Why Healthy Boundaries Are So Important For Teenagers
Parenting a teenager may be one of the most difficult and experiences that parents go through. Even if you aren’t a parent yet, you can probably look back and sympathize with your own parents during your teenage years. Ultimately parents just want their children to be safe, happy and healthy and most of them are doing the best they can.
If you reflect on your own teenage years, you probably remember, like most of us, times you broke the rules, talked back and felt frustrated with your parents. In retrospect you probably have a more mature perspective on why these rules and boundaries were put into place.
It’s hard being a parent to a teenager, but it’s hard being a teenager too! The American Psychological Association published a study in 2013 showing that teens today are even more stressed than adults. With this added stress on teens, parenting and setting healthy boundaries and expectations has only become more and more difficult in these past few years. Here are a few simple and basic ideas to follow when creating boundaries and communicating with your teen that can make your life easier and also help your teen transition into a successful and independent young adult.
Empathize with your teen.
When you try to talk to someone about something that has been difficult for you, it does not feel very good to automatically be criticized or disciplined. The same is true for your teen! If your teen comes to you and wants to tell you about something they have been struggling with (it may sound like complaining) try to understand what they are going through. Or better yet, try to remember a time that you also felt that way and share that with your teen. The more you are able to connect with them and help them feel heard and understood, the more likely they are to listen to what you are going to say next.
Allow natural consequences.
It is a parents instinct to protect their child, and although what I am about to say may sound counter intuitive, in the end you’re actually helping your child learn and grown. If your teenager ends up in a situation where there are natural consequences, let them face them. For example, if your teen has a cellphone and loses or breaks it, the natural consequence is that they either no longer have a phone or they have to buy a new one. Be there for guidance and empathize that it is frustrating or annoying that this happens, but allow them the space and support to solve their own problem. This not only helps them learn about real world consequences but shows them that they can take care of themselves.
Be reliable and consistent.
This applies to being there emotionally for your child and for setting boundaries and disciplining your child. When you set a rule and explain the consequence, make sure that you are ready to enforce that consequence. By following through you are showing your teen that you mean what you say and say what you mean. On the flip side of this coin, it also means that if you say your teen can call you no matter the situation and not get in trouble, do not punish them if they call you and have been drinking underage and need a ride home. Being unpredictable with your child will either allow them to push you over or not trust that you will follow through.
Teenagers will push boundaries no matter what parents try, however that is how they learn. Empathizing with them, allowing them to face the natural consequences and being steady and unwavering will support their growth towards independence and foster your bond with them. Remember, you are growing with your teen! There is no perfect way to parent and you will make mistakes – share that with your teen, be open and as you empathize with them and they will learn to empathize with you.
If you are struggling with parenting your teenager, I recommend Dr. Cloud’s book, Boundaries with Teens.
If you need an experienced neutral party help you communicate and develop healthy boundaries – I highly recommend this therapist, who specializes in helping parents and teens.