Should You Have High Expectations of Your Teen? Well…Yes and No

by Nancy Reynolds

This post: Should You Have High Expectations of Your Teen? Well… Yes and No

Co-written by: Marybeth Bock and Nancy Reynolds

We all have expectations of our kids…

We expect them to be kind, have manners, and be respectful toward us and others. We expect them to put their best foot forward in school, tell the truth, and follow our rules.

But beyond the basics, there are a ton of expectations that are quite often placed on teenagers – especially by parents who want their kids to succeed in today’s highly competitive society. And, who can blame them? 

After all, every parent wants the absolute best for their kids. We want them to do well in school, make the team, land that internship, score that scholarship, and get accepted into a “good college.”  We have their very best interest at heart. And, I think we can all admit that, while we try to block out social media and what every other parent’s child is doing, we’re so often lured into the most competitive game there is… parenting.

But, we need to remember that while having expectations of our kids is a good thing, having high expectations oftentimes comes with a serious price.

Should You Have High Expectations of Your Teen? Well… Yes and No


Why You SHOULD Have Expectations of Your Teen

Plain and simple, the expectations you have for your kids are the glue that holds your family together. It’s what keeps your teen safe and on the right track, and what holds them accountable for their actions. It’s what helps them understand what the limits are and what behavior is expected. They’re essentially the “ground rules” our kids need.

But how high should your expectations be?

If your teen walks in the door after being at school seven hours and having two hours of practice and still has three hours of homework ahead of them, are you expecting too much by asking them to clean their room and take out the trash? The answer is likely “yes.”

If your teen slept 14 hours and sat around most of the day playing video games, are you expecting too much by asking them to help clean out the garage? The answer likely is “no.”

If your teen is stressed out, having regular meltdowns, and can’t seem to land a “B” on an AP History test if their life depended on it, are you asking too much for them to land an “A” in that class? Well… you might be surprised how many parents would say “no.”

According to experts, when it comes to having expectations of your kids, you have to shoot for a middle ground. The trick is to have reasonable expectations – not too high and not too low. It’s also important to be flexible and fluid with your expectations because they can and will differ greatly depending on a child’s age, maturity, capabilities, mental health, and a multitude of other factors.

Don’t Aim Too Low

There’s a powerful quote by Les Brown that says, “Most people fail in life not because they aim too high and miss, but because they aim too low and hit.” 

As parents, we have to be careful not to underestimate our kids’ abilities. We have to arm them with things like self-confidence, resilience, and a growth mindset so they develop a “can do” attitude. We have to encourage and gently push them when we KNOW they can do better. And, most importantly, we have to instill in them the belief that they’re fully capable of achieving anything they set their mind to IF they’re willing to work for it.

Studies have found that kids whose parents had “great expectations” for them were far more likely to meet those expectations. Another study found parents’ expectations were the most powerful positive influence when it came to their kids’ academic performance. In other words, “Children are apt to live up to what you believe in them.” ~ Lady Bird Johnson

But, Don’t Aim Too High

Nancy Rose, parenting coach and author of “Raise the Child You’ve Got – Not the One You Want,” says, “Ask any child who failed to live up to his parent’s idea of success, and you’ll likely hear that they never felt good enough, or that their parents had expectations they could never seem to live up to.”

Problems arise when parents put idealistic expectations on their kids’ shoulders that either don’t take into account their child’s current strengths, desires, or capabilities (keep in mind, your child’s strengths, desires, and capabilities are always changing) or when they focus too heavily on what they want for their kids so they end up pushing them unnecessarily hard.

According to research by the American Psychological Association, when parents are supportive, loving, and truly believe in their child’s capabilities, it can be a powerful motivator; excessive and overly high expectations can be poisonous and even detrimental to kids’ mental health and well-being.

The Cost of High Expectations: What it Does to Teens

When our kids grow up in an environment where they feel an unreasonable amount of pressure to succeed, it can lead to long-term mental health issues.

Negative Self-Talk

If we use insults or critical language when interacting with our teens, they may turn that criticism on themselves and start engaging in negative self-talk – “I’m stupid,” “I’m fat,” or “I’ll never be good enough.” 

Eating Disorders

Teenagers who are pressured about their weight by their parents or other family members may also be at higher risk for developing eating disorders, according to 2022 research. This is particularly true for teen girls.

Poor Academic Performance

Having overly high expectations of our teen’s academic performance can actually backfire and result in them doing less well in school while also triggering anxiety, including debilitating test-taking anxiety. 


Approximately 30% of teens suffer from “maladaptive perfectionism” – a striving for unrealistic perfection to the point of causing them pain. And, researchers have determined that there is a genetic component to perfectionism, reinforced by behavior kids learn from perfectionistic parents. They also found that perfectionism has increased in kids and teens by 33% over the last three decades, due to greater competition to get into college, social media, and more controlling parenting styles. 

Anxiety and Depression

According to the National Institute of Health, nearly 1 in 3 teens ages 13-18 will experience an anxiety disorder. The number one cause of that anxiety is high expectations and pressure to succeed.

5 Expectations That Are Causing Your Teen Stress

When you boil it down, there are only a few areas where teens feel the most pressured. According to findings from the Pew Research Center, the top 5 things teens feel “some or a lot of” pressure about are getting good grades, looking good, fitting in socially, being involved in extracurricular activities, and being good at sports. 

Finding the Middle Ground

It can be tricky to find the right balance between setting unrealistically high expectations and having low expectations for your kids since both aren’t in your teen’s best interest.

But we have to remember that we’re focused on our kids’ future and long-term success. We have the big picture in mind. 

Most teens, on the other hand, focus only on what’s happening in the here and now or perhaps a few months into the future. Their still-developing brains can’t handle much more than that. 

We also have to support, guide, and love the child we have, not the child we wish we had. We have to let them be their true selves and learn to accept and embrace what they can handle and what they want to strive for. 

How to Strive for Healthy Expectations

If you think your expectations could be unrealistic or are causing your teen stress, keep these things in mind.

1. Focus on What Your Teen Can Handle

Talk openly and empathetically about your teen’s workload, stress, and goals, and be willing to shift your own hopes and plans for them if your aspirations are causing your teen a lot of stress. Sure, you want to encourage and inspire your teen, but their mental health should be your #1 priority – not their GPA, if they scored the winning goal, or if they landed that impressive internship. 

2. Raise Expectations Gradually

Your expectations of your teen should always be fluid. You won’t have the same expectations of your 13-year-old as you will of your 18-year-old. Take into account their maturity, ability, desires, and their inherent talents, and aim to raise your expectations at a steady (healthy) pace. 

3. Break Expectations Down

You can’t expect your teen to land an “A” in Geometry when they pulled a “C” last semester. But what you can do is hire a tutor to work with them, have them practice problems every night for 20 minutes, or go in early to school and work with their teacher a few days a week. Help your teen break those expectations and goals into bite-sized achievable goals so they’re actually attainable.

4. Talk About the Pitfalls of Perfectionism

It’s not just parents, teachers, coaches, etc. who can have high expectations of our kids. Sometimes, they put a ton of pressure on themselves. (Seeing everything as perfect on social media certainly doesn’t help.) Talk to your teen and help them steer clear of perfectionism, especially the danger of a rigidly critical mindset and negative view of mistakes. Help them reframe negative thoughts and embrace self-compassion. It’s OKAY to make mistakes and not be perfect!

5. Validate Your Teen’s Emotions

We may think we know what’s best for our teens and their future, but they are their own person. Their decisions won’t always align with ours and the way they react to life and stress is far different from our threshold – we can’t label their emotions as “wrong.” Listen to what your teen wants. Validate their feelings. Help them reach THEIR goals while communicating how you feel – work together

It’s never too late to shift your parenting expectations and focus on healthy encouragement. The end goal is to foster a close relationship with your teen and make sure they know your love and acceptance doesn’t come with any strings attached.

Marybeth Bock, MPH, is Mom to two young adults and one delightful hound dog. She has logged time as a military spouse, childbirth educator, college instructor, and freelance writer. She lives in Arizona and thoroughly enjoys research and writing – as long as iced coffee is involved. Her work can be found on numerous websites and in two books. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram.


If you enjoyed reading, “Should You Have High Expectations of Your Teen? Well… Yes and No,” here are a few other posts you might enjoy reading!

7 Things to Stop Expecting From Your Teen

Teach Your Teen to Have a Growth Mindset: Why it Matters and Powerful Strategies that Work

Powerful Tips to Raise a Resilient Teenager

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1 comment

Nancy A April 28, 2023 - 8:40 am

I absolutely love this post. I think having “reasonable expectations” are necessary but also to stay positive, supportive, and accepting of failure. My son has kept and maintained a gratitude journal for over 3 years now and I know it has been therapeutic for him and a really wonderful tool for us together as it encourages discussion and creativity. I mention this because it’s been a great way for him to keep track of accomplishing goals and setting tasks for himself too. In the beginning we would sit down and come up with journal topics together! As he enters his teen years, I have found that books are definitely our common bond. He recently finished a fantastic book called – Mentors and Tormentors, on the Journey to Self-Respect by Tim Jones (I read it before him!) I thought this would be a great place to recommend it! It is an amazing story about a teenager (Wendall) who is your typical teen who can’t seem to focus on the positives in life and had a whole lot to learn about the “real world.” It’s a self-help book that doesn’t feel preachy and it’s certainly not boring. My son finished it in a weekend and even wrote down some of the lessons in his journal. Wendall comes across a variety of characters that teach him about bullying, standing up for yourself, friendship, gratitude, depression, manipulation and more. I think this is a great book to pair with a gratitude journal! Here is the website if you want to read more about it –


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