Teaching Entitled Teens How to Work

My 85 year old father visited recently and we spent several days hiking, eating good food, and arguing about politics. It was a lot of fun. During one of our debates my dad started talking about this generation of “entitled teens who don’t know how to work; who just expect things to be given to them.” I was about to shoot back that this generation probably isn’t much different from previous generations, but I paused. As much I am inclined to counter almost any point just for the sake of a good argument, my dad’s curmudgeonly comment struck me as unassailable. I couldn’t think of a good response.

I’ve been hiring and mentoring young adults for the past twenty years, and while I have always had the occasional entitled employee, I think I’m seeing more of them. I’m talking about young employees who bristle and argue when offered feedback, who try to sculpt their work schedules around their recreation, and who expect positions and paychecks that (by my reckoning) they don’t yet qualify for. Perhaps what’s actually changed, though, is me. I’m now solidly middle-aged and almost as prone as my father to make critical proclamations about “today’s youth.”

But whether the so-called “age of entitlement” is a true social phenomenon or just a recycled inter-generational gripe, there’s no denying that many young people enter the workplace without an adequately robust work ethic. So what is a parent to do with a teen or young adult who doesn’t want to work but nonetheless expects a nice car and an expensive lifestyle? Unfortunately, by the time your child is a young adult, it may be tough to teach lessons that ideally should begin during childhood. But it’s never too late to improve your parenting skills and to recast your role in your child’s life.

Teaching Entitled Teens the Value of Work

Here are three ways to teach entitled teens or young adult understand the relationship between an honest day’s work and an honest day’s pay:

  1. Talk About Money: Another common boundary that can have unintended consequences is avoiding financial talk with your children. Some families treat this topic as socially inappropriate or even taboo. While there are financial details that can create unnecessary stress or violate boundaries, general family conversations about budgeting, saving, earning, and spending are important for teaching children the basics of work and finance. If they don’t learn good financial management skills from you, studies show, they probably won’t learn them at all.
  2. Take Care of Needs, not Wants: Especially with teens (and young adults who are still appropriately dependent) it’s important to continue meeting basic needs while transitioning financial responsibility for wants to your child. Instead of just giving your child money for movies, outings, and electronics, help them find ways to earn, save, and manage money for these luxuries. Many parents find this kind of involvement to be more time consuming and taxing in the short run than just dispensing the requested funds; but in the long run this kind of experiential instruction will save much more grief than it causes.
  3. Make your own Work Transparent: It’s not uncommon for children of successful career parents to grow up with little understanding of how the mortgage gets paid, how food appears on the table, where their allowance really comes from, etcetera. Some ways to expose your teen to the relationship between work and life include taking them to the office with you for a day, hiring them to do some filing or to answer phones for you, talking about your work, or even asking for their advice on a work-related issue, idea, or problem.