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3 Things to Know About Expectations for Your Teen

When kids are small, parents have big hopes and dreams for their future. But what can you do if your teen doesn’t live up to your expectations? In this article, I’ll show you three things you need to know about setting and communicating your expectations.


(1) How You Communicate Your Expectations is Important
You want your teen to accomplish good things—great! Wanting your teen to succeed isn’t the issue. It’s the pressure they feel that can cause problems. Often the pressure is caused by the way you communicate to your teen. The wonderful intent behind your message can get lost in the not-so-good approach. So ask yourself: “How do I come across to my teen?” If you really want to know how your teen feels about your expectations, then ask your teen!

Sometimes parents’ dreams for their teens simply don’t line up with the teen’s reality. I see parents all the time who have mapped out ambitious plans for their teens’ lives but it’s really a way to relive their own past, correct the mistakes they made, and accomplish the things they weren’t able to do. Instead you need to ask yourself: What are my teen’s skills, talents, and interests? Do you even know what your teen wants to accomplish? Your teen needs your experience, wisdom, and guidance—but he also needs his own goals. Don’t expect your teen to grow up just like you.


(2) Out-of-Reach Expectations Can Be Damaging to Relationships
As your child changes and becomes a teen, your role in his life changes too. You are not to be in control of his life all the time. Your role is to train your teen to take responsibility for his own life. If you have a healthy relationship then you will be able to guide and support your teen as he works towards his goals. You can encourage your teen to challenge himself and to aim high, but setting unrealistic expectations only sets your teen up for failure.

Out-of-reach expectations will cause your teen to resent you and constant correction makes them feel like a failure. The fear of not being able to meet your expectations can cause teens to shut down. So make it clear that there is nothing they can do to make you love them more, and nothing that they can do to make you love them less. Don’t withhold your love based on your teen’s performance. If your teen believes that the only way to make you happy is to meet your expectations, then your teen may lie to you in order to receive your love and acceptance. The result will be a shallow relationship built on dishonesty. And if your teen feels like your expectations are impossible, she may go outside of the home to look for acceptance elsewhere—somewhere you don’t want her to go.


(3) You Might Have Expectations You Didn’t Know You Had… But That Your Teen Feels!
Most parents tell me that they don’t expect too much from their teens. But teens tell me that their parents expect them to be “perfect”. So how do you respond when your teen messes up? Your reaction may contribute to your teen’s feeling that he’s not allowed to mess up. Even if you say you don’t expect perfection, your unspoken expectations are communicated through your attitude––your tone, rolling your eyes, and shaking your head. It’s easy to forget that your teen was created by God to please and serve Him, not you. So you need to let go of your expectations and figure out what’s best for your teen.


How to Set Healthy Expectations and Communicate Them
If you are just realizing that you’ve nagged too much about your teen’s shortcomings, then acknowledge your mistakes and build back your relationship. Spend time talking about what you both want. Know what you value, what is important to your family, and set expectations around those values, allowing your teen to speak into the conversation. Talk about what you want for them, not necessarily what you want from them. For example, if you really want your son to play baseball because you love baseball, then you need to step back and identify the family value. Is it baseball? Or do you really expect your teen to be actively involved in something? Make room for your teen to express what interests him and be open to helping your teen achieve his goals. As your teens makes progress, affirm them! When they mess up, pick your battles wisely and make your home a place of rest and refreshment.


Hey moms and dads … it’s the expectations that we have of others to meet what we want that usually causes problems in relationships. The goal is to put another person’s interests first, to figure out what they want and need, and work to help them meet their expectations of themselves—not trying to get them to live up to your expectations. Of course you want good things for your teen. But strive to get them to embrace those good things and spend time finding out what they desire in life. Help them get to where they want to go and spend time keeping them from ending up where they don’t want to go. You’ll always help your teen get further in life by helping them meet their expectations of themselves, rather than getting them to live up to yours.

Author: Mark Gregston

Mark Gregston began working with teens more than 40 years ago as a youth minister and Young Life director. He has authored nearly two dozen books, has written hundreds of articles, and is host of the nationally-acclaimed Parenting Today’s Teens podcast and radio broadcast.