Why Boundaries Can Be a Good Thing
This article was written by the former chair of our Youth Advisory Board, Sarah Hinstorff, with contributions by Youth Advisory Board members Gaby Baum and Talia Ginsburg.
Boundaries vs. Independence
All teens want, need and deserve the freedom to grow, explore and learn. But we also need our parents’ guidance and support. We need some boundaries to keep us safe in an uncertain world. Finding a balance between these two seemingly competing forces takes open communication between parents and teens.
While we all want a certain amount of independence to grow, it is sometimes better to gain new freedoms gradually. And it is reassuring to have boundaries that keep us safe and rules that set us up for success, and guidance that prepares us to be our best selves. The options open to us can be daunting, and the amount of decisions we are faced with on a daily basis can be overwhelming, leaving many of us feeling insecure about making mistakes. Parents are able to provide a supportive environment to help us navigate this uncertain landscape.
Adults have the benefit of life experience, and we must try to be receptive when they offer advice and respectful when they establish certain rules to protect us. At the same time, we must let them know when we are in need of some space or when we are ready to take on new responsibilities.
The Benefits of Structure
Rules set boundaries and provide expectations for behavior. Rules can actually work in your favor by providing structure in your life. Work with your parents to learn why they create certain rules for you. Help them understand that you also need the freedom to explore on your own.
Acknowledge that you know your parents enforce rules to protect you, but speak up when you feel you’ve earned looser restrictions. You might say: “I feel like I’ve earned a later curfew because I’ve shown you that I will get home on time and have earned your trust all year.” In the end, gaining more responsibility comes down to proving you deserve it through your actions. Build trust with your parents, so that you can gradually expand your independence.
It Starts with Communication
Open communication about your needs is critical in working with your parents to establish a household structure that is most beneficial to you. Your parents cannot read your mind, so work with them and discuss what does and does not work for you.
Growing up is a push-pull process. Be willing to give a little and to compromise with your parents. Work to establish effective communication habits with your parents, in which you can openly discuss your feelings about rules and work towards developing boundaries on which you both agree. If you accept rules that your parents put in place to ensure your safety, they will be more likely to trust you to make your own choices. With open communication, you can strike the balance between a sometimes-daunting amount of independence and a supportive, rather than restrictive, amount of structure.
Thoughts From Members of the Youth Advisory Board
“When trying to make tough decisions, ask for a few ways in which your parent’s may handle the situation. This both gives you guidelines and guidance on how to proceed, but ultimately allows for you to make a decision. Navigating within boundaries will likely make you feel much safer, while still having ownership over your life.”
“From my experience, rules guide us what is right, what is wrong, what is acceptable, and unacceptable. There is a rule for almost everything we encounter in life. The rules may seem endless… but they are in place for good reason. Without them, everything would be chaos.”