How to Set Realistic Expectations for your Teenager

By Marcia Hall

No one ever said parenting was easy.  But parenting a teen can at times make you want to pull your hair out.  Choosing expectations for your teen that are both challenging but not overbearing is like waking a tight rope.  Here are a few suggestions to help ease the tension you feel.

Don’t expect each of your teens to need the same boundaries to be set. Not every child is the same.  You may have one teen that can handle the responsibility of having a Facebook account at the age of 13 while your next child could not handle that same privilege at 16.  This can be frustrating for both older and younger siblings who question your “fairness” but it is important to treat each child as an individual reminding her that she has other areas in which she has shown great responsibility.

With each birthday, give the child 1 new responsibility and 1 new reward.  A great way to help set separate boundaries while still teaching responsibility is to use the child’s birthday.  This habit can start early on.  When you give your child a new responsibility at her birthday coupled with a reward it shows her that you recognize that she is maturing.  Safe and respectable use of the reward can be tied to the new responsibility to some degree.  If at age 13 your child is able to gain a Facebook page but she refuses to consistently mow the lawn like agreed to at her birthday, Facebook privileges can be suspended until the lawn is mowed.

Your ultimate goal as a parent is to help your child develop independence.  When discussing and selecting the expectations you have for your child, keep in mind that you want your child to learn what you teach for a lifetime.  When she leaves your home, you want to know that you have instilled responsibility into her so that whatever school, job or career she chooses she will be well equipped.  When setting expectations keep this ultimate desire for independence in mind.

Expectations should start out small and grow.  You cannot expect a child to wake up one day and suddenly be able to understand how to do her laundry from separating the colors to putting them away in her drawers.  This habit needs to be taught slowly.  The same is true for independence.  You cannot expect your child to be able to always make the best choices when it comes to peers, school and even listening to you.  She needs to start being given small independence.  Expect mistakes but know her ability to make mature choices will grow.

Put expectations and consequences in writing. Often times directives are mentioned to a teen in the car or while the parent and child are doing other things.  These directives may seem really clear to the parent but are often misunderstood by the teen.  Sometimes teens may even use your business as an excuse to avoid doing what you asked because she thinks you will not remember it.  This situation leads to anger, resentment and often times yelling.  When you create an expectation, it is best to in some way get it in writing and have both you and your teen agree to it.  That way if the instruction is ignored or forgotten, you are able to simply and calmly show the child where that you had indeed agreed to it.  You can use new technologies to do this if the child has a smart phone or access to a computer.  If you choose to put it on paper in the house make sure it is where all adults and the teen can see it but is not out in public where it might embarrass the child.

Don’t expect too little.  Parents can make this mistake for a few reasons.  Perhaps they had an older child that wanted to break all the rules.  Maybe they themselves had very troubled teen years.  Whatever the case, lowering the expectations you have for your child can actually cause her to make bad choices.  Instead build your child up, letting her know that you see the strength and determination in her to make healthy and mature choices but that you know how it can be difficult at times.

Parenting a teen can be stressful but it is a high responsibility to raise the next generation.  It takes patience, understanding and self-control to help a small child become an adult.

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