My Teenager Expects Me to Pay for Everything


my son feels entitled to moneyI’m not quite sure when it happened, but all of a sudden, one day, my son was gone.

Gone was the happy-go-lucky, unassuming boy I raised. Gone were the days when a hug was good enough to bring a smile to his face. Gone were the times when he would marvel at the simple joys in life, like a good book.

And if I’m being really honest, gone (hopefully not forever) was the son who used to adore being around me.

How Money Hurts Our Relationship

The person who replaced my child is an often cynical, disrespectful and entitled 16-year-old who thinks everything, including me, is stupid. Bursting at the seams is a boy who wants so badly to be fulfilled that he is equating his would-be happiness with “stuff.” Stuff that he wants me to pay for. Sometimes it’s as simple as $5 for the high school basketball game … and sometimes it’s more lavish, like $500 for a plane ticket to visit Puerto Rico with friends. I said no to that, by the way.

He said he “expected” the tickets for Christmas.

Surf contests, new pants (which he does not need, nevermind that he can’t even take care of the clothes he already has), scooter expenses. In his mind, he deserves all of this. And I should be the one footing the bill.

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A Good Kid With Strange Ideas

I mention all of this as nicely—but honestly—as possible. I don’t want to make him seem like some sort of alien teenage monster, because in all seriousness and truthfulness, he is the love of my life. He is a mature, happy, free spirit who is talented and smart and funny. He will go far in life, always have friends and forever be known as the guy who is usually smiling.

Since 14, he has always had a job, sometimes two, from bagging groceries to flipping burgers to teaching surf lessons. I have tried to instill the value of a strong work ethic and the importance of earning his own money. But, as we all know, minimum wage for one or two shifts a week doesn’t go very far.

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My teen is probably no different than a lot of teens today. Hell, he’s probably not much different than I was at his age. The difference is, at the risk of sounding cliche, when I was a teenager, my “needs” consisted of trendy jeans, the latest Journey album (yes, I said album—it was that long ago) and the cover fee for our school dance. Oh, and an occasional ice cream cone with friends. That is, I wasn’t asking for plane tickets to Puerto Rico.

What’s changed?

The Trouble With Teenager-dom Today

My parents may remember differently, but I don’t believe I expected hand-outs. I would occasionally ask my dad if he had any “spare ones,” but if I ever asked for a trip to another country, it would not have been pretty. I also held a job since I was 16 and had to save most of my earnings to help fund 50% of my college education, so I didn’t spend much.

Since then, the proverbial ante has been upped. Social media has blown any sense of humbleness and simplicity out of the water. Parents have entered into a silent war with each other to determine who can provide more for their children. Teens, meanwhile, have access to a lot more ideas (thanks, internet) and are used to instant gratification.

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Do I sometimes want to cave? Of course. No parent wants to feel one-upped or see the look of disappointment in a child’s eyes. But as Dr. Phil says, one of the worst things you can do for your child is give him things you can’t afford.

Is My Refusal Worth the Cost?

When you have limits on your spending (as most of us do), saying no is sometimes a necessity. Anyway, limits ultimately teach important life lessons about needs versus wants, money management and finding happiness without “stuff.” My son will surely thank me for this someday. I hope?

Is his constant insistence and my constant refusal worth having a sometimes rocky relationship? Worth the arguing? You bet.

I do say yes to some things (like that iPhone he wanted). I compromise on some things (like paying half his car insurance when he got his license). And I say no to a lot of things (like money for fast food or a movie or a new surfboard). In the name of values, I will continue to stand my ground and insist that he earns the “wants” in life and be creative in how he does so.

That tactic might even be working. Just yesterday, he and a friend set up their drums on our driveway for an outdoor concert for the neighborhood, complete with a tip jar for “travel funds.” I dropped in $1.

  • DO

    My youngest and I were on the state school campus last week. What we saw was a fashion show, kids eating out (Panera was packed). Not at all the picture of doing-without that friends, former teachers have told me about college life. I vividly remember my 5th grade teacher saying he lived on ketchup sandwiches through college. This scene stood out to my teenage daughter. How is it that we should feel compassion for the “high cost” of college, which I understand has increased considerably. Couple this with middle school girls saying, “Oh that outfit is so resale.” And, high school proms becoming wedding-like. What are we teaching-not teaching our kids? 

  • bcalnyc

    I have raised 2 kids past college age, one is college and I have a little one (6).  I recognized the idea of my child disappearing and being replaced by some other being immediately. (Mine were taken by aliens at 15 – all 3 of them!- and returned to me only when it was time to move out!
    But the money thing…well, that happens because people don’t talk to their (younger) kids about money.  If little kids think things just magically appear, clearly mom & dad are rich and can make that happen.  We’ve never had any money to spare and so I’ve said “no” to my kids a lot when they were growing up when it came to buying things.  Te flip side of that is my kids have never gone without and when it was REALLY important to them we always found a way to finance things.  Even expensive things.  And they have always been VERY appreciative.
    Lesson – talk to your kids!  Early, often, about uncomfortable subjects, like money.

  • Natalie

    I don’t think you son is entitled to luxury goods, and I’m happy to see that you were able to find some compromise. I think you should be willing to help your son earn the things he wants and to work with him. I also think parents should help their teens out as much as reasonably possible–which is obviously different for every family. I would much rather my teen focus on school, extracurriculars, and building relationships with friends and family than slave away for minimum wage. He’ll have the rest of his life to work! 

    Sidenote: It makes me super uncomfortable that you refer to your son as “the love of your life.” I know firsthand that the love parents feel for their children is immense, overwhelming, and unlike anything else. 

    • Natalie

      …but the love of your life suggests that maybe you put too much focus on your son. We should all be the loves of our own lives and find our own passions that inspire and drive us!  

  • Kturner

    I have a 20 year old going to school at local college who lives at home no job,no car,no drivers license and does not contribute other than taking out the trash to anything and expects me to feed,cloth,house,entertain and pay his tuition. I have suggested he get a job but no action what can I do to motivate him into helping out and not be such a bum . any suggestions?