Hi, parents of teenagers! How are you holding up? Seriously… you okay? I know it’s rough. On top of navigating their moodiness, you’re trying to keep them safe and give them more independence. You hope that they’re making good choices. Because you don’t want them to make the same mistakes you did, and you try to be there whenever they need you. You wonder if their friends are good influences. Maybe you wonder if their struggles are normal or if they are evidence that you failed somehow… I might be projecting a bit on that last one.
Thankfully, there is something that is going to help you support your teenager and make your life better: boundaries. I just can’t say enough about healthy boundaries and how much they give us space to live our best lives. Once you set boundaries, learning how to enforce boundaries is the important next step.
The Hard Part of Boundary-Setting
In previous blogs, we’ve gone over Helping your Teens Develop Healthy Boundaries. So you may already know how to recognize when your teens need boundaries and how you, as a parent, can develop healthy boundaries with your teens. Next, we are going to focus on ways to better enforce and maintain those boundaries. Remember, modeling is the greatest form of behavior modification, so these tips are just as useful for you as they are for your teenager. That’s right, you can’t just teach it – you must practice it yourself.
How to Enforce Boundaries
- Be Patient With Yourself
If you have struggled with understanding and setting boundaries, enforcing them is going to be the biggest challenge for you. Understandably, you are likely to feel uncomfortable when first establishing your boundaries. Just remember that with practice and time, it gets easier.
- Stop Justifying
You do not need to explain your boundaries. Your boundaries do not have to be explained or justified to be worthy of enforcing. If people argue, put you down, or try to convince you that you are being selfish, justifying your boundaries will be like a foreign language to them. You are not guilty of doing something wrong, so there is no need to justify having healthy boundaries.
- Be Clear and Concise
If you do explain your boundaries to someone, remember to be clear, not angry or emotional, and to use as few words as possible. If that doesn’t satisfy them, oh well. You have already wasted valuable time doing the explaining as a courtesy so it’s time to move on.
- Don’t Argue
There is no need to argue about your boundaries to the people you are setting them with. It’s not worth the frustration. If they don’t agree or understand, they are probably not healthy enough to be in your life right now anyway. You are not responsible for their feelings; only they are responsible for how they feel.
- Boundaries are Strong Enough Without Anger
Be firm, calm, and respectful. Arguing won’t help. People are more likely to respect your boundaries if you are not setting them with rage in your eyes and steam coming out of your ears. Trust that the boundary speaks for itself, even without displaying strong emotions.
- Believe In Your Right To Set Boundaries
If you feel guilty or selfish when setting boundaries, just remind yourself that you have the right to take care of yourself. It will get easier with consistency and time.
- Don’t Take Responsibility For Others’ Feelings
You are not responsible for how people respond to your boundaries, and you can’t put someone else’s feelings over your boundaries. You can only control your own feelings, which means you can’t control the feelings and experiences of others. Even if they take boundary-setting personally, remember that trying to control someone else’s feelings is a fool’s game. It’s not personal — it’s just self-care.
- Actions Over Words
As often as possible, establish and maintain your boundaries without using words — display them in your actions. For example, if someone is not respecting your boundaries, don’t hang out with them. If every time you talk to your Auntie Karen, she starts complaining about Uncle Fred, practice these words: “Oops Auntie Karen I have to go. I’ll call you later.” Then hang up. Later can mean this evening or next week, but Auntie Karen will eventually stop talking to you about Uncle Fred because you’re no fun to talk to.
- Healthy Relationships Respect Boundaries
If the boundary that needs to be enforced is with someone you want to keep close, be assertive when you communicate your boundaries. Do not waver. Just inform them of what is wrong and what you need them to do. Be prepared to walk away or limit their opportunity to violate your boundaries if they don’t respect them. Teens and their families often find this difficult, so prepare as parents to support them. If you are an adult and someone is not respecting your boundaries, love yourself enough to respect their decision and let them go.
- Be Prepared for Unhealthy People to Test Your Boundaries
When people test your boundaries, stay strong and do not apologize or make exceptions. Preparation helps when they try to come up with new ways to get you to let down your boundaries. If you give in, you are teaching them that your threshold for their shenanigans has increased. Additionally, it teaches what line they have to cross to get you to give in. Much like a toddler yelling for a cookie before his mac-n-cheese is ready, giving in when he throws a toy opens the door to a whole new toy-dodging lifestyle.
Support Is Available
If you or your teen struggle with setting and maintaining healthy boundaries, remember that learning how to enforce boundaries is a process. Dawn Institute is here to help you achieve these goals and more. Click here to request services, or check out our current group therapy offering for parents. You can also sign up for our newsletter to be notified of our upcoming teen group. Thanks for being a part of the Dawn difference!