Setting Healthy Boundaries for Teens

I have two teenage daughters, ages 16 and 14. I just turned 36 and trust you can do the math. Yes, I was a young mom. Very young, younger than I would recommend most women become moms and younger than I would like my girls to be when they become moms. When we were all growing up, I heard certain comments repeatedly – like a Spotify playlist with only two songs. The first set centered on my age and assumptions about my ability to successfully parent. Luckily I anticipated those. The second set of comment related to a friendship between my children and me, or a relationship more like that of sister hood. “You’re so lucky,” random people would say, “You’ll be the best of friends”.
I am not my daughters’ friend and have never desired to be. I am their mother. Maybe when they’ve grown up, moved away and have full lives of their own, I can be their friend. But throughout their childhood and now in the teenage years, the badge on my shirt says Mom. Let’s talk about teens for a minute.

Teenagers are an interesting subset of the human population. Still children in so many ways, society and technology help them to assume maturity before they’re ready. My daughters are warm, funny, outgoing, interested in boys and certain they could take care of themselves if I disappeared. They also sleep in cupcake pajamas, snuggle teddy bears and make impulsive decisions their father and I label as ridiculous. These beautiful walking contradictions need love and guidance. Rules, however are a teen’s arch enemy. Rules, as disgusting as they are, have to be established by the Mom (read: Parents) not friends, or they’ll never stick.

How and Why to Set Boundaries

Setting healthy boundaries (yes, rules) takes practice and commitment from the parents and the children. Yes, giving your teen boundaries will be easier if they’ve been in place during childhood. If your first foray into setting rules, or establishing boundaries happens when your child hits 13, do not fear! All is not lost! The tips below extend beyond basic completing chores and please-and-thank-you manners and may come in handy when establishing, or re-negotiating the house rules. I mean boundaries.

1. Open Dialogue – The key is that each conversation be respectful of all participants – the parents and the teens. Remember, even though they have a long way to go, a teenage child thinks they’re an adult and expects to be treated and spoken to respectfully. Your son wants to drop band in favor of photography? Don’t insult his interests; ask for more information and explore the options.

2. Honor the Hierarchy – Regardless of the boundaries under discussion, parents have the final say. Set this expectation early. No amount of respectful conversation can replace parental decision making, especially in matters of health and safety. Whether we want to or not, parents make the hard calls.

3. If your values aren’t compromised – compromise – Your daughter wants to dye her hair and get body piercings? If neither are against your family values, the decision to give permission may be easy. If it was decided years ago that only ears would be pierced while she was under 18, it may be time to discuss an additional ear piercing or dying her hair.

These three tips do not guarantee rainbow and roses teen years. My daughters still get upset with the decisions I make as Mom, the decisions their Dad makes as their father and the decisions we make as parents. We have to walk away from conversations all the time. But at the heart of every conflict, we all remember the boundaries, and the guidelines and are able to work together to develop a solution.

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