Setting boundaries with young people
Setting boundaries with young people
Thursday, 27 May 2021
As a parent, you have worked hard over the years to set boundaries for your children. To help them differentiate right from wrong and to make good choices.
However, as they get older many young people may seem determined to test boundaries (and their parents) to the limits.
Spend some time thinking about your boundaries and expectations and how they evolve. This can help avoid some of the conflict that inevitably arises as young people progress into adulthood.
In the article, you will find:
- Why do boundaries get pushed?
- Setting clear boundaries
- Open communication on boundaries
- Testing boundaries
Why do boundaries get pushed?
Boundaries are the guidelines that set out how people want to be treated by each other. They demonstrate what kind of behaviours and communication are acceptable or unacceptable.
As you know, parents are responsible for setting boundaries and limits of acceptable behaviour for their children. Younger children usually need a lot of guidance to make safe choices and boundaries need to be clear and firm.
As they get older, young people begin to develop their own sense of what’s right or wrong, acceptable or unacceptable. In many situations, parents and young people can have different personal values and boundaries, so conflict can arise. Young people begin to test boundaries that have previously been set, perhaps taking more risks and chances as they do.
Understandably, it can be hard for parents to allow space for young people to test out their own boundaries. It means you have to relinquish some control and trust that your young person can make effective decisions themselves.
Setting clear boundaries
Whether young people like it or not, most parents continue to have responsibility for them until they turn eighteen. Even into adulthood, if your young person is living in your house there will be boundaries that need to be negotiated and renegotiated.
Being explicit about boundaries and expectations is important. However, negotiation and supporting young people to develop their own boundaries can help to foster trust and respect in your relationship. It can be useful to start the conversation by explaining why agreeing boundaries together is important in the first place. Boundaries can help young people to try out ways of being independent, make informed and sound decisions while feeling safe and supported by parents.
Try be clear on expectations you have of your young person so that you can communicate a clear and consistent message. It might be the case that you are happy for them to develop boundaries without your input in some areas, and not others.
Examples of boundaries you may want to discuss together could include things like spending time with the family, going out with friends, going to parties, drinking, drug-taking, and social media use.
The below questions may prompt your thinking;
- What do you see as the most important boundaries?
- Which boundaries are negotiable, and which are not?
- What kind of consequences are you comfortable with?
- At what age do the boundaries change or evolve?
- Or what do you need your young person to demonstrate in order to renegotiate a boundary?
Young people are a lot more likely to be open and collaborative about boundaries if the conversation feels like a respectful negotiation. Ask for the young person’s opinions and thoughts and hear them out. Through using active listening skills, you can avoid miscommunication and potential conflict.
It can be a good idea to focus on one boundary at a time, so that the conversation is not overloaded. Perhaps ask your young person to suggest boundaries that you can follow too. For example, they may not want to speak about their relationships at in open spaces like the sitting room, but would prefer to in the privacy of their bedroom.
It can be hard as a parent to step back and watch your young person making mistakes. You know that if they just listened to you then the mistakes could be avoided. However, think back to your own adolescence. Did you believe at the time that your parents knew better? Or did you have to find out the hard way through trial and error?
As we all experienced, adolescence is a time to experiment and to test out boundaries. Peer pressure and impulsivity can sometimes lead to mistakes or unsafe behaviour. The testing out process often lasts throughout teenage years and serves as a valuable learning experience.
However, through open and direct communication, parents can help to support young people and guide them as their boundaries evolve. Make sure your young person feels they can talk to you about their mistakes. Try to be as measured as you can in your response. Help them to identify what they could have done differently and if needed, how to make amends.
Take a step back
Developing and negotiating boundaries as young people develop into adults is not a straightforward process. As with all young people, parents will make mistakes and get it wrong at times too.
If you find yourself in choppy waters, take a step back and assess the situation. Have you been fair? Have you been clear? Have you been consistent? Have you met your own expectations? If needed, reach out for support. Talk to other parents about how they are negotiating boundaries. You can also speak to Parentline, a support service for parents, on 1890 927 277 for advice or guidance.