MomsOnMonday: Prep for Parenting Your Modern

Posted on December 4th, 2017, 0 Comments

Your Expectations Matter: Here’s How to Find Your Teen’s Sweet Spot

We love our kids and want the best for them. And we have an important role to play in their achievement. Hardly anybody would disagree with that. In fact, study after study has shown that parents’ expectations can have a strong, positive effect on children’s success – sometimes more than any other type of parental involvement.

The problem is that we often use a sample group that is too-small and too-subjective when we set our expectations. We use our older children, or a neighbor’s precocious child, or even our own unreliable childhood memories to determine the height of the bar.

Using this subjective sample group, we tend to set the bar too high. And when our kids don’t live up to our expectations, our stress level rises. We crank up the pressure.

Even if our intentions are to guide, if we’re not careful, we can end up pressuring our children and pushing them over the slippery stress slope – particularly if what we want is not inline with our kid’s level of maturity, ability, or interest. The following conversation between a father and his son, a high school football player on the morning before a game, is a good case in point.
Father: You stressed out?
Teen: A little.
Father: Good. Because stress is all part of football. If you’re not throwing-up in your mouth, you’re not doing it right. Nerves are good.
Teen: There’s a few hours left until game time. I think I’ll just go lie down under my bed for a little while.

This father was right – at least in part – when he said that nerves are good. Up to a point, stress can help with focus. It can motivate and energize. But too much stress has a negative effect on performance.

The same thing can happen with our expectations. If our expectations are too low, it can make it hard for our kids to see and achieve all that they can do. But unreasonably high expectations can lead to high anxiety and discouragement in our kids and set them up for failure. The trick is to find each teen’s sweet spot: that place where our expectations are neither too high nor too low but just right.

Try This
Below are a few tips to help you find your teen’s sweet spot:

Pay attention to your teen’s mood when expectations are being discussed. If your teen seems nervous, withdraws from the conversation, or becomes self-critical (“I’ll never be able to do this” or “I’ll mess-up and everyone will see it”) when you’re discussing their performance in school, a sport or another activity, it’s a sign that your expectations might be too high.

Emphasize motivation, hard work, and improvement. Make sure that you’re paying at least as much attention to the process of learning and growth and development as you are to the outcome like wins and grades.

Realize that every activity may not be a good fit. Help your teen find a balance between honoring long-term commitments (sticking with something even when it gets challenging) and being able to try new things.

Encourage your teen to find at least one activity where they can shine if they work at it. This will boost their self-confidence. But just as importantly it will give them firsthand evidence that effort matters – that the harder they work, the better they get.

Even the slightest adjustment in our expectations or the way we convey them – a little more care in what we say, a little more reflection on our values and what is really important to us, or a little more consideration of what is important to our teen – can result in surprisingly big improvements.

Selected Sources and References
Modern Family: Season 6, Episode 3, “The Cold”
“Parents’ Values and Children’s Perceived Pressure” in Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth Research Series
“Why Can’t Johnny Jump Tall Buildings?” by Alan Kazdin in Slate Magazine
“Are Parents’ Expectations Too High?” by Lisa Harker for ChildrensMD

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