Successful Teenagers Have Parents Who Do This One Thing

Heads up, parents, you have more influence in your teen's success than you realize

by Nancy Reynolds

This Post: Successful Teenagers Have Parents Who Do This One Thing

I’m a firm believer that deep down inside every parent knows their child. They know who they are, what they’re capable of, and who they have the ability to become. 

Whether it’s working hard to get decent grades, making a steadfast goal to get into the college of their dreams, putting in the effort to make the team or practicing over and over again so they can land the part in the school play, we want our teens to really try. We want them to put their best foot forward and succeed because, in our heart, we know they’re capable.

Knowing their potential and that they can do it if they just put their mind to it, how hard should we push our kids?

Well… that’s the oldest parenting question in the book.

Push too hard and the pressure might be too overwhelming causing them to crumble and give up, or worse, begin to resent you. Push too little and you risk letting your child off the hook preventing them from reaching their full potential. 

So, how do we find the perfect balance of nudging our kids just enough to help them succeed without pushing them to the breaking point?

Successful Teenagers Have Parents Who Do This One Thing


Experts say, if you want your kids to be successful, you need to have high expectations.

But… there IS a catch. 

Studies have found that our belief in our kid’s abilities can have a profound impact on their success, providing our kids know that our belief in them is directly aligned with our confidence in them based on who they are – not merely because we want parental bragging rights, because we want (and expect) them to follow in our footsteps or perhaps because we have unrealistic expectations for them to measure up in society’s eyes. 

According to David Braucher, Ph.D.,”When our fantasies about our children don’t coincide with their interests, talents, and tendencies, our expectations can strike a debilitating blow to our children’s development.

Viewing Their Capabilities Through Your Eyes

Lady Bird Johnson once wrote, “Children are likely to live up to what you believe in them.” 

If we show enthusiasm, have faith in our kids and truly believe they are capable of doing better, they are likely to perform better.

If, on the other hand, we send messages, either verbally or non-verbally, (rolling our eye or sighing when our kids share a goal with us, for instance), we’re sending them the clear message that we don’t believe in them and they, in turn, won’t believe in themselves.

And, when we let our kids off the hook by making excuses for them, we’re giving them yet another reason not to believe in themselves. 

But believing in our kids doesn’t just mean telling them we believe in them. We have to believe it ourselves and demonstrate it through our actions. And, you really can’t fake it, because teenagers have a built-in “crap detector” (as one author put it) – meaning, they can tell when you’re not being honest or authentic.

We have to look our child in the eye and say, “I have faith in you, I believe you can do this, I know you have what it takes to reach your goals! Let’s do this together. Let’s make your goal and dream a reality.”

That’s what high expectations are about. 

The Difference Between High Expectations and High Pressure

According to Melbourne Child Psychology, there’s a big difference between empowering our kids by putting high expectations on their shoulders versus weighing them down with high pressure. The reality is, teens put enough pressure on themselves. We shouldn’t be adding to it. 

While high expectations can help our kids reach their full potential, those same expectations can spill over into pressure when they are inflexible, unrealistic or inadequately supported,” says psychologist, Jessica Levetan. 

Pushing kids, not being empathetic or supportive of their struggles, and making winning the be-all, and end-all, just perpetuates perfectionism and instills the belief that we’re only proud of our kids when they meet our standards.

High expectations encourage kids to DO their best, high pressure pushes them to BE the best. High expectations can make your teen feel confident, capable and empowered knowing you believe in them, whereas high pressure can make them feel like they’ll never measure up in your eyes. High expectations can be motivating and encouraging, high pressure can lead to avoidance, anxiety, low self-esteem, and resentment.

The good news is, there is a way to hold your kids to a high standard without pushing them to the breaking point.

8 Ways to Have High Expectations of Your Teen (Without Piling on the Pressure)

1. Be Honest About Your Teen’s Strengths and Weaknesses

While many of your teen’s weaknesses can be strengthened with hard work and determination, there are some things they simply can’t change about themselves. Encouraging your teen to be something they’re not won’t make them perform better – it will only frustrate them and set them up for failure and disappointment. 

2. Let Your Teen Hold the Reins

You can’t have high expectations of your teen to try out for the high school lacrosse team if he has zero interest in lacrosse. And, even if you’re dead set on your daughter choosing a career path in technology, you might not get very far if all she truly cares about is art.

Pass the reins over to your teen and let their interests and passions be the guide.

3. Help Them Adopt a Growth Mindset

Little do our teens know that they can learn, they can get smarter and they can get better and more adept at practically anything they set their mind to because nothing is fixed unless they allow themselves to believe that. The fact is, the brain possesses the remarkable ability to modify, change and adapt to its environment throughout life which means our teen’s ability to learn can be dramatically changed by effort.

4. Help Them Break Down Goals into Small, Actionable Steps

Maybe they have their sights set on running a marathon next spring or maybe they’re determined to land an “A” in calculus. Whatever their goal or dream is, help them jot down small, achievable, realistic steps to help them reach their goal. Perhaps they run four times a week after school to get stronger or make a plan to work with a calculus tutor. Encourage them to break those goals down into bite-size steps so they don’t get discouraged along the way. 

5. Teach Them About the Upside of Failure

If we want to instill the desire in our kids to be high achievers, we need to help them get comfortable with failure – it’s a skill they’ll need in the real world. Failure reinforces the idea of hard work, sustained effort, and the importance of resilience to reach your goals and achieve your dreams.

And, when our kids do fail, we need to resist the urge to rescue them which will send the message that we think they’re fully capable and that they can handle the outcome, regardless of what it is. (Of course, if they ask for help, jump in.)

6. Give Them the Tools to Succeed

If we’re going to have high expectations of our kids, then we have to give them the tools they need to succeed. Maybe we hire a tutor, a music instructor or a personal coach. Or, maybe we send them to a summer camp to learn or buy the computer software they need to educate themselves. Our kids’ success depends widely on the tools we provide to help them to succeed. Consider the example you set as a powerful tool, as well. Your teen is watching everything you do.

7. Shoot for Personal Best, Not THE Best

It doesn’t matter if they’re the fastest runner, the best football player on the team, or the class valedictorian, what matters is that our kids are trying their best – no matter what that “best” looks like. Their goal shouldn’t be to make others proud, it should be to make themselves proud. 

8. Focus on the Journey, Not the Destination

When our kids focus too heavily on the destination, they focus more on what “will be” versus “where they are.” And, although living in the moment sounds cliche, it’s important our kids understand that life’s greatest lessons will always happen on the journey. It’s those little wins throughout their journey that will ultimately give them the greatest satisfaction and confidence.

As parents, we hold far more power to influence our kid’s success than we even realize. It all starts with help them achieve success or even get on the path of becoming a high achiever, we first have to believe in them with everything we’ve got.

If you enjoyed reading, “Successful Teenagers Have Parents Who Do This One Thing,” you might like these other posts, too!

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

Powerful Tips to Raise a Resilient Teenager

Are You Raising a Child with Enough Grit to Succeed? 5 Signs to Tell Plus, 4 Ways to Develop It

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