How to Give Your Teen Freedom With Boundaries

As teens start to push boundaries and demand more freedom and independence, it can be hard to find that fine line between giving them the freedom they want and ensuring they are sticking to healthy boundaries. It’s the rare parent who will be able to find the instant fix. Most of us will need to go through a bit of trial and error to get to that sweet spot.

What’s important to keep in mind is that there is no one-size solution that will fit every situation. What works well for your teenage son may not work at all for your teen nephew.

Finding the right situation for your family will be based upon factors unique to the dynamics of your family.

Why are boundaries important?

When your teen was a toddler, you had boundaries for them. Those boundaries were established just as much to keep your sanity for their protection as they learned more about the world.

Boundaries help establish an understanding of what is and is not acceptable behavior. They will change as your child grows and as the dynamics of your family change.

These rules and boundaries may have evolved over the years, but they are still just as important for your teen’s protection and overall well-being.

What does a boundary look like for a teen?

They may not need to hold your hand while crossing the street but established rules that relate to safety are still important. Don’t text and drive, don’t get in a car with someone who has been drinking, don’t break into people’s homes, for example.

Some other boundaries could include:

  • Remind your teen that you each treat each other with respect.
  • Authority figures, such as teachers, coaches, and law enforcement should also be treated with respect.
  • Not taking money or items without permission from family, friends, and others.
  • Speaking with kindness and avoiding name-calling or mouthing off with insults.
  • Keeping your space picked up, helping with chores, and generally respecting the home that you live in.

Household boundaries must be established for every member of the family. Each family member should take responsibility for their actions and behaviors. Your teen, still learning how to navigate the world, will use the boundaries you have established and enforced as a guide for living.

He may argue with you over some boundaries, but that is a natural part of learning. There is an opportunity to be flexible on some things, such as his curfew time, but expect to find yourself pushing back quite often over boundaries he feels are unfair to his need for freedom.

Ultimately, we all tend to function better if we know what is expected. You would find yourself struggling if you began a new job and had zero guidance as to how to do the job.

How do you know what is expected of you?

The same holds for your teen. Children and teens need to understand what is expected of them.

The importance of freedom to your teen

Your teen is learning more about the world at large. This includes understanding what boundaries look like for their peers, what they enjoy doing, what they don’t enjoy, and of course, spending time doing the things they enjoy. Your teen may get frustrated thinking that as an adult, you have all of the freedom you want, without giving thought to boundaries that exist for adults with responsibilities.

For him, his idea of freedom may mean that he can come and go as he pleases. He can stay up all night. He doesn’t need to take part in family meals or outings. He can swear, drink, go anywhere, do anything, with anyone, at any time. It’s natural then that your boundaries are going to make him bristle.

As much as he may bristle, boundaries are an important part of helping him learn how to best act and behave in his community and society.

How can you help your teen stick to boundaries?

Perhaps one of the more important things to keep in mind is that having too many boundaries established can prove confusing and frustrating for all. It can also make it difficult for teens to learn to grow with these boundaries as they establish themselves as responsible adults.

Keep it simple, keep it workable, keep it adjustable so everyone can adapt as needed.

As an example, make it clear that truth and honesty are important within your family. No matter the situation, your teen will find understanding and situation-appropriate support.

Keep the boundaries as simple as just a few key phrases. Here are a few examples:

  • Honesty, truth, and communication.
  • Do your best with school, work, household chores.
  • Safety comes first, don’t risk your safety or the safety of others.

By not overcomplicating things, you’re going to empower your teen to better understand and stick with the boundaries. There is room to add to them as the dynamics of your household change. There is also room to give him more freedom by relaxing some boundaries as he proves himself responsible.

Consequences of breaking boundaries

The rare child or teen won’t break one or more established boundaries. They will learn to better adhere to them if they need to deal with the consequences of their choices and behavior.
Understanding the boundaries, the applicable rules, and the consequences of breaking those rules can help your teen learn to make good and healthy choices. Make it clear what his consequences will be and how they will impact him.

It’s a process that you, your teen, and other family members are going to need to work hard on together. The ultimate goal will be for teens who are respectful, tolerant, and upstanding members of their community.

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