Boundaries are to protect life, not to limit pleasures (Edwin Louis Cole)
I often have a discussion with parents on setting boundaries with teenagers, which really applies to any of your children. What changes is the boundary and the expectations. As our teenagers develop critical thinking skills and can effectively apply their principles and values to situations, they will be able to create boundaries that are safe and protect who they are. So here are my four rules of boundaries for teenagers.
First, share expectations. In a conversation share your expectations, what is acceptable and not acceptable. Be willing to share this boundary but then be willing to listen to the counter conversation. This is not a battle of wills, or yet again another opportunity to win in the conversation. This is about the relationship, and communication is the relationship. It is by listening to understand your teenager will understand what the boundary is of the behavior you are expecting in that situation. If the boundary is not clearly identified, then how does your teenager know when to stop, or when they are close to the boundary and may need an excuse to find an exit to the situation? Us as parents need to shoulder that burden of creating the boundary with and for our teenager. As our teenager learns and develops critical thinking skills, it will be easier and quicker to state the expectations and what the boundary is.
Next, I suggest that parents wait to say “yes” or “no”. A conversation is an opportunity to listen, to understand what your teenager is wanting or feeling. It is also an opportunity for you as the parent to share how you are feeling and what you are wanting for your teenager. It is sharing why you are deciding on the boundaries you have and to help your teenager develop critical thinking skills and also to gain an understanding of why you are making the decision you have. So wait to say “yes” or “no” and perhaps add an explanation to the “yes” or “no”. Putting the “yes” or “no” to a boundary provides context and learning and develops the relationship beyond the words.
The next rule when it comes to discussing boundaries, I always have the parents talk about accountability. You decide on the boundary. What is the accountability and sometimes the consequence of not keeping to the boundary? The boundary could be what you have decided is acceptable behavior for a party. You as a parent find out that the behavior your tenager participated in did not fall in that boundary and possibly even violated some principles and values you hold as a family. The opportunity here is that accountability and consequences are the responsibility of the teenager. How is that so? Is it not the parent that gives out the consequence and holds them accountable. Yes and no. During the discussion of the boundaries, the consequences of the breaking the boundary was discussed and agreed on by both the parents and the teenagers. Therefore the teenager decided to break the boundary and had decided on the course of action prior to the boundary being broken. So as the parent you are not giving out a consequence, you are simply enacting the consequence to the boundary that your teenager willingly went beyond. The conversation is not so negative but again reflects the opportunity to teach your teenager that they are held accountable to the decisions and choices they make. This is a skill that they need to develop and understand as it is a part of the adult world.
The final boundary advice I give parents is that they know what is best for their family. I cannot and I will not tell them what their teenager’s boundaries should be. Each family has their own unique dynamic, and I am a part of the team to provide input and to ask challenging questions so that parents can make the right choice for their family. As a parent coach I offer questions for the parents to reflect on. I encourage parents to examine their decisions based on family principles and values. That way they can make the best decision for their family. By making the best decision for their family and teenager, they are able to create boundaries that encourage the growth and development of their teenager. The ultimate goal is that their teenager leaves home and becomes a strong empowered individual who can create their own boundaries to maintain their health.