Teenagers and Boundaries

June 30, 2022
Asifa Rapaiee

About the author: Samantha is a counsellor and psychotherapist with her own private practise specialising in toxic and abusive relationships. She hopes to empower her clients and enable them to move forward with resilience.

Just recently my teenage son asked if he could have a ‘girl mate’ to sleepover. I said no. This was all through text messaging of course. The texts went back and forth with him arguing and my texts trying to explain my reason for saying no. In the end I left it at his text which read, “It’s not hard to say yes is it.”

I had to laugh at that one. It isn’t hard to say yes. However, as parents we have to look at our teenagers’ reasons for doing things from all angles. And sometimes we conclude that in order to keep them safe from harm or to give them boundaries we have to say no.

Sometimes it feels that all we do as parents is say, “no.”

“Can I go to Jake’s party on Friday night?”

“Can I have a girl to sleepover?”

“Can I have some money?”

Parenting a teenager can be challenging. Sometimes it can feel that no matter what you do and say it will never be right! Teenagers will push against any rules that we try to enforce, and that is their primary role as your child; to challenge your every reason behind all of your rules.

Oftentimes, there can be fear and anxiety behind our reasoning.  As parents we imagine worst case scenarios.

Boundaries make our kids feel safe and secure, even if that’s not obvious to them. Without boundaries the world can feel like a scary place for a kid. Teenagers need something to push against. If it’s not your rules it will be school rules or another authority.

If we try to explain to our kids why we are saying no then they may act as if they don’t want to hear it and that we are the worst parent in the world but the message beneath our reasons are often, “I love you. I want to keep you safe and out of trouble.”

Negotiating boundaries with our teenagers can also send them the message that we respect their views. For instance, if your teenager consistently comes home later than you have asked them to, explain that you can’t help but imagine all sorts of horrible things and that it’s worrying for you. Then you might negotiate when a better time might be and what to do if they are going to be late home. “I get so anxious when you are late Alex. I worry that something has happened to you. Please let me know if you are going to be late home so that I don’t worry so much.”

Honest communication is really the key to negotiating boundaries in any relationship. 

If we are honest about our boundaries with our children it can open up communication between us. Explaining our fears and how we want to keep them safe and make them well rounded, caring, healthy individuals might eventually go some way to a good relationship between you. It shows our teenagers that we are human, that we worry and care.

The important thing is to decide what your boundaries are. Every parent will have different boundaries. For some, it might be ok that they have a house full of teenagers every Friday night yet for other parents this might sound like an invasion of space and privacy!

Negotiate with your child what works for both of you. If you want them to do their homework before they socialise at night, then explain your reasons for this rule.  Maybe your reasons are that you worry about how they will do in exams or that if they go out first their homework won’t get done.

Look at your own anxieties and fears. How much responsibility can you reasonably let go of? Can you make it your teenagers’ responsibility to ensure homework is done? Explain consequences and tell them that you are handing responsibility and trusting in them. This will allow your teens to have autonomy over their decisions which will serve them well as they become adults.

Negotiation allows your child to have some element of control and they are less likely to push too hard against boundaries. What is a reasonable time for them to come home on a Saturday night? Discuss this with them. Perhaps let them know that if they can be contactable and that you know where they are then they might stay out longer. This is allowing them to take responsibility. It also allows them to understand that consideration of other people’s feelings is important too.

As parents we worry. All that we want for our teenagers is to become healthy, well-rounded adults who are capable of making wise decisions. Giving them considered boundaries keep our children safe and will help to go some ways towards developing them into the beautiful human beings that they are.

Useful resources:

Parents with diagnosed anxiety

How to help someone with depression

Friendship and mental health

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