Skip to content

Developing Healthy Boundaries with Your Teen

by Mark Gregston

People will continue with inappropriate behaviors until the consequence of their action causes more pain than pleasure.  And for all of us, this pattern begins in childhood.  So, if you’re wanting to train your child up in the way they should go, you’re going to need to start encouraging better behavior right now by setting up some rules and boundaries. 

As parents it’s up to us to develop the guidelines that our families need.  We do this because when the rules and boundaries are well defined, we’re giving our kids structure and stability and we’re also teaching them how to be responsible.  Children want rules and guidelines because it’s how they know we love them and we’re there to protect them.  As Alyssa, one of our Heartlight residents shared, as parents, you can’t be so concerned about making your kids happy that you ignore their safety and well-being.  She’s right and her statement shows wisdom beyond her teenage years. 

So, how can you help your kids while setting healthy boundaries?  Well, keep reading to learn more. 

What are Boundaries? 

There’s a difference between rules and boundaries, but both work in conjunction to help you organize your life and your time, so that you don’t miss out on the things that are truly important.  Simply stated, rules provide structure for a home, (such as locking the doors at midnight), while boundaries deal specifically with each member of your family as an individual. 

Boundaries are the “I will/I will not” statements that everyone should possess in order to maintain a healthy level of sanity and these statements are not unhealthy nor are they selfish as some would suggest.  Boundaries are personal fences to help you stay sane so that you don’t become violated, misused, disrespected, or abused. 

On any given day, Heartlight is home to sixty plus students, so it’s important that we have boundaries for everyone, myself included.  An example of mine is that I don’t have to talk to people when I’m mowing the grass.  That’s my time alone and I need that time to myself to stay sane, so we keep it intact here at the ranch. 

How to set Appropriate Boundaries? 

Teens need to see their parents setting healthy boundaries so that they know how to set appropriate boundaries as they grow up.  In order to do this, think about the changes you’d like to make and then write down a one-sentence statement on how you’d like that area of your life to change. 

After you’ve got your statement, call a family meeting and tell your family members what you’re going to do or not do anymore.  By deciding to not do something—it doesn’t mean you can’t ever do it, but it means that you’re going to change your normal boundary line moving forward. 

Making healthy changes is so important in the life of your family.  When you’re constantly saying yes to everyone else in your life, you will wear yourself out doing what everyone else wants, and you won’t be able to do the things that God has called you do. 

A Few Notes about Change 

Family changes will not happen overnight.  So, be patient. 

The longer something has been out of bounds, the more difficult it will be when we try to get healthy and bring about positive change. 

Kids need to know that there’s a God-designed order to your household.  You have the authority, but kids need to know where they stand.  They need parents, not friends. 

It’s important for everyone to be on board with the change.  So, make sure that you explain to the family your reasoning that the family dynamics have to change, and then give them the opportunity to buy in. 

Help them understand what the rules are, as well as what the consequences are for breaking the rules and boundaries.  For example, my granddaughter was not being pleasant to my wife—her grandma, but she wanted an iPad, so I told her that I would get her one, but if she was sassy, she’d lose it.  And then sure enough, that happened.  So, we took away the iPad for that day, but since then, we’ve not had a problem with her attitude.  And that’s important because kids have to learn that there is a consequence for every action and agreement. 


Mom, Dad … It’s hard to believe that your teens want structure and boundaries, but they do!  They long for clarity of what’s okay and what’s off-limits.  Just as man plans and God directs his steps, do the same for your teen.  Let your child make decisions about how they will walk on the path that you have laid out for them.  And don’t rescue your teen from the consequences that come from making poor decisions and unwise choices.  God will use these choices to teach your teen the difference between right and wrong and to help them wisely think through their decision-making process.  Your boundaries will help them mature and develop into healthy young adults. 

Author: Mark Gregston

Mark Gregston began working with teens more than 40 years ago as a youth minister and Young Life director. He has authored nearly two dozen books, has written hundreds of articles, and is host of the nationally-acclaimed Parenting Today’s Teens podcast and radio broadcast.