The word “boundaries” sounds harsh, doesn’t it? Like it’s something threatening to “cage” you in or “restrict” you. And, in most teen’s minds, those boundaries are more like rules and seem to serve only to take away fun and freedom. However, the reality is: healthy relationships, growth, and change cannot happen without boundaries.
So what exactly are boundaries, you ask? Webster defines boundaries as: something that indicates or fixes a limit or extent. A physical example of this would be fences on a ranch; when desiring to keep your horses safe, you build fences to show the limit or extent of to where the horses can wander. When dealing with people, a boundary could be as simple as “No talking to Mom while she’s on the phone” or “You’re only allowed an hour of computer time a day.” These boundaries show individuals where the limit is.
So, parents, does setting boundaries always mean saying “no” to your teen’s desires? Absolutely not. Just like a door that opens and closes boundaries include saying “yes” and saying “no.” In giving your teen an appropriate level of freedom and independence, you are paving the way for them to experience life – and life isn’t always perfect. Thus, your teen will experience both success and failure. They may choose to speed but the natural life consequence is getting a speeding ticket. So, your boundaries are allowing them to live and learn. However, if your teen seriously breaches trust, a one-way only door may be necessary. In this case, know that those doors can always later be replaced with two-way hinges.
Be willing to change things up. Sure, it made sense that curfew was 9 PM when your child was just starting middle school but, as a senior, an 11 PM curfew might be okay. Make this work for your family in whatever way you need it to; as they change, perhaps you should too.
What about that hot topic of the opposite gender? Despite possibly feeling awkward and uncomfortable, this is a greatly important topic to discuss with your teens. They’re going to hear it – wouldn’t you rather it comes from you? The media and shows like “Teen Mom” and “The Bachelor” portray a slanted view of romance. Discuss the ups and downs of relationships with your teen, support them when they feel rejected and rejoice when they find a healthy match. Talk about sex before marriage and the many risks. Encourage them to set boundaries in their dating relationships and don’t be afraid to ask questions. They may temporarily hate you for it, but they’ll thank you in the long run.
And how about you, parent? We all need to set boundaries in our lives for sanity, health, and modeling purposes. If your teens don’t see appropriate boundary-setting from you, where else will they receive it? For married parents, work together as a team. Know the boundaries you are setting with your kids and stick to it. For separated parents, set your own boundaries and rules and, whether they differ from the other parent’s rules or not, follow through. Your teens need this stability from you. And so do you.
So, go on! Decide what matters to you and set a boundary. Explain it to your teen and always follow through. Cheer on, encourage, and challenge your child. Keep in mind that their future of being a healthy, mature, and independent adult partially has to do with your ability to set those boundaries. Boundaries aren’t meant to “cage” and “restrict” your teen after all; they’re actually meant to set them free.
By: Dara Miller, Affinity Mental Health Intern
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