How to Teach Your Teen to Set Healthy Boundaries

Boundaries are important for everyone when it comes to maintaining physical, mental, and emotional health. As a parent, you’re in a unique position to showcase that importance to your teenagers. By modeling and teaching your teen to set healthy boundaries now, you can set them up for better personal health and stronger relationships in the future.

Estimated reading time: 4.5 minutes

Two teenage girls on their smartphones ignoring each other.If you already have a teenager in the house, you know that they tend to push boundaries more often than not. That’s because they are developing autonomy; they need to understand how boundaries work and why they are helpful. Teens' risk-taking is increased during adolescence due to their brain development stage. If you’re permissive and inconsistent, teens miss out on your support and ability to positively reduce their risk-taking while also helping them weigh the consequences of impulsive behaviors.

So, while it might seem impossible at times to set boundaries for your teens, let alone teach your teen emotional control and to set healthy boundaries, now is a perfect time to do it. They’re listening and absorbing more than you might realize, and these are lessons they’ll take with them into adulthood. 

Related reading: “Critical Ways to Help Boost a Teen’s Self-Esteem.”

Not sure where to get started? Let’s cover some common issues and situations your teen might already be facing and how to teach them appropriate boundaries for each one.

Common Situations Where Teens Need Healthy Boundaries

Set Social Media Limits for Your Teen

According to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 90% of teens aged 13-17 use social media. While it can be a great way for them to stay connected with friends and is social currency for teens, too much time using it can affect their mental health. Things like filtered Instagram photos, highlight reels of “perfect lives,” and cyberbullying can make social media a dangerous place for teens, leading to an increase in depression.

Teenager using social media on her smartphoneOne study found that more frequent social media usage made teens 14% more likely to be depressed. Unfortunately, statistics like those haven’t stopped most teenagers from spending several hours a day on their phones.

Taking away your teen’s phone might not be the best answer and could even cause them to become angry or more depressed. But, setting social media limits can help them manage their mental health and realize that life behind a screen isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Try some of the following healthy boundaries, and get involved with them, yourself, to set an example:

  • Have screen-free evenings at home (or at least at mealtimes)
  • Set app limits
  • Talk to your teen about cyberbullying and other possible dangers
  • Review and assess their phone and social media use once a week

At first, you might get some pushback from your teen since they’re so used to a social media lifestyle. But, when they see the loving nature behind your boundary-setting, they’re more likely to take it seriously and keep healthier habits.

Related reading: “Managing Kids’ Screen Time and Building a Healthy Kid-Parent Relationship.”

Relationship and Friendship Boundaries

Teenagers have to go through a lot of changes in a few short years. Their brains and bodies are radically changing, they’re dealing with a slew of hormones, and they’re doing whatever they can to maintain friendships and fit in. These changes can lead to some teens participating in unhealthy behaviors while they try to find a sense of belonging with others.

Deep Dive: "Teens and Screens: Does Your Child Have a Screen Addiction?"

If your teen has been acting out or doing things they normally wouldn’t, they might be “people-pleasing.” Maybe there’s a group of friends they want to be a part of, or they’re trying to impress a boyfriend/girlfriend. Some of the common reasons for people-pleasing include:

  • A desire to feel accepted and valued
  • Avoid rejection
  • A fear of being abandoned
  • Not wanting to lose their status in a group of friends
  • Be liked; be popular

Three teenage boys bumping fists with a sense of belonging.Whatever the case, helping your teen set boundaries in their friendships and relationships will make a big difference in their mental health.

Talk to them about being open and honest with their friends and how they can be clear and consistent with their personal boundaries. It’s okay to caution them about their friends’ adverse reactions or even a possible loss of a friend. Or some even crashing over their boundaries, but make sure they know that the people who really care about them will respect their beliefs, values, and choices.

When your teen learns to stand up for the things that matter and not give in just to please others, this practice will help them be more confident and successful throughout their lives.

Set Healthy Boundaries at Home

The best way to teach your teen to set healthy boundaries is to lead by example. Be clear and consistent with your limits at home. These standards include everything from your expectations of chores and responsibilities to how your teen treats other family members. Setting boundaries is essential, but enforcing them is the key to making them stick with your teenager.

Don’t worry about being nice. Instead, focus on being real. While your teen might not appreciate your limits in the moment, they’ll come to understand that your purpose in setting healthy boundaries is to both protect and educate them now and in the future.

Keep your emotions calm and your expectations clear. Know what you want from your teen (and other family members) and ask for it directly. When you do, you’ll set the right example for your teenager as they start the next chapter of their lives.

For more on parenting teenagers, read: "Why We Think Teenage Rebellion Normal."

And if you'd like customized parent coaching and support for your teen or in parenting teens, Heartmanity is here to help! Email us:

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Heartmanity Contributor: Frankie WallaceHeartmanity Contributor: Frankie Wallace
Frankie Wallace is a freelance writer from the Pacific Northwest. She enjoys writing about health, wellness and education, but occasionally goes back to her roots with socially active news journalism. Frankie spends her free time cultivating her zero-waste garden or off hiking in the mountains of the PNW with her loved ones.

Posted in Perfectly Imperfect Parenting

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