Dealing With Ungrateful Teens
Some background information: She was the older sister to a little brother. She had experienced my ugly divorce, my single parenting far below the poverty line, my wonderful new marriage, and a new younger stepbrother. Her mostly-absent biological father was often angry, and spent lots of money on her during visits to manipulate her. My husband and I worked very hard to provide the three kids with a happy, loving, family life that met all their needs and many of their wants. She was nine years old when I remarried and she was thrilled to have a good man to call Daddy. Then, she became a teenager.
Fast forward to one of the worst days. Our three kids' birthdays were approaching (November and December) and we decided that year they would each get a laptop computer. We selected three excellent laptops and paid for them on credit. It was an expensive gift, around $500 per child. They all three opened their laptops together. The boys were absolutely thrilled, beside themselves with excitement, joy, and appreciation.
My daughter opened hers, looked at it with disgust and said, "I'm older. Why didn't I get a better one than they got?" My mouth hit the floor. At first I thought she was joking, but it was clear that she was truly ungrateful. (This is the very shortened version of what she said to me.) I gathered up my broken heart and said, "Well, if you don't want it, I can box it up and send it back."
Her response was, "Fine." And she walked up the stairs to her bedroom and shut the door. With tears in my eyes, I packaged up that beautiful, brand new, expensive laptop and shipped it back before I could change my mind.
It was, honestly, really difficult for me. We had planned the gifts so carefully, researched for hours to make sure we got them excellent computers, purchased them on credit so that we could work the payments into our budget, and wrapped them up with so much excitement, dreaming of how excited they would be when they opened them. This was not the reaction I had expected. It also put me in the position of having to toughen myself up to send it back because of her attitude. I didn't want to send it back. I wanted a happy, grateful, excited reaction, but that moment was gone. I wanted to see her face light up, but all I got was a slammed door. It hurt me, for a long time.
There were many times I felt completely helpless as a parent. Even though I have a bachelor's degree in child development and a master's degree in education, plus I ran a nationally-accredited child care program for many years, I was often at a loss with my own. Being a parent is difficult, more difficult than anything else I've ever done.
Although she's never formally apologized for her behavior on that terrible day, I forgave her that very day. But I've never been able to forget the memory and that feeling of angst comes back whenever it comes to mind. We've discussed it now that she is grown and she tells me her friends have told her she was absolutely nuts for doing that. That event (and many others) certainly made an impression on her younger brothers, who tell us they learned how not to act as teens because they saw the consequences of her actions.
She is no longer an ungrateful person. She's grown into a loving, giving woman. After earning her bachelor's degree, she worked with elementary school kids. Now that she's working on her master's degree, she's working with teenagers. She just recently earned her teaching certificate to teach high school. I know it hasn't been easy for her, but she has pushed through with determination. I am proud of her. My sons are also wonderful adults and I'm proud of the men they became.
I hope that somehow, by being able to do the right thing when I really didn't want to, I helped to shape my children into better adults. If you are the parent of an ungrateful teen, it's your job to teach them right from wrong, even when it pains you both.