Reforming a Bratty Teenager

Q: I also have a 16 year old son who does well at school and is an amazing musician (and has the awards to prove it). However, he also is an entitled brat. We support his musical inclinations, including his involvement with an elite music group on a college campus but we also say no sometimes. When we do and lay out boundaries, he becomes snotty, rude, and says things like “You should spend more money to support my music.”

Compounding things is that everyone—from our pastor to his music teachers to our family—have told us time and again how wonderful his talent is and how we should do everything we can to help him become better. But we have a son who is beyond self-centered and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to be around him more than half an hour. We’re leaning towards kicking him out of the garden (i.e., stripping his room of everything of value), but aren’t sure if that’s the right course of action. What should we do?

A: To be perfectly blunt, your son is a brat because you’re allowing him to dictate what he will have musically because, gasp, he’s talented. Being talented doesn’t mean he is allowed to get away with being a horrible human being. You seem to view his musical talent as something that must be catered to at all costs. He’s demanding and entitled because you have shown him that you support his music no matter what he does.

Image courtesy of phanlop88/
Image courtesy of phanlop88/

Stripping his room will do little to curb his entitlement tendencies because you will still be supporting his “great musical talent.” If you truly want to reform your son–and I’m not sure you really do–you must make him an offer he can’t refuse, a la The Godfather Principle. In this case, his music.

Yep, I’m advocating cutting off the nectar from which he sips. Yes, you will get major blow-back from your pastor, from his music teachers, from himself. But you have to ask yourself: Who exactly are you raising? Right now, it’s a great musician who is a demanding brat. But it could be a nice person who happens to be good at music.

Which one would you want visiting your house for Thanksgiving in 10 years–that demanding brat who lives there now (and who will only get worse without any correction) or a son who’s learned to treat people with respect?

It is a bit late in the game, but he’s still young enough that if you cut him off at the knees, he might just rise to the challenge and morph into a decent person. But, there are no guarantees. As parents, we can only do the right thing and hope and pray our kids will choose to do the right thing, too.

For this situation, I would advocate stopping any and all musical endeavors. Issue an immediate cease and desist of all shuttling him to the university, paying for his lessons, etc. You simply tell him that you will no longer support his music habit as long as its coupled an attitude of disrespect. That if he cleans up his act, starts helping out around the house, treats his parents and sibling with kindness and respect, then you might consider reinstating some of his music…in six months. He needs to prove that he’s changed, and six months is long enough to show that he’s serious about maintaining a better attitude.

Then be prepared to follow through. Remember, that you’ve encouraged this entitlement behavior for years now, so he’s unlikely to change overnight. But if you stick with it, he will probably come around eventually.