After laying the groundwork for limits with teens, we invariably land on this question:
How do parents find a good approach to boundaries that honor both dependence and independence, while maintaining personal sanity?
The best way to ensure you’re setting healthy boundaries is to be aware, first, of why you’re setting them.
Most parents agree their ultimate goal is to help their teen thrive. It’s a great goal, one that often gets lost in translation.
How does one help a teen thrive? Well, the first two parts to this post discuss a practical awareness of teen dynamics and a practical understanding of internal reactions to your teen. Those key tenets of awareness are foundational to the cultivation of teen flourishing.
Every boundary that’s set must be weighed against the question: How is this helping my child thrive?
This intentionality requires:
A. Self-awareness: Now that you’re cognizant of the internal obstacles to boundary setting, use that awareness to assess your motivation in establishing a given rule. Ask yourself, am I acting out of my emotions? Are there facets of this issue that I’m missing? Is this in the best interest of my child?
B. The Support Network: We are all biased boundary setters. You need other respected parents, mentors, friends to help evaluate your decision-making from an impartial perspective. You need others who can challenge you by pointing out biases that are obstructing logical limits.
C. The Cease-Fire: It rarely works to communicate boundaries when we’re upset. It’s okay to stop and take a break from talking to your teen. Learning to set boundaries outside of the moment of activation is essential to setting those limits well. Taking a break also gives you the opportunity to follow points A and B in real time. You can evaluate your internal response and talk to trusted advisers. Then you can revisit the conversation once everyone is calmer.
D. Sense and Sensibility: I can’t over-emphasize the fact that natural, pragmatic consequences are the best. When it comes to teens and limits, do what makes sense. This will help to ground you in the rational and will make it harder for your teen to argue, because, take note: pragmatic limits put the ownership back on the teen to prove themselves. If your teen can’t follow curfew, it makes sense for that curfew to be earlier for a time until they can show they’re capable of respecting it. This gives them the responsibility to prove that they can make good decisions with their time, which then means they’re ready for a later curfew. Pragmatic boundaries are ones that logically connect with the undesired behavior and, therefore, most resemble natural consequences.
This point is one of the hardest to assess and navigate. You’ll want to reach out to your support system to accomplish this well. And you may need to seek out professional help to figure out how you’re getting tripped up as you institute pragmatic limits.
E. Repetitive Redundancy: If you take a college course on writing, your professor will likely preach that the path to powerful prose is revision, revision, revision. Similarly, the path to purposeful parenting is repetition, repetition, repetition. Maintaining consistent, strategic limits that are replicable and verbally repeatable creates important structure during the nebulous time of independent dependence.
F. Win Them Over: When we use boundary setting as a forum (either intentionally or unintentionally) to guilt, shame, or judge teens, that’s an indicator that we’re taking their behavior personally and making the conflict about ourselves. We desire relationships where others can challenge us but are also winsome, inviting us into community with them. Find a way to work through the anger, resentment, and frustration that comes from their resistance so that you can invite them into relationship. As you do that, boundary setting will become relationship building, instead, where limits naturally form with less resistance. What parent doesn’t want that?
There’s so much more that could be said. There are many ways the molten core of resistance can erupt in parent and teen. These markers are a starting point to sidestepping volcanic eruptions, but to use them well requires real soul-searching and significant communication.
If you really want to benefit from this series, I’d encourage you to go through it point by point and consider how this drama plays out in your own family. Then you could ask yourself a few, pointed questions:
–How are my triggers blocking me from good boundary setting?
–Are there patterns to when and why my teen gets activated?
–How am I contributing to that activation?
–What are practical boundaries that can accomplish the goal of helping my teen thrive?
–Who can be a resource to evaluate my approach to limits?
Finally, if all else fails in the communication department, remember this sage advice from Bill Cosby for your next time around:
“Always end the name of your child with a vowel, so that when you yell the name will carry.”
Best of wishes to you as you navigate the dark zone. While parenting teens can be tremendously difficult, I’ve had the privilege of working with many teens and I know how awesome they really are. I hope you find your way to a place beyond division where you can see their developing character for what it is and celebrate it.