You know who needs boundaries? Kids. Of all ages. Don’t tell them I said this, but teenagers need boundaries too. They need them as much, at least, as they did when they were younger. In fact, they probably recognize this. They might even say so. Not to their parents, probably, but there you go. They’re too busy differentiating themselves from their families and exploring their identities and all those teenaged things that keep them up late at night.
What’s more, even parenting sites that some would consider to occupy opposite ends of the ideological spectrum come together on this point.
According to Planned Parenthood, “Knowing where our teens are, who they are with, and setting boundaries for their behavior are important parts of helping our teens stay healthy — especially when it comes to sex. Sometimes people refer to this part of parenting as monitoring and supervision. Monitoring means knowing where our children are, who they’re with, and whether or not there is an adult present. Supervision means setting clear boundaries and expectations and getting our teens to agree to them. It also means following through consistently with agreed upon and ‘fair’ consequences when rules and expectations are not met.”
Focus on the Family agrees: “Boundaries include saying yes and no, just as doors are made to be opened and closed. Teens need the life lessons of success and failure to mature. When we open the door to appropriate levels of freedom, we give our teens a chance to make their own decisions, and to learn from them. When your daughter messes up by getting a speeding ticket, support her. Why? Because you can comfort and guide her through her mistake. If you feel like trust was broken, a lock down may be necessary. If the door has been wide open, it’s okay to shut it, a little, a lot, or completely. You can reopen it later.”
There are a lot of sources out there, and I found that a few clear points are emphasized again and again.
- Teenagers are pushing for independence. If they don’t know exactly what our expectations are, and where we draw the line for behavior, they will keep going until something happens; either provoking the parents to react (and often in panic, pulling back on a teen’s freedom in a way that may provoke or upset them) or falling into a consequence of their own behavior that could be unhealthy, dangerous, or include legal ramifications.
- Teenagers are at a stage in their development in which they are driven to engage in risky behaviors. They might believe that they can’t be hurt, or that consequences will not be serious or permanent, or that their decisions do not affect other people.
The combination of these factors, as well as the simple fact that their brains are still developing—and will continue doing so for years to come—make clear expectations and boundaries more important than ever.
There are some differences in how parents can effectively present these boundaries with teenaged kids as opposed to younger ones. For one thing, there need to be reasons behind it. “Because I said so,” “Because we know what’s best for you” or even “Because we need to keep you safe” are no longer going to cut it.
Teens need to know the context behind the rules. This can be complicated, but on the other hand it can also be easier, because we can involve them in formulating the rules and the consequences that will arise from them. They are able to understand and to help make decisions around boundaries. Given the responsibility to do this, they will be much more likely to abide by them. They will also feel more respected, and will be more likely to communicate with adults about what is happening in their lives.
All this can be tricky for parents because it’s new territory. It requires us to delegate some of the responsibility and decision-making to our kids. That can be scary, and it can also be painful to our pesky adult egos.
It’s the same job, and it’s just as important as it ever was. They may not thank us for it, but then…who knows about kids these days?