Creating Safe Boundaries for Teens to Push Against
Pushing Limits and Needing Safe Boundaries
Do you remember your teenage years and how you wanted so badly to push new boundaries and begin testing out adulthood? If you don’t, think back. Remember the arguments you had with your parents over wanting a later curfew? How about the “discussions” over wanting to be allowed to go out with friends to a place your parents didn’t want you to go? Turn back the clock and reflect on how you, as a teen, established your independence. Now think about boundaries your own teen may be wanting to push. How can we make them safe boundaries?
Adolescence is a time to explore new limits. It’s a time to take on new challenges. But if a teenager takes on too much at once, it can be overwhelming . . . even dangerous. When parents let teens take on more, a little bit at a time, they can move towards increasing independence without rushing and while still under your watchful eye.
Why Adolescents Need Safe Boundaries
Teens need boundaries and guidelines. Not that they’d always admit it. (Did you?) Part of your teen’s job is to test boundaries and push for you to expand them. With so many things going on in adolescence, having a parent/guardian set safe boundaries in the first place gives an important sense of stability. It helps teens control the rate at which they’re changing. It gives clear, safe borders to push against.
Why Parents Need to Set Safe Boundaries
Setting effective boundaries will help reduce conflicts with your teens. It’s true! Setting safe boundaries is part of a balanced parenting style. And we know that this type of parenting style leads to so many positive things for teens — like better grades, less drinking and drug use, and safer driving. By setting clear limits, you’ll improve communication and continue building a trusting relationship.
We must help our teens understand that we’re establishing rules because we love and care for them. We are invested in their safety. If our teens feel safe because of our rules, they may approach challenges with more confidence.
Not only that, but it’s important to recognize that our children are growing up. When we loosen the reins little by little, we allow them to become more independent.
Begin with a Reminder of Your Love
As parents, part of our job is to set limits for our children in a way that actually increases freedom. While that concept may seem at odds with the result, it doesn’t have to be. The key is establishing boundaries with the goal of protecting our adolescents. When we set limits with the goal of controlling our teens, we restrict them. Instead, teens need to be permitted to try the new things they feel able to handle, and not to be stifled by our rules. Letting teens push the boundaries builds stronger, more confident young people.
It’s very possible that setting boundaries may cause some conflict. After all, even as adults, we typically don’t love having others limit us. Begin the conversation with a reminder of how much you love your teens. Let them know you are on their side. You care about them and what happens to them. Letting our tweens and teens feel secure in how much we love them, allows them to feel much less like we’re out to stop them from having fun. It allows them to grasp that the reason we monitor is that we love them and want to prepare them for a successful future.
Explain and Model Limits
Certain limits are a part of life for all of us. From following speed limits to paying taxes to not drinking before a certain age, we face many rules, requirements, and laws every day. We must explain and model the laws and rules we follow. This helps teens see that taking responsibility and living within certain limits is a normal part of life.
Communicate in a Way Teens Will Understand
The teen brain is still growing in its abilities to control impulses and determine right from wrong. Spend some time talking at a time when emotions are not on high. Go through potential scenarios they may encounter based on choices made. Review the safe limits that you’ve established as well as consequences for going beyond set boundaries. Help teens work through the potential causes and effects of their actions and choices.
What’s Not Allowed
Make sure teens are clear that if they’re thinking of pushing the limits in any way that compromises safety, it’s not permitted. A dare from friends to play chicken by running across a street with oncoming traffic is not acceptable. End of story. If morality is threatened, it’s a no-go. Remind them to think about the potential negative, long-term implications of decisions. You may not be there when choices are made. But hopefully, they’ll hear your voice in the back of their head with these reminders.
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.
Young people should be aware that boundaries for keeping them safe won’t change. Other limits are flexible, expanding as they demonstrate trustworthiness.
Remember This When Setting Boundaries
As you consider what boundaries to set within your own, unique family situation, think about these points:
- Remind your teens that you care about them and are on their side.
- Set consistent limits. If you establish limits at random, you may encounter resentment, or be ignored altogether. At the same time, let your teens understand that “consistent” does not mean inflexible, permanent, or unchangeable. Those boundaries that protect from issues that could challenge safety or morality will remain firmly in place; otherwise, they will expand as they prove increasingly capable. Consider changing established limits as teens demonstrate trustworthiness.
- Set limits that are clear and specific. Make sure teens clearly understand the reasons and expectations behind limits you’ve set. You may have some “always” or “never” rules for safety. For example, “Always wear a seatbelt. They save lives and I care about yours.” Or, “You are never permitted to drive if you have been drinking alcohol. Not only are you putting yourself at risk, but you’re putting others at risk as well.”
- Clearly state any exceptions you may have. “Typically we don’t allow you to go out on a school night. However, I’m willing to make an exception tonight because you finished your homework and you’ll be home by 9:30 so I know you’ll get enough sleep.”
- Remind your teens of consequences for going outside the boundaries. “If you come home after your 10 pm curfew, you will not be permitted to go out with friends next weekend.”
- Understand that teens may choose to either follow or reject the rules. If rules are rejected, teens should expect to face consequences. Review how you’re establishing and enforcing limits in the first place. Read this piece for more on establishing rules teens will follow.
If you take the time to establish safe borders, you’ll find adolescence can be a great learning experience for you and your teens — even when they push boundaries. You’ll keep them safe, while still supporting increasing independence and celebrating growth. They’ll learn about when it’s safe to push and how to set limits for themselves when they eventually head off without you. Your voice of caution will be in their heads early on … eventually to be replaced with their own.