Raising Teens Part 1 – You Get What You Expect


Did you know that at one time teenagers didn’t exist?

The term teenager came into being sometime in the early 1940s. Before that, people were either children or adults. There was no in between stage.

Friedrich Heer, a historian, writes about how things used to be:

“Around 1800 young people of both sexes could reckon on being considered adults as soon as the outward signs of puberty made their appearance. Girls attained marriageable age at fifteen… Boys could join the Prussian army as officer cadets at the age of fifteen. Among the upper classes entry to university or to a profession was possible at the age of fifteen or sixteen. The school leaving age, and consequently the end of childhood, was raised during the nineteenth century to fourteen.” [i]

So what changed?

Well, not everything about that era was good. One of the bad things was that children were exploited for factory labour.

Around 1900 a bunch of labour and school laws were passed to protect kids from the harsh conditions in factories. But those laws had other consequences. By completely removing children from the workplace and putting them in high school, teens lost their role as contributors to their families and society.

They became stuck between childhood and adulthood with most of the desires and abilities of an adult, but few of the expectations or responsibilities – a recipe for trouble.

And now, society doesn’t expect much from teenagers, except trouble. They meet the low expectations that surround them, not realising they could be so much more.

One website suggests three things to expect from teenagers:

  • Have chores done
  • Maintain average grades
  • Respect others and be pleasant to be around

While those are all good things, compared to what was expected of this age group a hundred years ago, they are silly!

Society’s expectations have sunk so low that we are delighted when our teen makes their bed without being nagged.

But a hundred years ago teenagers were expected to help support the family. They were raised with the expectation that once they reached puberty they would be contributors to the family and society instead of the consumers they are today.

And because they were expected to pull their weight, be responsible, and have strong character, they did.

What are we expecting of our teenagers today? We will get what we expect.

It’s not inevitable that a teenager will get drunk, try drugs, have sex, do badly at school, shoplift, or sext. 

But if we expect this behaviour we will parent in a way that makes the child realise this is what we expect of them.

I once heard a mother announce in a public setting that she didn’t expect her daughter to be a virgin when she got married. To her credit, the daughter did remain a virgin in spite of her mom’s expectation.

Having low expectations doesn’t guarantee bad behaviour, and having high expectations doesn’t guarantee perfect kids. They will make mistakes. They may disagree with us at times, question our rules, and need explanations. It’s how we deal with these that matters.

Someone once told us that when our kids leave home they are going to go wild. (They didn’t agree with how we were raising them.)

Well, our youngest turns 20 in a few weeks and none of them went wild. That doesn’t mean that they have never done anything I wished they hadn’t. But they haven’t rebelled.

The other day I asked one of my sons why he didn’t rebel. He said, “I never felt the need to.” (This from my most strong willed child who, when he was two years old, pulled his pants down that I had pulled up, because he wanted to do it himself.)

I really enjoyed the teen years with my kids. We certainly didn’t do everything right, but our relationship with them remained intact all through those years.

I encourage you to raise your expectations and handle your teens with care, and they won’t need to rebel.

That sounds simplistic, and there is more to raising teens than just expectations. We’ll dig into that in the next couple of weeks.

If your kids are not yet teens you can start preparing them now. One of the keys to raising non-rebellious teens is to start young. Teenage years are the reaping years where the seeds you have sown begin to bear fruit. (More on this in a future post.)

But you also have to change your approach to your child.

Next time we’ll look at how to maintain relationship with your teen so they will not feel the need to rebel.  

What are you expecting of your kids? Are you raising them to rebel?


[i] Friedrich Heer, Challenge of Youth (Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press, 1974), 128 emphasis mine

About The Author

Jennifer Lovemore

Jennifer has diplomas in relationship counselling and CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), is a certified SYMBIS facilitator, and is certified in TPM (Transformation Prayer Minsitry). She lives in South Africa, has three grown children, and is married to her best friend – Richard.

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