5 ways to teach your teens healthy boundaries
It is important for teens to create and advocate for their own boundaries. By defining key personal preferences on communication and space, young people can have the control to develop healthy relationships and advocate for themselves. But, this isn’t always easy. Here are five ways to help teach your teens healthy boundaries.
Define what a personal boundary is
Personal boundaries are those limits that you set to protect your physical and emotional space in all kinds of relationships and can vary by situation or persons involved. Boundaries are a way of setting perimeters around interactions that allow individuals to feel safe and in control of their presence. These allow individuals to say “no” when they want to as well as be open in relationships when appropriate.
Distinguish the difference between healthy and unhealthy boundaries
Boundaries encompass many different things but stand as the rules for interactions in relationships. Types of boundaries include those around physical space, touch and safety, emotional security and verbal dialogue. Individuals are empowered to set their own boundaries for given relationships and situations to ensure they are taking good care of their emotional and physical well-being. Boundaries can be built by modeling as well as conversations, with the initial step being to be respectful to everyone’s physical and emotional space. Modeling good boundaries would include asking before touching or hugging, not forcing physical contact when it is not desired, and speaking limits when someone feels uncomfortable. Associating language with boundaries can help give children and young adults a framework to setting their own boundaries; for example: “I feel like you’re a little too close to me, can you take a step back so we can talk” or “I don’t really like to be tickled, I would prefer a hug”.
Setting their own boundaries
Setting a boundary first requires an individual to know what they are or are not comfortable with in each situation, and that may change over the development of a relationship. Boundaries can be set verbally, i.e. “I prefer handshakes to hugs,” or more subtly as in sitting across the table rather than next to someone. Boundaries should be consistent so all parties involved know the relationship expectations and if someone feels that boundaries have been violated, it should be immediately communicated.
Teach your teen to advocate for themselves
It can be difficult to speak up when you feel like someone has disrespected a boundary you have set. However, it is imperative to speak up even if you’re scared. Boundaries are set by your teens and are the judge of when they are not respected. If you feel uncomfortable, or if safety is seriously violated, involve support—both natural and formal to help you stand your ground. Young people do not need someone else’s permission or recognition that a boundary has been crossed.
Ways to practice at home
Parents can support their teen’s boundaries at an early age. Respect their space and wishes, even if they are not able to verbalize discomfort in a situation. Make sure to watch for cues and changes in behavior and model speaking the concern. As your child continues to mature, have open conversations about concerns they are having within their relationships, what they feel relationship norms should look like, and how to speak up in uncomfortable situations. If a teen approaches a parent with a boundary violation concern, ask open ended questions, offer support and empathy and identify what support the teen would like to communicate the concern.