Pushing Boundaries Within Reason

This article was written by the former chair of our Youth Advisory Board, Sarah Hinstorff, with contributions by Youth Advisory Board member Paul Burdett.

Pushing Boundaries…Within Reason

An important part of being a teenager is to begin developing independence, both in thought and action. However, independence is not all gained at once. It often comes within boundaries set by parents. Parents expect us to behave in certain ways and obey their rules in order to keep us safe and to prepare us to be ready for life.

Our need to do more on our own doesn’t have to go against our parents’ need to protect us through certain rules and expectations. The balancing act is to keep pushing boundaries, while still showing we are responsible enough. When we find this balance, there’s a better chance our parents will let us do more — because we’ve shown we can handle it.

The Value of Boundaries

It’s important for us to understand why parents set rules in the first place. If you are unsure, ask them to explain why a particular boundary was established. Well-defined rules will help you better understand your parents’ expectations. Consider telling your parents you want to have a clear understanding of their rules.  This will make it much easier for you to grasp how their limits are intended to keep you safe. This kind of open communication will also assure they are more thoughtful about the rules they set. If it feels like the rule is more about controlling you than protecting you or offering you a valuable lesson, speak up for yourself. Respectfully explain how you want (and why you think you deserve!) something more or different.

While we need freedom to question our surroundings and create our own worldviews, we also need guidance from those with more expertise and experience.

Define, Follow, and Push Boundaries

As we develop our independence, we must also learn self-discipline. We must begin to set our own limits and form personal expectations. When we demonstrate self-control, understand consequences, and respect the rules, we show our maturity and display the skills that earn our parents’ trust. These skill-sets are also needed to become independent adults.

Earn parents’ trust and they will reward you with increased independence. Demonstrate responsibility to earn more privileges. Communicate with your parents if you feel you need more freedom in order to grow. If they trust your ability to make good, healthy decisions they will respect your need for independence.

Grow through Experience

We all make mistakes. If you break a rule or disobey a request, use the experience as a learning opportunity. Setbacks provide important opportunities for increased understanding and growth. During these challenging times, open and honest communication with your parents is the best way to demonstrate you’ve learned a lesson and are committed to regaining their trust.

Growing up is about finding a balance between achieving independence and following guidance from others who may have more experience. Be prepared to take ownership of your actions. As you prove that you can meet your parents’ expectations, over time you’ll earn increased flexibility and greater independence. Most importantly, you’ll learn to set and follow high expectations for yourself. You deserve it.

Parents Have to Know Why Pushing Limits is Important

Remember this: The way you’ll get increasing privileges is by showing through your actions you are ready for them and communicating with your thoughtful words why you need them. Get the conversation started.

If you think your parents would benefit from learning about this approach to parenting that allows you to stretch while still under their watchful eyes, share this piece with them.

Thoughts From Members of the Youth Advisory Board

Paul, 19

“At times, it can be hard to grow while also being obedient to your parents. If you always do what your parents say and never seek to experience new things, you’ll probably be in a great place with your parents, but probably won’t grow. And if you seek to experience new things while disregarding obedience to your parents, you’ll grow plenty, but you won’t have a very good relationship with your parents. And really, if you go one way or the other, ultimately, you’ll probably lose both a good relationship with your parents and not grow as much as you could otherwise. Really, the best environment for growth and developing relationships with your parents involves a balance of obedience and experiencing things on your own to grow.”

About Center for Parent and Teen Communication

CPTC is fortunate to receive editorial contributions from a range of multi-disciplinary experts, journalists, youth, and more.

Read more articles by this author

Get our weekly newsletter for practical tips to strengthen family connections.