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Reforming ungrateful teens

Is there an ungrateful teenager living in your house?

Lisa Butler feels your pain. She started a Facebook group called UTIMH (Ungrateful Teenager In My House).

"Here's my Christmas list," is how Butler describes the typical teenager's response to the approach of the holidays.

"They have such a sense of entitlement," added Butler, a social worker who lives in Hartford, Conn., with her 16-year-old son. "They look at you as if you owe them."

And while her group doesn't have a lot of members yet, the few dozen who've joined are leaving heartfelt comments about kids who won't help around the house, daughters who demand designer boots and sons who turn their noses up at delicious, homemade meals.

"How do we change that, now that they are teenagers?" wrote one mom.

Michael Ungar, a family therapist from Nova Scotia, Canada, and author of a new book, The We Generation, says ungrateful teenagers can be reformed. Parents should require teenagers to make genuine, meaningful contributions to the family, and set consequences if they don't.

Put that 16-year-old in charge of making dinner one night a week, and don't bail him out if he doesn't do it. Or tell him if he wants a ride to his game, he has to walk the dog.

"You make my life a little easier, I'll make your life a little easier," Ungar said. "It's not about punishment. It's about honestly showing your child what it takes to make a household work or a society work."

Ungar says that today's parents, from the "Me'' generation, "figure it's easier to go and do everything for the kids than to make them do it." But he says we should be aiming to raise the "We'' generation, where kids are thinking about others.

"All too often as parents, we don't ask enough of our kids," he said. "Don't just simply invite them into the family. Give them a role in the family. You'll see some dramatic changes in behavior as they understand that now they have a more adult function, that someone genuinely needs them."

Ungar said that when kids come home from school, "it's so easy to badger them with questions, lectures. Did you do your homework, are you going to soccer?"

He says that sends a message that "you're just a dependent in this family. There's no real role for you other than someone who makes work for others."

Instead, he says, "turn it around. Tell them about your day. Ask for advice. Ask them to fix the computer or to make you a cup of tea. Get them involved in making decisions about the next family vacation."

In addition to empowering our kids to make genuine contributions, we should also help them experience and express gratitude. Jeffrey Froh, a professor of psychology at Hofstra University in New York, says studies show that adolescents who report feeling gratitude ‘‘are happier with their lives. They're more likely to help other people, to give emotional and social support ... They're more optimistic, less materialistic, less envious and less depressed."

"It's not just something you do on Thanksgiving,'' Froh said. "Gratitude has got to be a daily thing. It's a mindset."

Butler readily admits that parents share the blame in having raised a generation of kids who take everything for granted.

"We created a monster," she said. "With a lot of the old-style ways, parents used to teach kids to earn. Paper routes, shoveling snow -- they did all those things to earn money to develop some type of work ethic. Now, instead of having them earn, they've been handed everything."

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