Boundaries are to protect life, not to limit pleasures. (Edwin Louis Cole).


I frequently discuss the importance of setting boundaries with parents, a practice that is relevant for children of all ages. The key difference lies in the specific boundaries and expectations appropriate for each developmental stage. For younger children, boundaries might focus on basic safety and behavior, while for teenagers, they become more complex and nuanced.

As teenagers develop critical thinking skills and learn to apply their principles and values to various situations, they become capable of establishing boundaries that ensure their safety and integrity. It’s crucial for parents to guide this process, helping their teens understand the importance of self-respect and personal limits. By fostering open communication and mutual respect, parents can support their teens in navigating the challenges of adolescence.

Here are my four essential rules for setting boundaries with teenagers, aimed at promoting their well-being and personal growth.

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 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 piece of advice I give parents is that they ultimately know what is best for their family. I cannot dictate what their teenager’s boundaries should be, as each family has its own unique dynamic. My role as a part of the team is to provide input and ask challenging questions that help parents make informed decisions.

As a parent coach, I encourage parents to reflect on their choices by considering their family principles and values. This reflection enables them to make decisions that are tailored to their family’s specific needs and circumstances. By establishing thoughtful and well-considered boundaries, parents can foster an environment that supports their teenager’s growth and development.

The ultimate goal is to prepare teenagers to leave home as strong, empowered individuals who can establish their own boundaries and maintain their health and well-being.