A Brave New World

Your teenager is entering a brave new world. And so are you. It can be hard to change and shift into a new way of parenting after over a decade of being with our kids. Navigating the shifting balance between parents and teenagers can be fraught with pitfalls, challenging to both parties. But don’t worry, boundaries are the most useful tool in your parenting tool belt. If you’ve been following along on our blog series we have already addressed Boundaries in Relationships in Part 1 and Part 2 and Part 3: Boundaries with Kids. If you have been implementing these ideas, you are well on your way! Moving into the teen years is a wonderful time to begin establishing and respecting boundaries. Adolescence marks a time of significant growth, change, and the need for independence. In this transformative period, understanding and respecting boundaries is crucial for fostering healthy relationships and supporting the development of responsible, independent young adults.

When to Hold ‘Em, When to Fold ‘Em

Setting boundaries is an essential aspect of parenting and growing up. For parents, it’s about moving from providing the constant guidance of pre-teen years and moving toward allowing teens the space to learn and make decisions. Conversely, for teenagers, it’s about asserting their independence while still acknowledging (however begrudgingly this may be sometimes) the wisdom and experience of their parents. There’s a Kenny Roger’s song about poker that says “You gotta know when to hold ‘em (your cards), know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away, know when to run.” And parenting teenagers can be a little bit like that.

Communication lies at the heart of establishing these boundaries. It’s crucial for both parents and teens to engage in open, honest, and respectful conversations. Creating an environment where both parties feel heard and understood lays the foundation for healthy boundaries. Research says we only get 13 short years to fit in all the wisdom we can before teenage brains decide we (the parents) are not the ones we should listen to. So now what?

Moving from Manager to Consultant

One of the primary challenges is finding a balance between autonomy and guidance. Teens often seek more independence, desiring to make their own choices. Parents, on the other hand, might feel the need to protect and guide their children, sometimes resulting in conflicting perspectives. Negotiating these boundaries involves compromise and understanding on both sides.

Respect for individuality is key. A good way to think of it is moving from manager to consultant. When they were small, we managed their bodies, food, bedrooms, schedules, homework, transportation etc. Now we take on a consultant role. Remember that consultants are hired to give advice. Consultants who give unwanted advice are just seen as interfering and get fired. Don’t get fired! Parents get a unique opportunity to recognize and appreciate the uniqueness of their teens, allowing them the space to express their opinions and make decisions, even if they differ from their own. Simultaneously, teens get to get a larger understanding of the values and concerns of their parents, whose guidance often comes from a place of care and experience.

Trust and Technology

Boundaries and trust can be applied in every single area of a person’s life, but let’s work with a teen favorite for this example. Technology. Technology has added a new layer to the relationships between parents and teens. The digital realm opens doors to a vast world, presenting both opportunities and risks. We may have the wherewithal to scroll past harmful content or report it, but teens don’t always have that level of restraint. Here, setting healthy guidelines on screen time, online behavior, and access to certain content is vital. Establishing these limits together can help foster trust and ensure a safer online experience. Remember that this is not a one and done thing. Mistakes will be made. Think of how many times you as an adult have resolved to do something and then go back on your best intentions. 

Trust is the cornerstone of successful boundary-setting. When parents and teens trust each other, it becomes easier to discuss and agree on limitations and freedoms. For parents, it’s important to demonstrate trust by giving their teens responsibilities and allowing them to prove themselves. For teenagers, building trust means being honest and open about their actions and decisions. Keep working toward that trust. Big mistakes can mean moving the line of trust in a little bit closer. If a teenager is consistently making poor choices with their technology, maybe it’s time for a break, or a regular tech check-in, or to take it to a deeper level to see what is driving the need to behave in this way. Therapy can be a great way for your teen to do a deeper dive.

Put DOWN your Dukes

That saying “Put up your dukes”, meaning get ready to fight me, can feel like it’s at the back of everyone’s mind in this new teenage landscape. But this is the time to put down your dukes. Conflict is inevitable in any relationship, but this one between parent and teen will never end in two cool headed people agreeing to disagree. Our teens’ brains are not wired like that right now. Their emotions are intense. Given the chance, they will continue to up the ante until there is nothing but scorched earth left. Adults have to be the ones that let cooler heads prevail. Conflicts often come up when boundaries are pushed or when the teen sees the limit as unfair. It’s essential to handle these disagreements with patience and understanding. Engaging in calm discussions, actively listening, and finding compromises can help resolve conflicts while maintaining the established boundaries.

It’s the Journey, not the Destination

The journey of defining and respecting boundaries between parents and teens is an ongoing process. As teens mature and gain more experience, the boundaries might need re-evaluation and adjustment. Flexibility and adaptability are key elements in this journey. Giving teenagers a soft place to land when they make mistakes (as they inevitably do) helps to build trust and understanding. Keep the “I told you so” inside. I know it’s hard. Offer them a listening year. Remember to be the consultant, but only if asked.

Navigating boundaries between parents and teens requires mutual respect, open communication, trust, and a willingness to understand each other’s perspectives. Establishing and respecting these boundaries fosters healthier relationships and helps both parties to grow and learn from each other’s experiences. It’s a collaborative effort that ultimately nurtures responsible, independent, and well-adjusted young adults. You can do this. If you need a place to talk about this process, therapy is a great place to learn and practice these skills.

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