How to Set Boundaries with Teens

boundaries with teens

If you are a parent to a teen or preteen, you know these years with them are fun and challenging.  From hormones to peer pressure, to staying up on the newest social media trend, this time is hard on parents!  If you struggle with boundaries yourself, it can be hard to know when and how to implement them with your teen.  Today on the blog I’m going to tackle boundaries with teens, and why they are so important to set.

What are Boundaries?

Boundaries are bumpers we put in place to protect ourselves and to protect our loved ones.  When we set boundaries with others, we teach them how we want to be treated.  We also communicate what we will and won’t accept from others.  When you set boundaries with teens, you are communicating your expectations for them.

While teenagers may look at boundaries as more “rules”, you as the parent know they are meant to keep them safe.  It’s important to note that teens’ brains are still developing and growing until they are 25 years old, so they don’t have the capacity to process and look at situations through the same lens that parents can.

Here’s a perfect example of how you and your teen may approach a situation differently.  Imagine that your teenage daughter gets invited to visit a friend at a college.  Your daughter is excited to hang out with older college kids and visit their friend, while also experiencing some of what college is like.  However, you as the parent may view this situation differently.  You know that there is a chance your daughter may be exposed to drinking or even drugs.  You also know that there is a high rate of sexual assault on college campuses.

Your brain may think of all the things that could go wrong and know that your teen may have not the capacity to handle some of those situations.  All your teenager thinks about is how much fun they will have.  Your teenager may not have the maturity, life experience, or wisdom to think through why this may not be a good choice for them.  That’s why it’s important to set boundaries with your teens.  Sometimes this means saying “no” to them, even if they think you’re being unfair.

Boundaries Communicate Respect

When you set a boundary with your teen, it’s important to communicate respect.  This means not saying things like “Because I’m the parent” or “Because I said so”.  Sometimes this means hearing your teen out and listening to what they have to say about the topic.  Using the above example, I’m sure your teenager could come up with all the reasons why you should let them go on that college visit.

Sometimes you can’t make a decision at the moment and you need to process it with your partner (or if you’re a single parent, another supportive adult).  Regardless, respect means explaining why you are making the decision you are making.  This doesn’t mean that they will be happy or completely understand your thinking.  But, when you show respect to your teen, you also earn it from them.  It’s important for them to hear your thought process so they can begin to understand in small ways that you are protecting them and not just being mean.

What do you do when your teen is very trustworthy?  Sometimes this means still saying “no” and explaining that it’s not just about them.  I remember my parents saying “We trust you.  It’s other people that we don’t trust”.  This is true in situations like letting them drive at night when there is an increase in others driving drunk.  It’s also true in situations where a sexual assault could occur, or illegal activities may occur.  While it’s true that you can’t keep your teen in a bubble, you can set boundaries with where they go and what they do in order to help keep them safe.

Boundaries with Teens Examples

  • Time is an important boundary to teach your teens.  Sometimes this means limiting the extra-curricular activities they participate in so they can focus on academics.  Oftentimes this means also telling them “no” to a social event so they can spend their time on other things (academics, chores, rest, etc.).
  • Setting dating limits.  One example of this is not allowing them to date until they are 16, so in case there is an emergency, they can drive and get themselves out of a bad situation.  It can also be not allowing those of the opposite sex in your teen’s bedroom, not allowing doors to be closed, setting time limits on having boyfriends or girlfriends over.
  • Teens need technology boundaries.  Sometimes this may mean taking a break from their phones, computers, tablets, etc.  Teenagers are so inundated with information that sometimes they need to allow their brains to rest and detox.
  • Social media boundaries are also important.  What are you okay with your teen posting online?  Are they communicating in an age-appropriate way?  Are you monitoring their social media accounts to make sure they are being safe?
  • Chores and household expectations.  What responsibilities do they have around the house?  Also, make sure that you are clearly communicating what the consequences will be of not completing their household duties.
  • Your teen deserves some privacy.  For example, there should be a boundary that all family members knock before you enter their room.  But the balance of allowing privacy and also keeping tabs on them to keep them safe is a fine line.
  • Driving boundaries are important to communicate with your teenager.  Sometimes this looks like not having multiple people in the car to decrease distracted driving.  This can also look like cleaning up after themselves, replacing any gas that they use, etc.

Final Thoughts about Boundaries with Teens

Of course, remember that boundaries will change as your teen gets older and accepts more responsibility.  What boundaries look like for a 13-year-old will be different from a 16-year-old.  Giving your teen opportunities to earn trust and try new things is also important.  Boundaries will also be different depending on your teen’s personality and maturity.  What works for one family may look very different than another.

If you are struggling with boundaries with your teen, please reach out for help!   

Written by Christy Fogg, MSW, LCSW

*Christy Fogg, MSW, LCSW is a licensed therapist at Journey to Joy Counseling in Carmel, Indiana. Christy enjoys doing marriage/couples counseling, individual counseling, premarital counseling. She also provides family counseling, teen and adolescent counseling.