When children are young, they benefit a great deal from structure and routine.
These help make the world more predictable and easier to navigate at the time when it is most confusing.
As youths develop into teens, they become more able to manage ambiguity in life. Soon, they reach a point where they want to stretch their limits and actively seek the unknown.
Testing limits is an important part of growth and development. For example, taking on new challenges and succeeding – or even failing in a healthy, lesson-focused way – can serve as important stepping stones toward a healthy, balanced worldview.
Even during these times, however, boundaries have a vital role to play. Teens may sometimes chafe at boundaries, but they have several functions:
Boundaries Reduce Ambiguity, Stress, and Strife
Teens are more likely than younger children to reject situations they deem unfair. With clear boundaries all parties understand, there's less room for argument. That, in turn, leaves more room for positive, collaborative behavior while reducing stress all around.
They Tip the Scales Toward Successful Endeavors
Boundaries aren't just for convenience: They put the parent or caregiver in the role of supporting the teen in seeking age-appropriate goals and responsibilities. While setbacks are part of life, teens with the chance to exercise agency in successful ways are most likely to flourish.
What is a Boundary?
A boundary consists of three parts:
- Responsibility: Behaviors a teen should perform or maintain without being asked.
- Restriction: Behaviors to be avoided to make the responsibility more attainable.
- Consequence: What happens if the teen willingly fails to uphold the responsibility.
For example, a teen might have the responsibility of starting homework within an hour of getting home from school. Starting homework is the responsibility. Television, phone, internet, and other distractions are restricted activities that should be avoided while the responsibility is carried out.
The consequence, of course, will vary based on family situation and parenting style – but it should be consistent across similar cases. For example, if a teen dallies on the phone instead of doing homework, taking the phone away for the rest of the evening might be the consequence.
Most people – teens and adults alike – chafe at boundaries they feel are irrational or harsh. When kids and teens talk about “when I grow up,” they're really talking about boundaries (though their perspective may shift as they get older!) So, how can you establish healthy boundaries teens will respect?