Tips for Setting Boundaries with Teens

Tips for Setting Boundaries with Teens

If you have a teen at home, you know that setting (and enforcing) boundaries with them can be tricky and downright frustrating at times. Your teenager no longer needs you for everything, yet they still need you for a lot of things. To top it off, they usually don’t see it that way, either. To them, they know everything and you’re simply standing in the way of their happiness.

To navigate through this transitional period, many parents find themselves either: 1) letting their teen call the shots, or 2) becoming “helicopter parents” who micromanage their child’s life. When it comes down to it, both extremes are just as unhelpful for teens in development, since they need both guidance and space in order to develop their own identity. Below are four simple tips to help you establish boundaries with your teen and foster a more trusting, respectful, and close relationship with them.

Tip #1: Remember What It Was Like

Oh, to be a teenager again! Do you remember what it was like for you? Many of us would not want to go back to that time when the peer pressure was high, everything was a “big deal”, and we desperately wanted to be older with all of the glories of independence and freedom awaiting us. With life perspective now on our side, many of us look back and laugh at how flawed some of our reasoning was back when we thought we knew it all. The fact is: Teens aren’t blessed with this same hindsight that we can now enjoy. They’re simply trying to figure it all out as they go, just like we did when we were their age. As you set boundaries with your teen, it’ll go a long way with them for you to empathize with their life stage and validate how difficult it is for them to not be able to do everything that they want to do in the exact way that they want to do it right now.

Tip #2: Get Clear About Your Boundaries

Before setting boundaries with your teen, it’s good to get clear with yourself about what your own personal boundaries are. My mom used to say to me growing up, “People will treat you the way you allow them to treat you.” In other words, people will learn what is and isn’t okay to do around you by the way that you interact with them and respond to them. Is it okay for your teen to use curse words around you? For some parents, that is okay. For others, it is not. That’s for you to decide. Remember that you are the parent and that you get to decide what is and isn’t okay for your teen to do!

Tip #3: Know the “Why” Behind Your Boundaries

If you don’t know the “why” behind the boundaries you’re setting with your teen, it will not only make it more difficult for you to enforce those boundaries, but it will also make it a lot harder for your teen to follow them. Think about it this way: When your child was a baby, why did you make them sit in a car seat? At times, they probably threw fits and squirmed in their seat in protest of this restriction. Yet, why did you (hopefully) not allow them to get out of their car seat, freely sit on your lap in the car, etc.? Because you care about them, of course! And because you care about your child, you want to protect them from harm. The very reason why you set that boundary for them back then is the same reason you desire to set certain boundaries for them now. It’s crucial to remember what your intentions are behind the boundaries that you set and to communicate those to your child.

Tip #4: Choose Your Battles

Not all boundaries are created equal, folks. Some boundaries are negotiable while others are just flat out NOT. Know the difference for yourself. A good rule of thumb is to ask yourself, “Is this more of a preference or is this a ‘hill worth dying on’?” Keep in mind that there WILL be hills worth dying on and you will want your child to recognize them as such. If you choose your battles wisely and give them freedom in areas that are less important (e.g. hair style), then they are more likely to be receptive to the non-negotiable boundaries that you set (e.g. not letting your 13-year-old daughter date an 18-year-old), where it really counts.


If you find yourself in a constant battle with your teenage son or daughter, take a step back for a moment and remind yourself to: 1) take a walk in their shoes, 2) get clear with yourself about what you want for your child, 3) communicate to your child why certain boundaries are in place, 4) be on the look out for ways to give your child a sense of freedom and independence. Together, this will help your child to feel heard, understood, and empowered as they work to establish an identify of their own, and will help you to maintain your own sense of sanity throughout the process!

Kelley Dawson, LPC
Kelley Dawson, LPC
No matter what you may be going through, I can help you work through it and come out even stronger on the other side. You don’t have to wait until the going gets really tough before starting therapy. The sooner you get support, the sooner your life can start changing for the better.

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