Successful teens have boundaries, not expectations
As humans, we have expectations of those we love the most. As parents we front load our kids with expectations of who they will become in the future. But what we fail to identify as parents and people is our boundaries, our bottom line needs. Establishing boundaries is beneficial for us and those we love because they can translate into actions. Unlike expectations, which are more like our hopes + desired outcomes.
What’s wrong with expectations?
Expectations are strong beliefs that something will have in the future. They are the belief that someone should or will achieve something. Parents have many expectations for their kids, and they can do more harm than good.
I can feel your desire to navigate away from this post, but stay with me for a minute.
When I say that to parents, that their expectations are stressing everyone out and the relationship, they respond by saying something like this: “If I don’t have expectations for him or her, then she’ll never help out. She’ll become a lazy person at school and at home. the only thing she will care about is her phone and her friends.”
As in, if I don’t expect her to be a certain way, she will likely disappoint me by failing, and also she will prove me right. My greatest fears about her will become true.
The word expectation comes from the Latin word meaning awaiting. As in, I am awaiting you to please me or I am awaiting you to prove me wrong.
Awaiting is rarely a neutral experience. For me, the waiting is the hardest part. During the waiting period, we often anticipate an outcome, and our brains can conjure some pretty intense stories about what will happen in the future.
In this way, expectations are cousins to fears, the strong beliefs that something bad will happen in the future.
If this isn’t how you operate, great. You are blessed and can continue having expectations because they aren’t attached to all kinds of extra feelings.
How about boundaries?
To be clear, I think we should hold a future vision of ourselves and each other that is optimistic and encouraging. Yes, you can get into that college. Yes you can become an starter on the basketball team. You can clean your room and the bathroom too!
But in the meantime, during the waiting period between where your child is now (child, adolescent, or teen) and that future place of actualization, there is the day in, day out. Constantly communicating your expectations of where you want her to be doesn’t keep you sane and connected now.
Plus, that future self has different needs than the person who is in front of you. Sometimes when we focus on expectations, the needs of today are easily overlooked.
If expectations are our hopes, then boundaries are our needs. Boundaries express what is non-negotiable in the day in, day out. For instance, you need the homework to get done today. You expect all A’s. During family gatherings, you need cell phones to be left in the car. You expect your teen to know how to shake hands and say hello. You need your teen to be honest, even when it’s hard. You expect she won’t get wasted at a party.
I heard these are real-life examples in the past week. The boundaries are concrete actions that you can communicate that make a difference in the here and now. And when these boundaries aren’t respected, there is a consequence that makes sense. If the homework isn’t done, then plans with friends are postponed. If the phone isn’t left in the car during the Thanksgiving meal, then phone goes away for the next day. If there is lying, someone’s getting grounded forever. Just kidding–a weekend is enough!
If implemented consistently, boundaries become the bricks in the road that leads to your expectations anyway. The most well-adjusted, independent, responsible kids I’ve known understand boundaries. There are certain lines that, when crossed, have consequences. The consequence can be dramatic or not. It can be experiencing the disappointment from someone who they admire. Communicating your boundaries as bottom lines in the day to day gives a child a sense of the edges and space to roam freely in between, as they are.