Do you give your child everything you never had? Do you let their disrespectful tone reverberate between you hoping that they’ll grow out of it? Do you reward their expected behavior with parties and presents?
That’s exactly how you walk right into getting sued by your own child.
Recently, New Jersey teen, Rachel Canning, sued her parents demanding that they pay for her current living expenses ($654 a week!) as well as the tuition at her private high school. Last week, she lost her case when a judge denied her requests.
Pretty much everyone in America agrees that Rachel sounds like an entitled brat, who’d rather publicly humiliate her parents than give up her party free or die lifestyle. But, Rachel is not entirely to blame here.
Her parents created this monster.
Most of us could never imagine suing our parents. We understand that they were legally obligated to do certain things for us, but we never expected anything from them except a roof over our heads, clothes on our backs, and food in our stomachs. Everything else they gave us was a bonus.
Kids are different today. They expect more. But it’s not all their fault. As parents, we think we’re doing the right thing by giving them more than we had. The truth is, we’re doing them a disservice. And if we’re not careful, we’re going to end up with an entire generation of adults who don’t know how to deal with life and would actually consider suing their own parents.
Here’s how to make sure you’re not sued by your child.
Show Them That Bad Decisions Have Consequences
As adults, we know that bad decisions have consequences. If we don’t show up for work, we get fired. If we eat more than we should, we gain weight. But children don’t inherently understand this. We must show them. Notice I didn’t say tell them. I said show them.
It was easier in my generation to teach consequences. If I acted like a brat, I’d get the underarm pinch from my mom, who through her feigned smile and non-moving lips, would whisper, “Do you want a spanking?” If I chose to continue my undesirable behavior, I would, without a doubt, be put over my mom’s knee and spanked. It didn’t take me long to realize that my mom meant what she said and that my butt would hurt as a result of my bad behavior.
Spanking is no longer a socially acceptable consequence. But there are many other ways to show children that their bad decisions have consequences. Grounding. Taking away the computer, the television, and anything else they value. Offering meaningful, genuine apologies to those they offend. Writing thoughtful essays about why their behavior was less than stellar.
The key here though is making them feel uncomfortable. They have to feel the pain of the consequence. This requires parental toughness and a lot of follow through. You’ll feel uncomfortable and won’t like it either. But, they don’t call it tough love for nothing.
Don’t Reward Expected Behavior
I don’t want to hear about one more party because some kid graduated from eighth grade. Here’s a little secret parents, are you ready? We live in the United States, your kid is supposed to finish the eighth grade. And you throwing them a party and playing a movie that documents all their life’s accomplishments doesn’t give them self-confidence, it gives them a falsely inflated ego.
Rewarding kids for what they’re supposed to do creates a misconception about responsibility. If they are taught that they should receive a reward for doing expected tasks, adulthood will be confusing. What will happen when no one rewards them for paying their rent, taking out the trash, or doing their laundry? Life will seem empty and miserable.
While they’re under your wing, it’s crucial that they complete expected tasks because they find joy in doing so and not because you reward them with parties and gifts. A hug and a “I’m so proud of you” should suffice.
Instill a Work Ethic
When my mother died, I raised my then nine-year old brother. When he turned sixteen, I told him that if he wanted to buy a car I would help by matching whatever money he earned to put towards it. Within a week, he had a job at Subway. And over a year later, he had earned enough money that together we purchased a used Ford Explorer. He took great pride in the car, keeping it clean and well-maintained. Driving a car, like many other privileges, should be earned not bestowed.
When you instill a work ethic in your child, you’re doing more than teaching them the value of money. You are giving them a sense of self-confidence. They see that if they apply themselves they can make a difference. They believe that they can make their own way in the world. Your kids won’t learn this if you keep handing them money and paying for whatever their heart desires.
Guide Them Through Disappointment Without Fixing Their Problems
As a parent, you want to shield your child from pain and disappointment. But the truth is, things don’t always go our way. And when they don’t, disappointment follows. Knowing how to work through disappointment is essential to becoming a happier, more fulfilled person.
The best way for a child to do this is to accept the disappointment and work through it with your guidance. It’s important that you are there to listen and help them strategize a solution. But they must understand that you will not swoop in and fix whatever is broken. This means you will not pay their speeding ticket, and you will not throw your weight around at school and get them a lesser punishment for their bad behavior.
Parenting is not easy. Heck, being a kid these days isn’t a walk in the park either. But with enough focus and consistency, you can raise a child that you’re proud of. One who has integrity, a huge heart, and a strong work ethic.
And one who wouldn’t even dream of suing you.