Boundaries with teenagers can be a navigational challenge, as teenagers typically think of themselves as capable of making their own decisions and value their independence. Parental interference of any sort may be met with exaggerated sighs, eye rolling, or other forms of dismissive behavior. Yet, paradoxically, teens need love, guidance, and support. So, how to find the balance between granting a teenager independence while setting boundaries? First and foremost, by understanding that your teen is in a challenging place, struggling to form their identity. They are in the space between childhood and adulthood, and that can be an awkward and difficult expanse. The boundaries in this stage are less defined, which can lead to challenges in relationships, not only with others, but within themselves as well. Teenagers are in a developmental stage where they are not only experiencing physical and cognitive changes, but are also developing emotionally and socially. The development teenagers experience in these areas will have an impact on the morals and values teenagers establish.
As a parent, what you can do is recognize the challenging stage that your teen is in, and attribute their behaviors to their stage. Do not take their reactions personally! The turbulent emotions that may be raging within your teen are likely a product of the teen working to manage the desire for independence with the need for love and acceptance. Understand that they are struggling to figure out where they stand and be a steady and supportive presence. If your teen does choose to share feelings with you, validate them. Do not dismiss their thoughts, ideas, or feelings, without recognizing the legitimacy of their words. Avoid judging or shaming your teen, and instead engage them in meaningful discussions on topics that are of interest to them.
While you may not always agree with your teenager’s choices, engaging in conflict is an unlikely resolution. There are times when teens will inevitably face the consequences of their choices. Barring any safety issues, and using parental discretion, it may be okay to let them experience consequences. Keeping a close connection with your child will help engage them at an opportune time, when you can gently and in a non-judgmental way discuss these experiences with them.
Rules certainly have a place in parenting teenagers. However, while younger children may be quicker to follow a parent’s directives, adolescents typically prefer to know the reasons behind the rules. This may come across as insolent, but actually is part of a teenagers desire to be independent. It is okay for parents to share their reasoning with their teen, to help them to know that rules are fair and are part of how society runs smoothly as a whole. If teens are able to be included in any part of a decision making process (where appropriate) this can empower them to express their thoughts and feel part of the family unit.