Parenting Teens 6: The Selfish Parent

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“Yippie! This must be the episode where you hold parents responsible for their teens behaviors and life choices.” I get it. It doesn’t seem fair. All kids and situations are different. Of course, as parents, we are not entirely responsible… but we are primarily responsible. So the theme in this series, is that change starts with us. Our love for our young people and our willingness to honestly appraise our contribution to the problem is required. I know teens contribute their fair share of pain, frustration, and confusion, but if we truly seek healing in those dynamic displays, then we as parents, as the adults, as the leaders, it is incumbent upon us to close any gaps by being the first to change. We can’t just wait for them to fix it. After all, teen problems are mostly parenting decision in young children, and children problems are parenting decision isn babies, and baby problems are deficiencies in parenting philosophies.

Selfishness is the plight of all people, of all ages, in all times. We are inherently self-centered and each person makes decisions primarily based upon what’s in it for him or herself. None of us escape this as our default mode. A crying baby, a toddler who can only know what they want, and a selfish teen are all running our shared standard operating software. Around adolescence, the brain begins to change and it enters a stage of “formal operations” where it begins to think critically. During this phase, a teen becomes highly self reflective, self aware, self conscious, and develops the ability to consider their impact on others and vice-versa.

This is when teens critically examine their parents in comparison to everyone else.

Society and the world at large has a humbling way of dealing with people who are disproportionately proud. Life delivers a series of beat-downs and disappointments which can help a person to correctly appraise themselves. Those harsh realities are usually what parents are training their teens to consider, but these warnings don’t go far enough. Ironically, sometimes the most proud and egotistical people rise to the top and it validates prideful behaviors. To truly get to the heart of our selfishness and pride, we must discern and deal with it spiritually, or in the (psuké) or soul. Without “soul” work, it’s easy for a parent to error too far on either side. Too lenient and the selfish teen becomes cocky and entitled, too strict and they are full of self-doubt and talk themselves out of opportunities.

Selfishness is caught not taught. The opposite is also true when learning to put others first. Selfishness is short term gain followed by a life long diminishment of options. Self-lessness is a loss in the short term, which germinates opportunity and protections over the long term. The bend of our world is toward selfishness, thus if parents don’t have the spiritual awareness to correct self-focus in action, we will invariably train our kids to be selfish. Parents are keen to see our teenagers focusing on themselves, but often struggle to see how our teens learned it from us.

So let me break this down if I can. It’s counter-intuitive.

Consider the common endeavor of teaching a teen the value of a dollar, or preventing a teen from acting entitled, what usually happens? Many parents believe making a teen work for things is preferable to simply giving them what they want. By do this, parents place the economic burden of advancing in sport, hobbies, or interests onto their teens all the while believing they are instilling a work ethic. When a teen cannot realistically obtain what they desire on their own, or it takes too much time to realize, and the parent is unwilling to help them, this has the opposite effect. Teens are forced to abandon their interests and forfeit their hopes and this is a death knell to a lasting work ethic. It also introduces deep seated resentment.

Isn’t the unmotivated teen actually another form of entitlement?

In these scenarios, parents are often unable to see that their own selfishness is hiding behind what they deem is a noble lesson of life. Then when the parents use their economic power to get new golf clubs or skis, while the teen forfeits opportunities because they can’t afford to go to the next level, that resentment germinates inwardly and outwardly. Later when the teen gives up or becomes discouraged easily, the parents are confused and say: “I didn’t raise him or her to be this way.” But in fact we did. A teen who makes decisions for life based upon their own economic capacity, is learning how to settle rather than strive. This is one way parents of all incomes instill poverty, erode confidence, and develop futility into their kids.

What can we do?

Parenting is about sacrifice, I think every parent understands this to some level. Parents must lay down their lives for their kids. Some parents really do this to an inspirational level, and some simply don’t get it. It starts early and if selfishness is not corrected in the heart of the parent with a baby, the pathos will follow their parenting decisions like a shadow cast on the family.

Babies help us either eradicate selfishness in love, or deepen our selfishness in resentment.

Starting with childcare (which is a good lens), I invite parents to really examine themselves to see if selfishness is behind so called “economic” decisions. Do both parents really need to work? Is a career, or a house, or car payments, or a location really more important than our responsibility to be present as a parent? Who in the world will love our child as we do? Did we choose work over parenting because it’s easier and less boring? How did we justify all this to ourself? Further, how are we justifying these decisions to our kids? Only a minority of situations are such that a parent has no other choice. If as parents we own up to the fact that we chose something else over parenting, then and only then, will we be able to connect the dots to the disconnect with our teens. In far too many homes, teens are resented, and parents are intentionally punitive or undermining, seeking only to duck out of parenting responsibility, and that pattern can be traced back to infancy.

Where do we suppose our teens learned how to prioritize friends, video games, and everything else above family?

If we truly want to heal our relationships with our teens, (if it’s even possible at this point) it begins by sacrificing our lives, incomes, comfort, ego, and desires for the sake of our teens. Once they see our sacrifice, then respect can possibly be rebuilt. So long as teens perceive a parents selfishness, they will remain in competition with the parents for their own needs, and are forced to find support elsewhere. If a house, cars, hobbies, romantic interests, etc.. all come first to the parents, how can we blame a teen for later disregarding his or her parents and their advice?

How is a parent to instill wisdom in a child who is given to the State’s propaganda machine filled the worst advice of their peers for 8-10 hours a day? Think twice before dismissing the option of online-school options. That “socialization” which parents think is so important, is ultimately a parenting decision, and it normalizes pathology, calling evil…good, and good…evil. Online school was the best thing for our family.

The strategy I used with my teens to develop confidence and work ethic was this. Our children have many interests but usually one stands out beyond the others. I would watch them and as they desire to go deeper with something, I would immediately step in and provide the next level of support. For this example I’ll could use my son’s interest in model airplanes Most parents might buy a cheap plane, but when it crashes or needs repair, they leave it to their kids to work it off, and then the interest dies because they lack economic power to overcome the challenges inherent in all endeavors. As my son became more skilled, I invested in more supplies, tools, and parts to ensure his “supply chain” was ready for him to capitalize on success. I funded the outcomes with investments of time and money. Then each build would get bigger, take longer, and require more, so I sacrificed in order to make sure he could take this interest as far as he could. I did likewise with my daughter and her entrepreneurial endeavors, her horse back riding, or my son’s mountain biking.

In this simple example, I hope to reveal just how easy it is to develop self-confidence, which only comes from accomplishments. (An accomplishment is not a high-score on a video game.) Self confidence doesn’t come from a parent praising their kids. Accomplishments come from a lot of work and steady progress toward something. Instead of making our kids entirely responsible for accomplishing anything, we made them responsible for the work and we were responsible for providing what was needed for success. (A work ethic is a motivation issue. Motivation is a belief system trained by the parents.) Not only does this simple tweak create endless opportunities to connect and stay involved in teens lives, but they inherently develop a work ethic because our parental inputs supplement the motivation and help keep it going. Over time they learn how success comes not by a single persons effort, but by those around us who help us. If we don’t give them time, they won’t.

Also, these life passions should never leveraged as a threat or bribe for good behavior. These hobbies or endeavors become “check engine lights” if our teens step away from them. Motivation or lack of it comes from inside our teens (soul level), not from outside, but parents provide the environment which either kills motivation or fuels it. It just takes self-awareness, and the willingness to sacrifice. When a parent can’t be bothered, their kids will eventually not want to be bothered either. The only motivation a teen will know is which their own selfishness induces. That’s a parenting failure that turns into a societal failure.

If you are in the midst of this and realize there are issues. It’s never too late to learn humility and try again. Even if the damage is done, and it feels like the course is set, the emptying of pride and selfishness in humility, can help any ship regain its True North. Sometimes, our struggles are benevolent interruptions, which help us find our way back to each other. The soul work of finding and rooting out our selfishness, is precisely how we bring healing to families, and change the behaviors of our teens which concern us the most.

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