Setting boundaries for teenagers

Many people will remember the battles to stay out for half an hour longer, or go somewhere that our parents thought was not appropriate. Setting boundaries for your teens is an essential part of parenting and a teenager’s natural instinct is to push the boundaries that their parents set.

Having firm boundaries teaches teens that they have responsibilities and that their actions have consequences. That sets them up to take a place in society and the workplace where they know that there are limits and they cannot just behave in any way they choose without possible repercussions. So, as difficult as those battles with your teenager may be, it is vital that they know where they stand.

Going round in circles

Remember your own teenage years and think about what you can learn from that experience. It can be tempting to do the complete opposite to what your own parents did. For example, if you grew up with really strict parents you might, as a parent, want to be very flexible and not set rules for your teenager.

The teenager may enjoy this freedom – or they may feel confused and that their parents do not care enough about them to set rules or to know where they are going. When they become parents, they are unlikely to set clear rules and boundaries for their own children – and so it goes on.

What you can do

Establish rules and clear consequences of breaking those rules

Writing the agreed rules down in the form of a contract works for many families. There can be no disagreement about what the rule was and what the consequence of breaking it might be if it is written down and signed by all parties. That might seem a bit formal for you but give it a try, you might be pleasantly surprised.

Stick to the rules and back each other up 

Teenagers are going to test the boundaries, although some will do it in a small way while others will go for the “grand gesture”. As parents, you need to maintain a united front, and you must stick to the consequences when your teen breaks rules.

Give positive messages

Teenagers are going through a difficult phase of discovering who they are as people and there is often a big drop in their self confidence during this period. Parents can help by reinforcing the positives to remind their teens of their strengths and qualities. Tell them you love them as often as you can – and teens are never too big or old to need a hug.

Share responsibility for the boundary setting

Ask them what they think would be reasonable – be willing to listen to a reasonable argument, and give way on some things. Part of setting boundaries for teenagers is helping them learn to set their own boundaries.

Lead by example

Demonstrating acceptable behaviour is sometimes more important than simply telling them what to do. Teenagers won’t accept the “do as I say, not as I do” argument easily. Parents need to show that they live within reasonable boundaries themselves, and that they consider the consequences of their behaviour on other people.

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