Setting boundaries with your teenagers

5 min read   •   May 6, 2021
Jacqui Smit

It’s a well-known cliché that the teenage years are some of the hardest for both parent and child, and there is a kernel of truth in this. These are the years in which children are learning more about themselves and their place in the world. Part of this journey of self-discovery often entails testing their limits and the limits of those around them. It is, therefore, important to put boundaries in place, not only to protect your teen but also to maintain harmony in the household.

Apart from safety and a pleasant home environment, establishing boundaries is important for teens to learn self-control and to help them regulate their emotions. Setting boundaries can be an emotionally charged and unpleasant experience for everyone involved – tears and raised voices are not uncommon – but this does not need to be the case! We explore some tips on setting boundaries, how to ensure they are observed, and what to in the case of boundaries being overstepped.

Ten things to consider when setting boundaries:

1)   Make sure the rules you establish are relevant and important to the family

Sometimes, parents tend to try to make and implement rules for the sake of it – this generally does not end well. Consider the purpose of the rules you want to enforce and whether these are, in fact, necessary.

2)   Be reasonable and realistic

When implementing rules, ensure you don’t have too many and that they don’t intrude excessively on a child’s privacy. When rules seem unreasonable and unrealistic, children are more likely to lie to their parents about their whereabouts and activities.

3)   Know what kind of boundaries you want to set ahead of time

Don’t enter a discussion about boundaries unprepared – consider the nature of the rules you want to establish before you open dialogue with your child. Preparation will help structure the conversation and make it a productive one.

4)   Focus on your child’s health and safety

Explain to your child that setting boundaries is not just about their physical safety but also their emotional and mental wellbeing. Many rules regulating activities such as bedtime, chores, and screen time are important for a child beyond their physical health.

Read more: Parents, here’s how screen time can work in your favour

5)   Maintain empathy

Try to stay friendly and amicable. Many parents may find this strange – after all, they are their child’s parent, not their friend. But by being kind, you are more likely to have a productive conversation when discussing boundaries. You catch more flies with honey than vinegar!

6)   Emphasise your concern for them

Often, teenagers tend to perceive rules and boundaries merely as a way for their parents to control them. It is prudent to clarify to your child that the need for boundaries comes from a place of love and wanting to support them.

7)   Negotiate, don’t dictate

Again, negotiating with their children may seem odd to some parents. However, letting children respond, raise concerns, and make suggestions when discussing boundaries makes them feel empowered. When children feel they have a say, they are more likely to follow them.

8)   Allow boundaries to evolve

What might be appropriate for a 13-year-old may not be suitable for an 18-year-old. Allow the nature of some rules to change to be more age-appropriate, like where your child is allowed to go, their curfew, and dating.

Read more:  What to do when your teen wants to start dating


9)   Discuss consequences

You must establish the consequences of overstepping boundaries at the same time the boundaries are set. Deciding on appropriate punishment should be done in the same manner as determining appropriate rules. Keep the dialogue open, honest, and fair.

10)Don’t take things personally

It’s easy to take a child’s disagreement or rule-breaking as a personal affront. Remember that this is most often not the case – if teenagers disagree with you or overstep boundaries, it’s most likely not to upset you purposefully.

Read more: How to handle angry feelings

Punishment and rewards

Naturally, when a boundary is overstepped or a rule is broken, you must carry out the consequence you and your child discussed. Remind your child that they agreed or conceded to the rule they broke, discuss how they overstepped the boundary, then follow through with the agreed-upon punishment. Explain to them that punishing them isn’t for your pleasure, but rather that learning there are consequences for their actions is an essential part of life and a lesson they must learn.

Conversely, it is worth providing positive reinforcement/rewarding good behaviour now and then. While many parents believe it is just expected that their children follow the rules, there is no harm in recognising a child’s observance of the rules and treating them accordingly. When children feel that their efforts are acknowledged and appreciated, they are much more likely to continue adhering to the rules you have set.

Read more: How to reward your kid the right way