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Why Your Teen Needs (And Secretly Wants!) Boundaries

When my youngest daughter became a teenager, we had a hard fast rule about what age she could begin dating. Our rule and my conviction were clear, and a firm line was drawn. As all kids do, a time came when she disagreed with this boundary we had set and the begging and pleading and protesting began. When my eldest daughter overheard her sister’s pleas, she looked over at me and said, “You aren’t going to cave in like you did with me are you?” My jaw dropped and a deep realization hit me.  If you had told me a decade earlier that this statement would come out of her mouth, I wouldn’t have believed you. But there it was now. She had wanted the limits. We had struggled to set and keep clear and consistent boundaries with her, and her teen years were rife with chaos and a feeling of being wildly out of control. And here she was now, admitting she needed them and we had no idea. 

At the time of raising my kids, “boundaries” was an overwhelming word.  It meant push-back, it meant being the bad guy. It was a confusing balancing act that led to fights and anger and regretted words from both parties. Boundaries felt more like a war zone than a safety net. It was easier to give in to the whining and pleading and negotiating than to hold firmly to the line. It felt more peaceful to set aside some of our boundaries for the sake of avoiding the conflict. Knowing what I do now, I see that it is actually the opposite. Boundaries are a vital part of parenting, yes, even parenting teenagers. We don’t do ourselves or our kids any favors when we don’t hold to our convictions and rules. It may feel harder at the time to stick to our guns, but the results are so worth it. Are you, like me, having trouble holding firm to the boundaries you have established? If so, remind yourself of these three reasons your teen needs (and secretly wants!) boundaries: 

Boundaries create clarity and peace.

Imagine you are starting a brand new job in a field that you have no experience. You show up on your first day, ready to work and eager to learn. Your boss greets you with a hurried hello and gestures you to an open office door. After getting settled into your office chair and logging into your computer, you wait for instructions. No one ever shows up. Tentatively, you decide to try to start on your own, carefully attempting to do this brand-new work. After a few hours, your boss comes marching in shouting about how you have been doing it all wrong and threatening to prolong your probationary period. The next day you commit to doing better and you nervously enter the new office again. Sure enough, after a few hours, your boss is storming back in talking about how you’re not doing it right. “I’m sorry, sir,” you mumble, “This is the only way I know how to do it.”
“Oh, fine.” he humphs, “Do it your way.” and off he goes leaving you confused, uncertain, unhelped, and unsure how to proceed. In a sense, this is what we do to our kids when we lack setting and keeping clear boundaries. Life is new for them. They’ve never been in this particular season of testing independence, experiencing surging hormones, extreme peer pressure, and introduction to the “real world”. If we don’t have set boundaries that show them how to exist in this new grown-up world they are left feeling confused and uncertain. What is safe? What is acceptable? What is right? They’re not going to know on their own without our instruction. Setting boundaries allows our kids to have clarity which gives them peace. In the example of the job, how much more peaceful and productive would it have been for your boss to give clear instructions and firm boundaries on what you were or weren’t supposed to be doing?  By making sure our kids know the rules, and holding to them, we create an environment for our kids to feel confident and at peace to thrive. 

Boundaries create freedom.

In our kids’ eyes, boundaries are a deterrent. Some may see it as confinement or a hindrance to their independence. However, this is another case where the very opposite is true. I once heard a story about a school that built a playground with no fence. They wanted the kids to feel free to explore. To their surprise, the kids all stayed huddled close by never venturing into the yard. Finally, they built a fence. With a boundary in place, the kids spread out through the yard running and playing on their own. The fence gave them the confidence and security to know where was safe to go independently and where was not. It is the same with our kids. Knowing where the line is creates an opportunity for our kids to experience life more freely. They’ll never admit it, and they will push back and resist, but in the end, our guidelines give them the confidence to live a more free life. 

Boundaries create safety

We have a very smart and lovable poodle named Calvin. As smart as he is, he has always had the urge to chase cars. The moment our front door would open, he would bolt for the street. We would yell and chase him down, fearful for his life, scolding him the whole way home for his stupidity. It became obvious that all the reprimanding in the world was not going to change his ways and it was time for an electric fence. At first, I felt so mean. Now when a car, dog, or squirrel looks tempting and he heads for the boundary line, a loud warning beep sounds. He immediately knows to retreat or he will receive an unpleasant zap. Today, Calvin doesn’t even need to wear his collar. He knows where the boundary lines exist. He is safe, content, and happy to run and play within the safety of his own yard. As smart as our kids are, they don’t understand the dangers that exist in the world. Our boundaries keep them safe. And although they may not like them, they will learn to appreciate that boundaries are set out of love and for their own protection. Knowing that we are looking out for them creates a sense of safety, belonging, and value. 

Setting boundaries and holding firm to them isn’t always fun. Your kids WILL push against them. This is normal, okay, and actually a healthy part of their development. It doesn’t make them a bad kid or you a horrible parent. But they still need to know that you are in control and looking out for their best interests. When we set healthy and reasonable boundaries that are explained to our kids with love, and we hold firm even when our kids disagree with them, we create a peaceful, safe, and liberating environment for our kids to spread their wings and grow. The end result is SO worth it.