Healthy Boundaries for Teens

UC San Francisco provides an overview of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). 
Affinity Therapy Services has trained therapists that offer DBT. 

Many people talk about healthy boundaries, but no one ever says what they are or how to implement them in their lives.  Boundaries sound like a good idea but how do you do it?  Healthy boundaries are simple rules and limits you establish in your life to remain emotionally safe.   A healthy boundary offers the ability to say no, comfort in being open, and the opportunity to feel connected to others.  Establishing these rules allows the parent and child to have discussions about the “dates” and romantic relationships.  Parents should encourage as much open dialogue about romantic relationships as comfort levels allow.

When our children begin dating it is often a terrifying and confusing time for parents.  This time in our children’s lives should be full of adventure and growth. Instead, it becomes a battleground. Often, parents feel the pulling away of the child and this invokes intense fear, and at times, the parent may not know the best way to handle it.  I’d like to offer a few insights into this new phase of development and encourage the establishment of healthy boundaries for the parents and the child.

Start to Set Boundaries

Ok, you’d like to set boundaries. Where do you start? First, we all must figure out what your boundary is. There are no universal rules as it is about finding a balance for the individual. At times, this can be far more difficult for an adolescent.  I find that if adults in the adolescent’s life can establish and implement healthy boundaries the adolescent is more able to do it as well. As parents, we always want to model healthy behaviors.  Sometimes finding that healthy boundary is through trial and error.

As my daughter recently told me, “it was a learning process for me”.  I encourage adolescents to begin by thinking about what their needs are and don’t make this too hard.  If the boundary is too complicated or difficult to implement, then it might not be the right balance.  It’s ok if you need to change it or shift the boundary around a bit.  Remember this is growth and working towards healthy relationships. It’s supposed to be a work in progress.

Boundary Violations

Second, be clear on what the boundary is and is not.  Boundary violations often originate because the partner misunderstands them.  Language is so important for this part of the process.  I encourage others to use “I feel” statements and reflective listening skills during this process.  Reflective listening skills is a two-step process.  It’s about thoroughly listening to the speaker and then repeating back what you heard.  This can help clarify your understanding, but also confirms to the speaker that you were listening to them. If those skills need to be addressed, then please work on them.  Talk to one another so the person feels heard and understood during this phase.

Stick to Them

Lastly, be true to yourself.  Not everyone will respect your boundaries and will try to violate them to see if you are serious and will enforce them.  If someone tries to violate your boundary, remind them of what it is and ask them to respect it.  If they continue to violate it, perhaps this is someone who needs less access to you in their life.  Remember that is their choice to respect or violate the boundary and show unhealthy behaviors.  You do not have control over them, but you do have control over how you respond.  If this happens in a romantic relationship, then it may be time to move on.  Have enough self-respect to know when to walk away.

Remember parents, this is a time for exploration, and you might not like or understand why your child chooses this person as a partner.  It’s ok to express concerns if you have them; however, it’s important to express them respectfully.  You want your child to learn and grow during this phase and to learn how to trust themselves. Most importantly, you want them to feel comfortable to come to you when they feel uncertain and when they inevitably will need your help to set healthy boundaries.

Thank you for reading.