A few tips for living with ungrateful teenagers


It happens to the best of us.  You’re sailing along, raising a beautiful, compliant child who is a joy in nearly every way.  Suddenly, almost overnight it seems, you’re living with a sullen fiend with a sense of entitlement.  Nothing you do for the child is appreciated, and in fact, he/she just wants more.  You question yourself, “How did this happen?  Where did I go wrong?”

Rest assured, you are in good company.  Chances are, YOUR parents went through this…with you.  :)  It’s normal, and maybe even necessary.

Author Po Bronson, in the article “Why Counting Blessings Is So Hard for Teenagers” (Newsweek Blog, November 24, 2009), says this:

Parents and teachers need to recognize that being grateful, and being a teenager, are often diametrically opposed. To be a teenager—in the classic sense—means expressing a fundamental desire to individuate from one’s family. This is not unhealthy behavior; it’s completely normal. They are soon to be independent adults, and they need to take themselves for test-drives. Pushing parents away, and wanting things to be none of your business, and exhibiting total ignorance of all you’ve done for them, are all behaviors that conjure independence. Asking them to be grateful—and wishing they’d be more aware of how their success is due to you—is difficult for them to feel at the same time as they’re trying to get out from under your thumb. Thus grateful teenagers are rare, not the norm.

Additionally, Bronson says this in his book, Nurture Shock:

For kids with a strong need for autonomy and independence, it might be demoralizing to recognize how much they are dependent upon grownups. They might already feel like adults are pulling all the strings in their lives-controlling what they eat, what they study, what they’re allowed to wear, and who they hang out with. And they’d rather feel self-reliant than beholden. Their sense of independence might be an illusion, but it’s necessary illusion for the psychological balance and future growth into genuine independence. Their lack of gratitude might be the way they maintain the illusion that they are in control of their own lives.

So, before you toss your teen’s ungrateful behind out the door, or curl up in a ball with the leftover Halloween candy and box of tissues, here are a few ways to get through this ugly stage of parenting.

  • Realize this is normal, and try not to take it personally.  Think back to your own teen years, and how you treated your parents.  Then call them and apologize.  :)
  • Resist the urge to preach to your son or daughter.  Don’t look up every Bible verse you can find on ungratefulness and plaster them on the bathroom mirror.  Refrain from comparing your child to the nation of Israel wandering in the desert.  Stop yourself from forcing them to participate in the 30 days of thankfulness on Facebook.
  • Know that this is temporary.  You survived teething, potty training, and the terrible two’s.  You’ve got this.
  • Model gratefulness.  ALL YEAR.  Out loud and in front of the children.  Thank your husband for taking out the garbage.  Thank your wife for the meal she prepared.  Thank God for a safe drive home from school.  The more you do it, the easier it will come.
  • Check your own complaining.  The more we complain, the less grateful WE are,  which sets a poor example.
  • Make a list of all the things you love about your teenager.  Every time they rattle your cage or make you want to scream, lock yourself in the bathroom and read the list over and over again – maybe even as a prayer of gratitude to God – until you remember how much you love the little darling.
  • Pray.  Only God can change your teen’s heart, so pray for them…but also pray for your own heart to be shaped through the process.  As you learn to respond in love and kindness, respect and gratitude will grow.



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One Comment

  1. Denise
    Posted March 17, 2014 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for this…..sincerely! I am about ready to go out of my mind with my three teenagers and I so needed to know that I am not the only one who is struggling.

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