7 Smart Tips for Setting Boundaries

7 Smart Tips for Setting Boundaries

You likely remember the thrills that came with pushing boundaries set for you by your parents. Part of the reason it was a “thrill” is because you were doing what you were supposed to be doing as a teen — testing your limits and expanding your boundaries. The teen years are the time to establish freedom and new limits. But adolescents need parents who are setting boundaries and controlling a pace that matches their growing maturity. In truth, this isn’t really about you controlling anything. Rather, it’s giving them the gift of self-control.

Here are seven tips to keep in mind before, during and after setting good boundaries.

1) Start with Love

Before you even begin talking about limits with your teens, start with something positive — how much you care about them and their well-being. Something they’ve done to make you proud. How much you love them. Let them know that the point of setting boundaries is to keep them safe, not to ruin a good time. Remind them you’re on their side. When you do start talking about boundaries, they are more apt to listen and respect what is established. You understand they want independence. But you care so much that you must make sure they stay within safe boundaries.

2) Start Early

Don’t wait until your children are teenagers to set boundaries. Establish them consistently when they are younger (e.g. “Don’t start crossing the street without stopping and holding my hand.”)  By the time they’re teenagers, they’ll understand what’s expected. It will make things much easier when you do set limits, further reinforcing what you’ve been doing for a while. As they get older, you’ll be able to loosen the boundaries as they earn your trust by demonstrating responsibility and good judgement.

3) Timing is Everything

Ok, maybe not everything — but it does make a difference when choosing the best time to have a conversation about setting limits. Don’t establish boundaries at a time when either of you are angry, vulnerable or excited. It’s best to have level heads as you talk. If you set boundaries when angry, teens may think they are about punishment. Choose a time of day when teens are awake, alert and relaxed. If possible, try to let them know in advance what the conversation will be about.

It’s okay to ask your children what they think is reasonable as you are creating boundaries. Explain that you are willing to negotiate – to a point.

4) Be Sure Your Children Understand the Difference Between Privileges and Rights

Your children are entitled to food, clothing and shelter. Never hold these things back as a consequence. They are not entitled to staying out late, cell phones, use of a car, etc. Those are privileges that can be withheld if you choose. It’s typically more effective to withhold something closely related to the issue at hand. For example, if you notice your daughter spending too much time on social media, it’s reasonable to not permit cell phone use until homework is completed. If she breaks that rule consistently, it makes sense to take away the phone as a consequence. It would not make sense to tell her she can’t use the family car.

5) Be Willing to Negotiate…up to a Point

It’s okay to ask your children what they think is reasonable as you are creating boundaries. Explain that you are willing to negotiate – to a point. Keep in mind that if you are too strict, there’s a chance they may rebel against your rules. But make it clear that when safety or morality are at risk, you will not bend. Let them know you will revisit rules after a period of time – that is, if they’ve earned your trust by following limits you’ve set.



Setting Boundaries

Adolescence is a time to test limits. Parents should set boundaries that permit exploration, but that also keep children safe. Click through to discover ways you can effectively create limits for teens.



Begin by reminding teens how much they are loved. When children know parents are on their side, they are less likely to feel as though you’re out to stop them from having fun and more likely to understand you’re preparing them for a successful future.



Point out that rules are a fact of life for everyone. Doing so helps teens understand living within certain limits is a normal part of life.



Make expectations clear. Talk with teens when emotions aren’t running high. Review established limits as well as the consequences of ignoring them.


Be Consistent

Young people should be aware that boundaries for keeping them safe won’t change. Other limits are flexible, expanding as they demonstrate trustworthiness.

6) Practice What You Preach

Parents who live and lead by example, show their teens how it’s possible to live within various boundaries in their lives. Even though it’s sometimes hard to drive the speed limit when you’re in a rush, it’s set for your safety and that of others, so you do it. If you will arrive home later than expected, your family knows where you are and how they might contact you. When parents demonstrate how to live within reasonable limits, teens are more likely to accept the boundaries set for them.

7) Follow Through with Consequences

As much as possible, allow for natural consequences to take place in situations in which limits have been pushed too far. If you have set a particular consequence for your children, be sure to follow through when rules are broken. It’s important to maintain your credibility and reinforce that boundaries are important. Don’t establish consequences that you are unable to follow through on.

With some forethought and open and honest communication, you can set and enforce boundaries effectively. And giving your teens boundaries to push against will allow them to safely explore.  

About Eden Pontz

Eden Pontz is Executive Producer and Director of Digital Content for CPTC. She oversees digital media content development and production for Parentandteen.com. She also writes, copyedits, and produces articles, podcasts, and videos for the site. Her pieces cover a range of topics including teen development, peer pressure, and mentoring. Eden brings years of experience as a former Executive Producer of Newsgathering at CNN, as well as a field producer, writer, and reporter for CNN and other news organizations.

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