Drum up time-together activities that cost nothing, like cooking a meal together, volunteering with One Brick, or going for a walk at Shoreline Park. These activities are free but teach your child about the value of time. Forge past the eye-rolling: it will be worth it.

4. Model gratitude and giving back. Take an inventory of what you as a parent are modeling. Although Pat and Richard are financially well off, they decided to limit their own buying in an effort to reroute their children. By restricting new purchases to those that were actually necessary, they sent the message that the whole family was going to learn to enjoy the things they already had. The dusty ping-pong table in the garage finally got some use! Thank you cards were sent for gifts given, even to each other. Mindfully taking a weekly gratitude inventory became a family tradition over Thursday night dinners. It might sound hokey, but to Pat and Richard’s family, it sent the message, “We practice gratitude for what we have.” Chuckling, Pat told me recently that her daughter’s friends think it is very ‘Zen’ that they practice gratitude together.

5. Finally, learn how to say a heartfelt “NO”…and stick to it, even when it is painful. Nothing is more awkward than having to tell your teen “No,” especially when she spouts off semi-relevant and quasi-believable rationales for why she absolutely needs the latest greatest fill-in-the-blank item. Forge through it. Be non-plussed. It’s okay to say, “No, you have enough, and I’d like to you focus on the things you already have.” It may feel awkward at first, but you will discover a huge pay off.

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Would you like additional guidance in this area? Los Gatos Teen Therapy provides individual teen therapy, family therapy, group therapy, parent support counseling, and in-home teen and family coaching 7 days a week, including afternoons, evenings, and weekends. For more information, contact us at 408.389.3538.