A column that tackles behavioural problems from toddlers to teens
"Mom, I have to get the new Galaxy. I have to get it."
"Abigail, you don't need to get a new phone."
"But Mom, you don't understand. I really do."
Your teenager insists an expensive new phone is essential for her well-being. Without the new phone she believes her life will be utterly ruined.
"It's true. Everyone will have one and I won't."
What can you do? Should you get her the phone? How can you make her understand that she is privileged just to have what she already has.
What not to do
Don't berate her for being a spoiled brat.
"You don't know how lucky you are. All you can think about is what you want for you."
Abigail may or may not be a spoiled brat. But desperately wanting an expensive new cell phone does not necessarily mean that she is spoiled. The culture in which she lives creates those wants. Wanting cool stuff, even desperately wanting cool stuff, is not bad. It is what being a teenager is all about.
The more you try to convince her of her selfishness, the more she will continue to argue.
"Abigail, I am sure that you will be able to get along fine without owning that new phone. You have so far."
"That just shows how little you know. I'm not kidding. I can actually feel my popularity slipping away. Soon I'll be a nothing. You are the most selfish mother in the world."
What to do
Should Abigail's mother get her the phone? This is one of those cases where there is no clear answer. You can't know with absolute certainty what is best. But you still have to make a decision. Abigail's mother should think about it, take a deep breath, go with what she is most comfortable and then close the discussion. What is not good is where Abigail can ultimately wear her mother down until she agrees to what she really does not want.
Remember that once you've made your decision, if you continue with any further discussion – regardless of the words you say – the only message she will hear is: "Good, Mom's still talking about it, so there's still a chance that I can argue her into changing her mind. So of course I'll keep arguing."
"Omigod, Mom, you don't understand …"
Clinical psychologist Anthony E. Wolf is the author of six parenting books including I'd Listen to My Parents if They'd Just Shut Up. E-mail him your thorny questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.