Teens and Boundaries
Family rules and boundaries can provide a sense of stability to teenagers who are struggling to decipher relationships, roles, and even their own personalities. Although they may protest loudly against structure and boundaries, when they have a hand in what is being asked of them, and when those boundaries are firm but fair, teenagers will feel empowered.
Setting boundaries with teenagers is difficult, but it is critical if teens are to learn that their behavior has consequences. Some of the challenges of enforcing rules can be eliminated by engaging children in the process of setting the rules and assigning consequences before the rules are broken.
When parents include teenagers in establishing clear rules about appropriate behavior and consequences, the arguments over rules and possible consequences are lessened. Teens can no longer claim that consequences or expectations are unfair, and parents can take on the role of calmly enforcing the communicated consequences instead of having to impress upon the child the seriousness of the problem and scramble to find an appropriate consequence. The temptation to react emotionally when children break rules is alleviated because it is no longer perceived as an assault on parental authority, since it was decided upon by the family (teen AND parents), not solely on the authority of the parents, that the rules were established. Helping to set the rules and communicate boundaries and consequences clearly may not keep teenagers from breaking them, but it can help parents to avoid power struggles.
Positive or negative consequences given to your teen prove to be more effective if you follow some basic principles:
- Consequences must be important to your teen, or there will be little effect on behavior.
- Consequences must be delivered immediately to make a clear connection and understanding between the behavior and the consequence.
- Consequences must be appropriate and based on the behavior. Do not burden your teen with excessive negative consequences for the small stuff. Neither should you ignore or under-reward your child for making the best choices.
- Consequences must be consistent. Make sure your teen understands that “if you do this, then this happens.”
- Consequences must be manageable. If they are too difficult or punishing on you, you may not follow through. At the same time, we all realize that parenting is sometimes tough, and being inconvenienced now rather than taking the easy way out will make your job much easier in the long run.
Katie Luce is a site director with the On-Campus Counseling Program, which provides on-site individual, group and family counseling at no cost to secondary school students in the Santa Clara and San Mateo counties. The program also includes bilingual counseling and education for Latino families.
For more information about this ACS program please contact Roni Gillenson, On-Campus Counseling Program Director, at 650.424.0852, ext. 102.