How to set boundaries, guidelines and consequences for your teen

Setting rules, boundaries, guidelines and consequences can be a challenging aspect of parenting a teen. The ultimate intention behind boundaries and guidelines is to build relationship and connection, says Julie Faddis, Assistant Clinical Director at Shelterwood. “Boundaries help foster trust, and the end goal is for parents and teens to come together and develop boundaries as a team.” Here are five tips for creating boundaries and guidelines that work for your teen and work for you:

1.) Center boundaries and guidelines around love and trust.

It is important to understand the difference between rules and boundaries, Julie says. “Rules are fear-based, but boundaries and guidelines are more relational,” she says. “If you and your teen are struggling to have open communication, work on solidifying the foundation of trust and forming that positive relationship.

Setting appropriate boundaries, guidelines and consequences for your teen can actually add safety to the relationship, Julie adds. For example, Julie says, consider how we offer meal options to a toddler. “We do not ask, What do you want for dinner? Instead, we ask, do you want a hot dog or macaroni and cheese? Too many choices can be overwhelming. Guidelines create structure and security, as well as learning opportunities to cross boundaries, make mistakes and learn from them.”

2.) Create realistic boundaries and guidelines.

One common roadblock parents face is setting unrealistic boundaries that are not possible to reinforce. “Setting up boundaries and consequences that are not manageable or attainable is overwhelming for both teens and parents,” she says. Julie recommends defining consequences in detail ahead of time; for instance, how will your family define being grounded? Does being grounded mean your teen cannot go to soccer practice, or are only social activities prohibited? Answering these questions ahead of time makes sure you and your teen are on the same page.

As you establish guidelines, work on creating boundaries and consequences that are realistic for each of your children. Consider your teen as a whole: developmentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually and intellectually. The standard you set for an older sibling may not be the right fit for a younger sibling, for example. Plus, unique consequences show your teen that you view them as an individual.

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3.) Set consequences that are congruent with the behavior.

Another common obstacle for parents is creating consequences for the sheer sake of having consequences. “We fall into the trap that because the behavior is unacceptable, it needs a consequence,” Julie says. “The consequence needs to connect to the severity of the behavior.” An incongruent consequence is grounding your teen for a month when he or she arrives home 20 minutes after curfew. “A better consequence would be having to come home early for the next several nights to demonstrate consistency and trust.”

Teens who are developmentally able to do so should be involved in coming up with consequences. “Sometimes, teens come up with creative and often more severe consequences,” Julie says. “It can be as simple as asking your teen: What do you think the next move is? If you were in my shoes, what would you tell your teen?” This is also a good exercise in critical thinking skills, Julie says.

4.) Remain consistent in enforcing boundaries and guidelines.

Once consequences are in place, following through is key to success. “Lack of enforcing, or enforcing without consistency, shows your teen that you may not follow through with something else in the future. It becomes confusing for teens,” Julie says. Furthermore, consistency shows your teen the importance of keeping your word.

If you determine a different course of action than the original consequences, have a conversation with your teen about why you chose a different path. “There is room for grace, but explaining the reasons behind the changing consequence is key,” Julie says. “You can be open with your teen, and this builds trust. If parents consistently listen and empathize, reacting with support and understanding, it demonstrates investment.”

5.) Keep an attitude of love, no matter what.

Always separate your child from the behavior, Julie says. “If your teen makes a bad decision, it is so important they understand that you are unhappy with the behavior, but you love them so much, no matter what. Their action may be disappointing, but they are never a disappointment.”

“If parents consistently listen and empathize, and offer teens the support they need, that demonstrates investment and engagement. This shows your teen that you are someone they can come talk to. Your teen will know that even if you are disappointed, you will still act in love and they will still feel valued.”

Boundaries and guidelines do not have to be a source of conflict and frustration, and can actually bring you and your teen closer together. If breaking the rules is becoming the norm, we can help. Contact Shelterwood to learn more and start the admissions process.

Conflict resolution: Four tips to diffuse conflict with your teen

The clock says 11 pm when you hear the front door unlock. Your teen is finally home — an hour past curfew, and for the third time this week. When you and your teen are at odds with each other, a conflict can get out of control rapidly. In this moment of worry, panic and anger, you both raise your voices.

What started as a calm conversation escalated quickly: you are no longer having a discussion, but a shouting match. Sound familiar? Here are some tips to diffuse conflict and get back to healthy conversation with your child:

1.) Take time to cool off.

Conflict cannot be solved in the face of strong emotions. If the conflict has escalated to a point where you or your teen cannot stay calm, take a step back. Whether in ten minutes or even the next morning after a good night’s sleep, be specific with your teen about when you will resume the conversation. When you take time to breathe and regain your focus, you give your teen the gift of opportunity: both of you can choose your responses logically, rather than behaving in a way you may regret.

How to say it: “We are both feeling angry right now, and we need to cool off. We can both take half an hour to catch our breath and calm down, and then I will see you back here for a healthy conversation.”

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2.) State the problem using “I” messages.

If things are starting to sound less like cooperative, productive conversation and more like the blame game, shift the tone toward one of personal responsibility by using “I” messages. Conflict can easily put us on the defense. Speaking with “I” as the subject instead of “you”  takes conflict in a positive direction.

How to say it: “I felt worried when curfew came and you were not home yet. We agreed as a family to a 10:00 curfew on weeknights. I was expecting you on time. What happened?”

3.) Use reflective listening to restate what you heard your teen say.

Reflective listening demonstrates that we care enough to hear the other person’s side of the story. Rather than focusing on yourself exclusively, it fosters empathy. To show your teen that you are listening, restate what you hear your teen saying.

How to say it: “So when you are out with friends whose curfews are later than yours, you feel that 10:00 is not a fair time to come home. You feel that you do not have the freedom you want.”

4.) Affirm your son or daughter with a simple reminder that they are loved, valued and important.

In times of conflict, heart rates increase, our logic gets distorted and we often think in simple, black-and-white terms: I am good, you are bad. Stop the emotional flood by simply affirming your teen. This quick, effective exchange reminds your teen that you do not love her any less, and she is just as cherished now as she was before the conflict.

How to say it: “I am feeling frustrated about the problem we are having with your curfew, but you are more important than this conflict. I love you no matter what, and you are priceless. We are on the same team and it is us against the problem, not us against each other.”

Conflicts with your teen do not need to be volatile and negative, and how we deal with conflict determines the outcome. If conflicts are becoming the norm with you and your teen, Shelterwood can help. Contact us to start the admissions process.

Meet Stephen Hobson

This month, Stephen Hobson celebrates 15 years of service to Shelterwood, first joining the team as a young adult mentor. Today, he combines his accounting acumen with his heart for teens as the Director of Accounting. Meet Stephen Hobson.

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What Stephen loves most about Shelterwood: “I love the focus we put on restoration of the whole family,” he says. “Nothing we do at Shelterwood focuses exclusively on the student’s issue. We see the most success when the whole family makes the commitment to grow, and I love how Shelterwood walks alongside parents and families in that process together.”

What brought him to Shelterwood: Stephen was a student at Oklahoma State University studying accounting when he met Shelterwood founder Richard Beech. “We talked for several hours. I even ended up missing my next class! I truly got hooked on his vision for the ministry,” he recalls. “I had spent a few summers doing youth ministry, and I saw the mentor opportunity as a chance to continue that impactful work with teenagers. I was also looking for the discipleship training that Shelterwood would offer me. I knew that caring for struggling teens would be a tough environment, but the challenge of it struck me too. I wanted to get Biblical leadership training while getting the hands-on experience of working with teenagers.”

His next Shelterwood steps: After his year as a mentor, Stephen continued as an intern. It was during that season that he met Amy, the Shelterwood Women’s Discipleship Director, who would later become his wife. At the time, Shelterwood had locations in Branson, Missouri, and Denver, Colorado; after Stephen and Amy got married, they moved to Denver. Amy accepted a full-time role in Shelterwood admissions. Meanwhile, Stephen planned to continue his Shelterwood work while studying counseling at seminary. “I thought my dream job was to become a Shelterwood counselor.”

Finding his calling in accounting: Stephen capitalized on his accounting degree and worked part-time in Shelterwood’s accounting department while in seminary. “Over that year, God was shifting my desires. I started to see how my gifts could be used in a different way to serve the ministry. I started to see that this could be a great fit for me: I could serve in that accounting capacity, and still be a key part of the ongoing ministry. What initially drew me to Shelterwood was my heart for the students. I still get to serve them in my role today.”

Family: Stephen’s wife Amy also is still part of Shelterwood, currently working in a part-time role as the Outcomes Research Coordinator in connection to NATSAP’s Evidence-Based Outcomes. They have four young children. “Living life with them is an adventure!”

Outside work: Stephen, along with Amy, spends most of his free time with the kids. They love doing activities outdoors together, especially going on bike rides, and he enjoys cheering them on as they start to become involved in sports.

Best part of his work at Shelterwood: Stephen points back to his first role with Shelterwood as something that drives his work today. “I love that my role supports our relational model,” he explains. “Our staff gets to know these teens at a deep level, where we can earn their respect and then model a Christ-like life and be someone they can look up to. I love how we have incorporated this into our program, and it is so unique to us at Shelterwood.”