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TEACH TEENS TO BE THOUGHTFUL

Q. Our 15-year-old daughter does nothing to acknowledge special days for others. She spends her allowance on herself, knowing that a birthday or holiday is coming. Last spring I got nothing from her, not even a card, for my birthday or Mother's Day. I told her I was crushed. I have no desire to buy her anything or plan a party for her 16th birthday. When should a parent expect a child to be thoughtful?

-- A Mother in Santa Rosa, Calif.

A. Give and take. Start teaching the lesson when your kids are toddlers, and keep at it.

Otherwise, a child grows up thinking, "The world is made just for me," says Carol Maxym, co-author of "Teens in Turmoil" (Penguin Putnam, $23.95, Canada, $33.99).

One California mother says her three kids "range from generous and thoughtful to downright stingy and self-centered." A grandfather from Independence, Iowa, says one of his 10 grandkids has a similar attitude, and never acknowledges gifts or cards. "She's now in college, and my wife and I no longer send her a gift for birthdays or other occasions," he says.

He suggests the 15-year-old will learn a lesson if her mother does nothing for her 16th birthday. Some readers agree; others say that's too harsh.

"The 'Me Generation' is creating the 'Me-Me-Me Generation,' " says Maxym, an educational consultant. "If you've raised your child to be self-centered, she'll still be self-centered as a teenager, but it's even more unpleasant.

"This child seems to feel entitled by attentions of every sort without the need to reciprocate," Maxym says. "Kids can and should be expected to understand reciprocity from their earliest years."

Age 15 is a bit late to start, says a reader from Miami, who also thinks Mom should let the 16th birthday pass by without a card or gift. "I think that will hit home harder than anything else," she says.

But a mother from Sacramento says she wouldn't ignore their birthdays. That idea makes her ask: "Who is more immature, the mother or the daughter?"

To solve the problem, Maxym says, the mother needs to talk openly with her daughter, and express her own needs without sounding childish. What would make sense, she suggests, is to say: "I'm not OK with the way you treat me. I admit I'm partially at fault. I'm not willing to give you a 16th birthday party, but I'll give you a 17th birthday party if you shape up."

Make it clear that thoughtlessness is unacceptable, says Christiana Millette, 23, from Providence, R.I. "The last thing the world needs is more people who can't be bothered to treat others as they would like."

Can you help?

For the last month, my 3-year-old son has been a restless sleeper, with nightmares, kicking and hitting the walls. He's healthy, and the behavior is really unusual for him. He has started playing with some aggressive kids in the neighborhood recently, and I wondered if that could have something to do with it.

-- A Mother in Riverside, Calif.
If you have tips or a question, call toll-free (800) 827-1092, send e-mail to p2ptips@att.net or write to Parent to Parent, P.O. Box 4270, Davidson, N.C. 28036.

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