The teenage years have always been challenging for parents and children alike, but establishing proper boundaries can be one of the most effective ways to overcome obstacles with grace. Boundaries help both parties because they make clear what actions are acceptable (and unacceptable) regardless of varying circumstances. The motivation for such effective parenting should be strong, since this period is also filled with unique opportunities for creating memories among the greatest times of an entire life.
Yet, the complexity of modern life only increases the difficulty in ensuring rough patches do not accompany these memorable family moments. And while temptation to rebel against rules has always existed in kids, the growing access to affordable technology — including cell phones, social media and more — only exacerbates the pressure to push the limits.
Second only to a parent’s love for their children, the boldest asset in handling these tough moments is being consistent. Though a teen may not always agree with the boundaries of a family, most come to appreciate a certain level of comfort in consistency. Here is a look at five broad ways a parent can set reasonable boundaries for their teen.
The teenage years are filled with an incredible amount of change. Sometimes this kind of turbulence ends up fostering negativity. Even if external life is relatively constant, the life of a typical teen experiences great physical, emotional, and intellectual modifications on the inside. Many of these are helpful and totally natural to proper development. But nowhere has it been written that such changes are easy.
Perhaps the best way to help your teen cope with this challenge is to stay positive in the face of the temptation to feel morose. Hormonal changes, in particular, lead to moodiness and often make it harder for a teen to come across as agreeable. Do not respond by emulating the behavior, unless utterly necessary. Take things in stride. By lowering the bar just a bit, you can send a message to your child that these challenges are not overwhelming.
Encourage finding the right friends
We are all influenced by the people with which we spend time. This is surely true concerning children by at least ten-fold. And, for teens, it may be the case by hundred-fold. While kids are often fairly characterized by the type of friends to which they gravitate, parents can have a say in who those friends are. For sure, you should not follow your teen around to help select the ideal friends at school, the mall, or the basketball court.
However, a parent still retains the ultimate say in the education and extra-curricular choices of a child. If one encourages a teen to live a life filled with structured activities (church, sports, music, etc), chances are good that he or she will meet friends with similar aspirations and values. More importantly, these kids will have less contact with ones who do not share such priorities, and thus the temptation to stray beyond boundaries is diminished.
Boundaries can help with peer pressure
Few things result in a child exceeding boundaries more than peer pressure. When pressure to take a certain action is exerted by other children, natural resistance is weakened, which can lead to grave consequences. Whether concerning independent activities at school, or other decisions that will be executed apart from parental supervision, many kids actually find comfort in not pushing their limits through clearly defined boundaries.
In other words, it is easier to stay within regular expectations when those limits are widely-known and accepted with little gray area. In fact, kids can even use these boundaries as weapons to fight peer pressure. As long as the relationship between parent and child remains nurturing and loving, the child’s knowledge of potentially hurting a parent will far outweigh letting down any so-called friends.
Defining boundaries must include difficult subjects
The best way to define boundaries is to talk about difficult subjects with complete honesty. This is easier said than done. As parents, we have been trained to avoid certain subjects (or treat them very delicately) since our children were small. We use different language, steer clear of questionable topics, and carefully monitor media encountered in modern life. At a certain point, however, some of this protection must lessen. Teens understand more and more with each year and gradually we can no longer shield them negative aspects of life.
Despite that pit forming in your stomach about a child’s growing awareness of sex and violence, do not fear this development. Instead, become a part of it. Talking about these very topics in a clear manner will help teens learn their limits. Remember, new things are generally appealing to kids. But just because a teen expands in knowledge does not mean he or she is ready to grow in experience. And that is why proper boundaries are critical.
Be open to influences and adapting
From the very beginning, we learn there is no single way to parent correctly. Just as one can be given different theories on properly changing diapers, there are limitless possibilities concerning how to best establish boundaries for a teenager. One way to navigate this intimidating period is a willingness to gain exposure to a variety of influences. For sure, you do not want to send the message that you are open-minded about everything. After all, such thinking counters the very theory of boundaries.
Yet, a teen may be impressed if realizing a parent takes seriously staying informed with changing times. One can cling to long-time beliefs, while still learning about new trends, habits, and social norms. For example, if I asked my father for a cell phone 20 years ago, he would have thoroughly laughed and then explained how such a luxury was inappropriate for a 17-year-old. Times have greatly evolved. Many parents now believe access to such technology is well within appropriate boundaries for even much younger children. And while my dad was not wrong for his boundaries back in 1994, so too would a parent have every right to feel differently in 2014.
Jeff Briscoe is a parent of three children and a writer from Port Charlotte, Fla.