How To Set Boundaries With Your Parents: Advice for Teens
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Setting boundaries is an essential part of any healthy relationship, including the one you have with your parents. Boundaries are the guidelines you establish to define what kinds of behavior are acceptable and unacceptable, how you expect to be treated, and what your limits are. They’re not about creating conflict, but rather about maintaining a healthy and respectful relationship.

As a teenager, you’re going through a period of significant change and growth, which means that your needs and boundaries are also evolving. Learning to set and maintain boundaries with your parents can help you navigate these types of challenges with more confidence and self-assurance.

Setting boundaries with your parents can help you protect your own well-being, strengthen your relationship with your parents, and set the stage for healthier relationships in the future. This article will provide you with practical tips and skills for establishing healthy boundaries in your relationship with your parents. 

Boundaries are kind of a big deal

Establishing boundaries isn’t about creating barriers between you and your parents. It’s quite the opposite if you view boundaries as mutual agreements and understandings that protect and nourish your evolving relationship. You’re developing a stronger sense of identity and self-worth, so you’ll need to help your parents understand what you need to feel safe and supported.

In other words, boundaries aren’t about keeping people at a distance so much as they are a way to keep unhealthy patterns, assumptions and misunderstandings out of your relationship. They help you define what is and isn’t “OK,” ensuring that all parties feel respected and understood. This skill is key to your well-being and self-respect, especially during your developmental stage.

You and your parents should both know that boundary-setting skills will be key to not just protecting yourself from harm, but also maintaining your well-being, self-respect and good relationships in adulthood. Your brain is in some important transitional stages right now. While you’re forming your identity, you’ll go through significant cognitive, social and emotional changes. That’s actually a reason why now is a great time to learn to set and maintain boundaries. When your parents respect your boundaries and vice versa, you’ll be more likely to listen to each other, validate each other’s experiences and work together toward common goals. This process of mutual understanding and growth is essential for building a healthy and resilient parent-teen relationship. 

5 ways to set boundaries in your relationship with your parents

When you read them all together, these five points are a guide to setting and maintaining healthy boundaries in relationships — with your parents or anyone else. They’re also skills and practices that work independently. If you’ve tried to set boundaries before and they weren’t respected, use these tips to reflect on your approach and see what you can try differently next time.

Try using these five tips to set clear, kind, appropriate boundaries in relationships:

  • Know your limits 

Self-discovery is critical to understanding why other people’s behavior is having a negative impact on you. When you have a clear understanding of who you are and what you stand for, you’ll be better able to communicate your needs and set boundaries that align with your values. This self-awareness also helps you navigate relationships more effectively, as you can establish boundaries that are true to you and create healthy connections.

Since you’re looking to set boundaries, you probably have some ideas about where lines have been crossed. Think about how you can put your boundaries into clear language using “I” statements. For example, “I feel [sad, angry, frustrated] when you [do this behavior].” 

Consider how your limits have changed as you’ve grown more mature and what’s appropriate for a healthy parent/teen relationship. Look up some advice from experts if you’re not sure. 

  • Set hard limits

While many boundaries can be negotiated or adjusted based on mutual agreement, there are some boundaries that may not be negotiable. These nonnegotiable boundaries are typically related to fundamental values, personal safety and well-being.

Understanding the reasons behind the boundaries you want to set can help others respect them and lead to healthier and more fulfilling relationships. Boundaries rooted in personal values or beliefs are nonnegotiable because they define who you are. These boundaries are essential for maintaining your integrity and self-respect. For instance, if honesty is a core value, you may have a boundary against lying or deceit in your relationships. Boundaries that protect your physical or mental health are nonnegotiable to maintain your well-being. Boundaries that ensure you are treated with dignity and consideration are crucial for not only maintaining healthy relationships with others, but also for self-esteem and the relationship you have with yourself. And finally, boundaries that protect your autonomy are essential for your psychological well-being and your ability to make your own choices.

Whatever your differences may be, this goes back to the previous points about protecting your relationship. Remember that the parent/child relationship changes at many points as you develop, and it will continue to change in adulthood. That’s why it’s important to show them you acknowledge and value what you have in common now.

  • Communicate clearly

Clear communication is essential for effective boundary-setting. When you clearly express your boundaries and the reasons behind them, it helps ensure that your message is understood and respected by others, including your parents. Clear communication also fosters mutual understanding and respect in relationships, as it allows both parties to know what is expected and how to best support each other.

Express your thoughts and feelings using “I” statements to take ownership of your emotions. For example, “I feel overwhelmed when you criticize my choices.” Be assertive. This means expressing your thoughts, feelings and needs in a clear, honest and respectful manner. Avoid minimizing or exaggerating, stand your ground, and maintain your boundaries without being aggressive. When your parents respond, be an active listener.

  • Set kind consequences

In the best-case scenario, you might not even need to talk about consequences. Your parents could just agree to respect your new boundary. But they may not want to change their behavior right now. Even though it can drive you up a wall, there may not be anything you can do about it right away. 

Your presence, your time, your attention and your privacy are all things you share with your parents to different degrees. If they aren’t respecting one of your boundaries, you could end up with the emotional burden. It will definitely affect your relationship and, most likely, your mental health either now or in the future.

  • Be willing to compromise when you can

Your parents should want you to stay healthy and safe, but there could be situations where participating in their lifestyle compromises that for you. Put another way, you may have some different ideas about what “healthy” and “safe” look like than your parents do. That’s not inherently a bad thing, but it could be a source of conflict if those differences aren’t accepted. This could be a good time to address that.

In a healthy relationship, you can hold firm boundaries and make exceptions when the situation calls for it. As a full-grown adult, you’ll be able to decide how much “give-and-take” you’ll accept in different areas of your life. Being kind to your parents and preserving that relationship might involve making an exception to your boundaries once in a while.

Boundary-setting challenges and how to navigate them

Aspects of your identity, like race, gender or sexual orientation, may become integral to many of your boundary-setting conversations. Some young people belong to different cultural groups than their parents, and there are times when parents’ expectations for their children are influenced by cultural norms. Remember that any boundary-setting conversation is really an effort at seeking mutual understanding and creating new agreements that will support your relationship as it changes. By taking your time to explore how you really feel about an area where you want to set a boundary and process those emotions, you can approach these conversations with care and respect. 

Each time you prepare to set a new boundary, it can help to spend some time journaling about how you feel and how you want things to change. As you read over your thoughts later, some things may stand out as more important or closer to your personal truth than others. Identify what’s most important for your parents to understand about you. You can suggest some ways they might show respect for this new understanding going forward, but sometimes it’s good to go into these conversations open-minded. Your parents may come up with their own ways to respond with support that you wouldn’t have come up with yourself. 

It can be easy for anyone to steer emotionally fraught conversations off course in a number of ways. It doesn’t necessarily mean they’re trying to derail the topic. But bringing up things that have happened in the past, making accusations and using guilt typically aren’t helpful. Prioritizing what’s most important to you beforehand can help you keep the conversation focused and straightforward. Some basic priorities to consider are the relationship, the situation itself and your self-respect. If you have to begin by asking for three minutes of uninterrupted time to speak, try doing that and end by making a specific ask.

Traumatic experiences can complicate family relationships because they affect each of us deeply in different ways, and the effects can trickle into future generations. Try to notice when you’re getting near a sensitive topic and keep things in vague terms when possible, taking extra care to keep your intentions clear. Try saying something like, “I know [the divorce, the abuse] might be hard for you to talk about, but [a specific behavior] has been bothering me. I want to let you know how I feel and see if there’s any way to change things moving forward.”  

If you’re feeling distressed about your relationship with your parents, it’s OK to seek help from trusted adults, friends or a mental health professional. Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness at all; it takes courage and strength to approach these things, and it shows you value the relationship you and your parents have. Know what you’re looking for when you go into these conversations, too, so you can ask if this person has the capacity to help you. Sometimes you might just need a listening ear, or you might want some advice or help preparing for a conversation. Just be sure to respect your family’s privacy and ask your confidants to keep things private.

How Lightfully helps families with boundaries

Your connection to family or a strong support system is critical to your mental well-being. It can be hard to work through these issues, but we can do it together. At Lightfully, we help families dealing with some of the complex issues mentioned earlier and any related mental health concerns. Depression and anxiety can come as results of difficult family situations or traumas. These are things that can’t be addressed via clear teen/parent communication and boundary setting alone.

Your parents will be able to respect your boundaries better if they understand what you’re struggling with. But depression and anxiety can make it hard to communicate your boundaries or know what boundaries are needed in the first place. At Lightfully, we welcome family members to take part in their teen’s healing journey in our therapeutic environment. Structured family therapy sessions, psychoeducation and support groups are integral parts of our Teen programs.

Similarly, if your parents are struggling with their mental health, they may need to attend to their needs in order to start respecting your boundaries. They might find some relief in our Virtual Intensive Outpatient Program (vIOP). 

We help families learn how to support each other and heal with evidence-based, clearly defined, data-driven and whole-person-centered care. (That includes setting good boundaries.) Our compassionate clinical experts bridge the gap between one generation and the next with values like compassion, grit and sparkle

Change is possible. When you’re ready to take the first step, reach out to our Admissions Concierge Team

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