Teens and Boundaries

One of the most difficult challenges parents face with their adolescents is knowing when and how to draw the line regarding typical teenage issues.   There are several factors to consider when negotiating the most appropriate boundaries for your teenager.  Each of the following factors will be discussed in a separate article:

  • Understanding  Boundaries – Article #1
  • Teen Brain Development  – Article #2
  • Technology and Boundaries:  Knowing when to “unplug” your teen’s devices – Article #3
  • Parenting Styles and Boundaries -Article # 4
  • Challenges to setting Boundaries –Article #5
  • Typical versus Atypical Teenage Behavior- Article # 6

This is the first article of six in Julie’s series, Teens and Boundaries 101.  

The boundaries discussed herein are figurative, or part of the psychology lexicon.  What are boundaries? Boundaries define one’s personal limits. They tell others what one will and will not tolerate.  Boundaries define that which one is, and is not, responsible for.   Simply stated, boundaries establish where “I” end and “You” begin.  Physical, emotional, spiritual, intellectual, and sexual boundaries will be defined here, each followed by a brief developmental application tip.

Physical Boundaries refers to personal space and touching.  The amount of distance between a person and another individual should be “comfortable” for both parties.  Physical boundaries, like all boundaries, evolve from one’s family of origin.  For example, some families are “huggers,” while other families do not engage in any form of physical contact.   As a general rule, as children become teenagers, they will need more physical space and privacy.   Some parents, especially the “huggers,” may find this uncomfortable or rejecting; however, this reaction could farther push teens away.    Quick Tip:   It takes grace to respect their need for space!

Emotional Boundaries refers to how one wants to be treated interpersonally.  Manners, eye contact, apologizing, listening, appropriate language, respect, direct communication, and honesty, are a few examples of emotional boundaries.  Teenagers are very sensitive to emotional communication, both verbal and non-verbal.  Adolescence is a time of intense self-consciousness.  Teens may read into others’ behaviors or words and may draw inaccurate conclusions.   It is imperative that parents model for teens how they want to be treated by treating teens with respect, even in the midst of inevitable disagreements. Parents must actively clarify, reflect, and validate their teens’ emotional experiences in order to help them make sense of their emotional world.  Many well-intentioned parents fail to understand the importance of validation, and the difference between agreeing with your teen and validating your teen.    Learn more about validation in Article #4, Parenting Styles and Boundaries.   Quick Tip:   Validation does not mean I necessarily agree with you, it means I unreservedly acknowledge you!

Spiritual/Religious Boundaries refers to one’s desire or lack of desire to practice religious/spiritual rituals or beliefs.  It is common for adolescents to question their religion and debate it.  Although this is anxiety provoking for parents, it is a normal and necessary part of teen development. Parents, have Faith that the teaching and religious values you have imparted on your teen will solidify after this soul searching phase is over.  Quick Tip:   Teach it, let it slack, and watch it come back!

Intellectual Boundaries refers to one’s desire for educational and career endeavors.  Teens are individuals with their own interests, strengths, and abilities.  Although it is important to introduce and encourage knowledge and interests, parents often confuse their own dreams with those of their children. For example, “In our family, all the men go to medical school.”  Or, “When you grow up, you can take over my Accounting business.”    These are great ideas in theory; but, in reality, these ideas will likely promote failure and dissatisfaction.  Quick Tip:   Introduce it, but do not induce it! 

Sexual Boundaries refers to one’s value system regarding sexual activity.  Sexual education must take place in the home.  If parents do not directly teach about human sexuality and impart their own value system, the culture will take over this task.  Always start with what your child already knows and build upon it.  Before puberty, read books together about the human anatomy and what to expect during puberty.  Enlist a trusted therapist to guide you on this issue, or pick up a parenting book.    Teens may act as if they do not want you to guide them in this area.  This is a normal characteristic of adolescents.  They crave guidance but they do not want you to know that they crave it! So, be watchful for teachable moments, be available when they seek your counsel, and most of all, do not be afraid to approach this subject.  Lastly, include in your education facts about sexual abuse and exploitation, date rape, sexually transmitted diseases and HIV, and unintended pregnancy.   Do not assume that they will recognize the signs of a potential abusive relationship or person, or a potentially dangerous event or place. Quick Tip:    Speak the truth or lose your youth!



©Julie Discenza, September 2013



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