3. “What about setting limits and boundaries?”
Limits and boundaries mixed with sincere appreciation of the young person’s inner life (their thoughts and feelings) is something which young folks desperately need from adults. Their early childhood experience of rules, boundaries and limits from adults who cared about them (and for them) is their best chance to internalize a sense of safety and security later in life. Rules mean structure, and structure is a form of attention. (This is why children usually enjoy school.) Teens, of course, need to push, challenge, and test the rules all over again. They can evade and avoid rules and even brag about it, but what counts ten years later is that adults never changed the rules or limits under pressure or threat. “You returned an hour late. I am not happy. I expect better from you. And the rule stays the same.” Done. Don’t apologize, and don’t explain twice. (Saying it twice is lecturing.)
Put another way, kids who grow up learning that ‘rules don’t apply to me’ stumble into adulthood without key skills in self-control and self-discipline. They usually work out their impulses and emotional needs against police, mental health agencies, and other systems of authority for floundering adults.
4. “What are appropriate expectations?”
Appropriate expectations increase with age, and are best set slightly higher than a young person’s emotional age inside. (A growth challenge.) Does that make sense?
Try increasing choice, freedom and options. When they test and take advantage, you can apologize for moving too fast, and dial things back a notch. An adult’s job is to help young people grow at a pace appropriate to their emotional stage. And to do it without shaming.
Struggling young person?
Is the teen still denying, projecting, and hiding, as if much younger? Dial down the choices, freedom, and independence because they are crying for more structure, limits, and eyes-on supervision until they can catch up emotionally. And do this without shaming. Finally, the same young person may swing from one extreme to the other and back in a matter of days. Be prepared.
5. “What about suspending judgment?”
Openly judging actions, choices and events is important in a democratic society. However, judging people is best done discretely because people need one anothers support and encouragement to stay connected in community and to grow through struggles.
Put another way, when I am struggling and making quite a mess of it (“It’s all your fault!!”) what is most helpful is to continue to see a better image of me in your eyes as you continue to relate to me and share your observations. A judgment from you, on the other hand, can nail my sense of myself to my worst and hardest moments.