How To Set Boundaries With Your Teen or Tween
Out of control is how a lot of parents feel when their children morph into teenagers. They’re more moody, impulsive, illogical, and self-centered than before. You may feel like all of your buttons are being pushed and they are constantly testing your limits. You may desire to control every little thing they do out of fear or give up on them all together. It is normal to feel the wide range of fear, anger, and frustration at this stage as a parent. During this time in your child’s life, you must adjust how you parent so that you can be what they need you to be during this very emotional and confusing life stage for them. The needs of adolescents are very different than those of an elementary aged child. They may not think they need you during this time, but they do more than ever! Just in a different way.
The following are some common challenges my clients have brought to me in raising their teens:
- Disrespectful attitudes towards parents, siblings, or others
- Self-absorbed teen that cannot see anything but their perspective
- Laziness: do not take responsibility around home or at school
- Emotionally withdraw from the relationship with you or with your spouse
- Lies about activities in or outside of the home
- Uses substances: alcohol, drugs, etc.
- Not wanting to be around family and being caught up in friends
- Engages in sexual activity: masturbation, pornography, sexual relationships with opposite or same sex
The above issues are prevalent not just among my clients, but also for parents all over the world. The common conflict in the following statements is the parent’s need for control and teenagers desire for complete freedom. There are many principles that when applied can help aid you and your teen during this challenging time when you both are experiencing a lot of internal conflict. The following concepts are from a book called, “Boundaries With Teens” by John Townsend. Many have gone before you using the following concepts. They will provide encouragement and direction to you and your teen.
What is a Boundary?
It is important to address this concept first as it is foundational for what will come following. “A boundary is one’s personal property line. They are how you define yourself, say who you are and who you are not, set limits, and establish consequences if people are attempting to control you. When you say ‘no’ to someone’s bad behavior you set a boundary,” (Townsend, 12). Teens need good boundaries in order to make it through this stage in life. Healthy boundaries provide them with a sense of structure, self-control, and a sense of ownership to discover who they are. This process begins with you are the parent. The following concepts will help you to know when to say “yes” and when to say “no.”
Get to Know Your Teen
There was a time in your life when you had difficulties as an adolescent. I am sure they are not times you always want to remember, but allow those memories to help you to have empathy for your teen and what they may be experiencing during this time. Sometimes we can look down on those going through a phase we have already come through, such as adolescence, and discredit their experience. Getting to know your teen and being empathic will help you to know how and when to say yes and no. It does not mean you are condoning their behavior or agreeing with them, but it means you are trying to understand who they are and what they are going through. Your teen needs to know you want a relationship with them. If your teen thinks you want to spend time with them so you can fix them, you will get a lot of resistance and will have trouble building the essential relationship they need in their life during this time. It is important you try to listen versus lecture during this time. Refrain from moralizing each thing they say. The Bible says, “A man’s heart is a deep water, and a man of understanding draws them out,” (The Bible, Proverbs 20: 5). You can draw out their heart by asking specific open-ended questions like, “How is your friend in your science class?” “What was your teacher like today?” You then can begin with asking questions about facts and then move to thoughts and emotions based on their answers to these questions. You can also let your teen know you want to spend time with them here and there throughout the week and you want to check in on them and see how they are doing. This can be helpful for them to know, so they understand your intentions for asking them questions about their life.
Teens learn responsibility and self-control to the extent that their parents have healthy boundaries. “Kids learn more from what they experience than what they hear,” (Townsend, 30). Therefore, it is important not just to discuss boundaries in the home, but also to enforce them when they are not adhered to. There will be a powerful lesson learned when your teen makes a choice and a consequence is followed through with. The following are important in helping you to have boundaries so that your teens can learn from you:
You need to know what is important to you. What you value and what you want. When the boundaries are defined you know what to expect from your teen versus you doing what they expect of you. Here are some components of good boundaries:
This is when you have a different sense of self from your children. Therefore, you can experience your feelings and perceptions as different from your child. Parents like this can stand separate from child’s anger, demands, and drama and can respond appropriately without getting caught in the drama. This is where you decide to let go of making it your responsibility to make them happy. Instead, you are focused on creating an atmosphere where their true happiness is possible.
Teens can sniff out when you are being fake. They may not appreciate your honesty, but it is a template for how they will deal with others in the future. Being honest means directly confronting children when they have crossed a boundary.
Teens will attempt to run you down to get what they want. Teens need to head butt with you and not prolong or forget about their consequence. Parents with boundaries stick with the plan and are persistent with it as long as they are reasonable and they say “no” to attempts to manipulate or wear them down.
It is important to establish thought-out rules for your home. When they are written down and agreed upon by your spouse and you then they can be communicated to your teen. They do not need to be agreed on by your teen. This helps you to be accountable to following through on consequences when they are not followed and helps the teen to have reasonable limits that are known. It is important these rules are reasonable and if you need help understanding what reasonable would look like it may be helpful to ask a professional or a friend whom you respect in their parenting who is not afraid to be honest with you.
Hopefully, this information was helpful to you in providing a framework of thought in helping your teen. It starts with parents first and will benefit them tremendously if you are willing to do your part.
There may be a situation with your teen that may make you feel overwhelmed or unsure of what to do. In those cases, I would suggest you seek professional help to consult with someone who knows how to help.
Townsend, J. S. (2006). Boundaries with teens: When to say yes, how to
say no. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.