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.