Setting Limits with Your Teen

by Super User

Setting limits and boundaries can be one of the hardest parts of relationships.  Having well delineated rules in your family will help your teens set limits in his or her relationships outside of the family.

 Family Boundaries

Children and adolescents need boundaries to be happy, healthy and successful.  A consistent system of rules, guidelines and consequences is important to establish early in the parenting relationship.  It’s never too late, however, to start establishing standards and a framework for enforcing them.


First, establish ground rules for any tense discussion:

·      No name calling

·      “Don’t hit below the belt:” don’t attack or bring up someone’s weak spot

·      Don’t bring up anything more than three days old

·      H.A.L.T.S. - don’t discuss anything when either party is Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired or Sick.

·      Avoid terms like “always” or “never”

·      Don’t bring in other people who aren’t involved, like siblings or friends


During discussion, you need to provide structure and clear direction.  Be consistent, and then follow through.  Continue to coach your teen on the skills in question until he or she has learned them.

Two specific methods you may wish to employ as ways to avoid arguing are:


Sponges - Use statements like “Uh huh” and “Is there anything else?” that help you stay with the topic but do not become argumentative or attempt to deny your child’s feelings.

Example:         Child: “I don’t see why I have to come before midnight.”

                        Parent: “Uh huh.  Is there anything else?”


Deflectors - If the situation intensifies, stay focused on the issue at hand by deflecting your teen’s point and restating the rule.

Example:         Child: “Everybody else gets to stay out until midnight!”

                        Parent: “Regardless, your curfew is 11 pm.”


Setting Standards

Take the time to sit down with your child to establish dating, activity, and party standards.  Think about appropriate age behaviors and safety issues.  Does your teen have phone money to call you in an emergency?  Will other parents be supervising the party - and have you, the parent, called to make sure?  How old are the teens that will be at the activity?  With your teen, generate a list of negotiable and non-negotiable standards for your family.  Some examples:

Negotiable                                                       Non-Negotiable

Curfew                                                             No drugs, alcohol, sex

Cost - up to a point                                           Parents know about ALL plans

Transportation                                                  No unsupervised parties


Teen Limits

Explain to your teen that situations will arise where they might not behave the way they’d like, simply because they’re not prepared to deal with the issue at hand.  It is vitally important for your teen to know what he or she will or will not do in a tricky situation BEFORE the situation ever arrives.

Sexual progression can be slow, but it is very predictable and once each level has been reached, the pressure to increase intimacy grows stronger.


Your child should never choose to not ask for your help out of fear of punishment.  Set up a system where no matter what, your child can call for your help, using code words if necessary.  That way, if your child finds him or herself in a dicey situation, your advice, intervention or rescue is only a phone call away.  Praise your child for the bravery to ask for help.


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