Hey, parents! Do you sometimes have a hard time telling friends, coworkers, or family members “no”? Or, alternatively, have you been accused of keeping everyone at arm’s length? These are hallmark signs of having poor boundaries. Of course, boundaries are challenging and an expansive topic, but today we are focusing on boundaries with your teen or… bless your heart if this applies to you… teenagers.
If you’ve ever participated in one of my parenting groups, you know I’m down to earth, I tell it like it is, and I often find a way to see the funny in life as a therapist. But, guys — even for me, raising teenagers is a whole different level of challenging.
So, let’s talk about having and supporting the development of healthy boundaries with your teen. Because regardless of how much better teenagers think they know better than us, we are still destined to be the voice inside their heads.
I like to describe boundaries as personal “rules of engagement.” Now, these rules are well-known to you but not necessarily conveyed to others using words. Instead, actions convey boundaries. Some examples of basic boundaries are things like people should not raise their voice at you, they should not take advantage of you, they should not coerce you into doing things you don’t want to do and, regardless of their intentions, you should not feel uncomfortable around them.
How do we enforce these “rules of engagement” when we know we cannot control other people? We may not be able to control their actions, but we can most certainly control ours. The best way to enforce boundaries is, without frustration or words, to stop engaging with people who violate boundaries! If the room you are in contains people who don’t follow your rules of engagement, change rooms.
Healthy boundaries help us to focus on important things in life. Boundaries help us develop a strong sense of self and live within our value systems. They help us manage our stress and maintain our confidence in our ability to handle the big obstacles that are inevitably part of life.
6 Ways You Can Teach Your Teen Healthy Boundaries
- Model Healthy Boundaries
Modeling is the greatest form of behavior modification. If you want your teen to have good boundaries, you need to have them first. The same rule applies to confidence and self-love. Sorry folks, but that old adage, “Do as I say, not as I do,” is pure bologna. You, as the parent, need to have healthy boundaries, but if you struggle there’s good news! Here at Dawn Institute, we can work with you to develop healthier boundaries so you can set an example for your kids. We offer individual counseling, family counseling, trainings, and group therapy for parents.
- Remember, You Are Not Their Friend
This one is very important and is also a hallmark indicator of a larger problem. Whenever I hear a client tell me that their child is their best friend, I know there is a lot more to unpack. Sorry parents, but your kiddo needs you to be their parent. Instead of plotting with them to get revenge on the girl who stole their boyfriend, you need to be encouraging them to talk through their feelings and reminding them that they don’t need people like that in their life. Also, remember that while you are slowly transitioning them toward independence, you need to take charge with the safety stuff. If your teen asks you not to seek help for them when they are having suicidal thoughts or self-harming, do it anyway. You are their parent, and you know better. They will thank you later.
- Your Teen Is Not Your Emotional Support Person
You cannot turn to your teenager for support and comfort. You are the boat driver and, as such, you need to keep all passengers from panicking and jumping ship. As much as your teen may want to be there for you, it will compromise their feelings of safety to know you are not in control. Having a teenage boy who is unbelievably kindhearted, I know it can be hard sometimes to tell him I’m okay and not to worry about me… but it’s so vital. He needs to know I have things under control so his focus can remain on being a kid who’s transitioning to adulthood. Whenever I work with clients who were an emotional support for their parent as a child or adolescent, I’m inevitably working with someone who is struggling with anxiety. It’s okay to need emotional support, but you should confide in other adults.
- Start with Love and Respect
Your teen needs to feel supported and valued for them to be in a place to receive any message you need them to hear. Counselors are often taught Carl Rogers’s concept of having “unconditional positive regard” for our clients as a basic framework for our practice. Why is this so important? As therapists, we offer clients a healthy example of what a relationship should look like and an opportunity to see themselves the way they should have always seen themselves. With a foundation of unconditional positive regard in place, teens are able to hear your concerns and trust your judgement.
- Have Clear Rules and Consequences
You need to have boundaries with your teen. It starts with you and it’s important to convey to them that rules and expectations are there for a reason, often to help life go smoothly and to teach them internal regulation skills. Allow them to be a part of the rule development process and have a say in determining consequences. Kids are much more likely to follow rules when they have a hand in making them. Also important to mention here is that you need to have flexibility. As your kids and teens mature, so should your expectations of them, their levels of independence, and consequences for breaking agreements.
- Teach Teens to Recognize When a Boundary is Needed
The signal that a boundary is needed often comes in the form of a feeling, such as frustration, nervousness, or guilt, but it can also be simple intuition. Teach your teen to trust their gut. It is important to keep the lines of communication open because there are many things your teen is navigating for the first time. Signs that a boundary is needed might include:
- Feeling unsafe
- Someone is doing something that goes against your values
- Feeling anger or resentment
- Complaining about something you agreed to do
- Helping someone who is not helping themselves
- Feeling overly responsible for someone else’s feelings
- Feeling others won’t like you if you don’t do what they want you to
- Feeling pressured to do or say something
If you or your teen struggle with setting and maintaining healthy boundaries, remember it is a process and Dawn Institute is here to help you achieve those goals and more. Contact Dawn today for more information and support.