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Teaching Teenagers Personal Boundaries

Teenagers live in a culture where boundaries seem to be non-existent. So, teaching them about your own personal boundaries will help them think about developing their own boundaries and how to respect other people’s personal space, time and belongings.

When I mention boundaries, don’t confuse it with household rules. Boundaries have more to do with what we all need to build around ourselves to guard from being walked all over by others who are less considerate. Boundaries are enforced by rules, but they are different from your household rules, because they have to do with protecting who we are as individuals and what we choose to put up with as we interact with others.

Boundaries protect us; they define who we are, and who we are not.

Think of boundaries as you would your “personal space.”  When someone steps up and talks to you with their nose two inches away from your nose, you may feel that your personal space is being violated.  It can feel uncomfortable when that invisible barrier is crossed.

Likewise, teens who haven’t learned to respect personal boundaries can fail to realize that their parents are human beings who need their own space.  Naturally selfish teens can step over the line by putting more and more demands on a parent’s time, money and patience. If allowed to go on, the parents will eventually get walked on, dumped on, yelled at, and feel demeaned or disrespected.  They can begin feeling like their life is no longer their own; rather, it belongs to the care and feeding of their teenager’s selfishness.

Reestablishing and communicating your need for personal space once your child reaches the teen years is important.  It will help them know that you are still a person, not just a parent, and you have needs, too.  For instance:

Privacy (I will decide who to allow in my personal space)

Time (I will decide what will occupy my time… not my teen)

Money (I can give to my teen out of love, but I owe him nothing)

Action (I can say “no” to my teen’s demands, if I want to)

Emotions (I won’t be “dumped” on or disrespected)

Boundaries… Even if You Love Serving Your Teenager

Some parents relish being needed by their teenager.  They dote on them and take care of their every need.  They ask “How high?” when their teens says, “Jump!” They may even take abuse and disrespect from their teen when it is directed their way, thinking, “Oh, they’re just having a bad day.”  These parents need to step back and understand that boundaries must still be established, for the teenager’s sake, and consequences need to be applied for stepping over those boundaries. If not, it will lead to selfish, bossy and entitled adolescents who don’t understand personal boundaries.

My Teen is Going Too Far

It’s easy to tell when your teenager has gone too far.  You’ll feel frustrated, violated or a little “put out.”  But the question is, do they know they’ve crossed the line, or do they just think you’re the one being unreasonable in your reaction? They won’t know they’ve violated your boundaries until you clarify what those boundaries are.

When teens can get the feeling that we owe them everything, tell them “I don’t owe you a thing, but I want to give you everything.”

So, when you feel violated by your teenager’s inconsiderate nature, write down the boundary that could be a solution.  For example, “I need to be spoken to with reasonable respect,” or,” I need to have a clean car with a few drops of gas in the tank after it is borrowed,” or, “I need to be asked several hours in advance if a ride is needed,” or, “I need to be asked before you enter my room, dig in my purse, or borrow things from my closet.”  When you get these things under control, you’ll be protecting your privacy, your day, and a little bit of your sanity from your teenager’s selfishness and lack of consideration.

Communicating Boundaries

Once you’ve had some time to get your list together, cut it down to just ten items as a first step; which may be difficult, but teenagers have difficulty learning more than ten new concepts at a time.  Then sit down with your teenager after dinner to tell him something like, “There are a few things I am going to change having to do with how we interact with each other.  It’s time that we begin to interact in a more adult way.  Therefore, here are ten things that will change, effective immediately.”   Then, list the items, like: “I will no longer do your laundry… I will no longer drive you to school… I will no longer wake you up in the morning,” etc.

While normal discipline should be consistent across the family, personal boundaries can be different; they can be unique for each individual. Mom’s may be different from dad’s, and they may be different for a teenage girl versus a boy.  As you communicate your own boundaries, don’t make it one-sided.  Ask your teenager to develop their own personal boundaries as well.  Have them think about and list their own personal boundaries for the people they interact with, including you.  It’s a powerful way for them to think through their own individuality and how they’ll react to the influences in their life, including their peers.

Whenever you require your teenager to step up to the plate to take on adult responsibility or behavior, also communicate ways that you’ll be treating them more like adults in return.  For instance, giving them more freedoms or the ability to make their own choices. And let them know that you’ll respect their personal boundaries as well (as long as they are respectful and not counter to your household rules or your job as a parent).

What If My Teen Still Won’t Respect My Boundaries?

Your child may never fully agree with all of your boundaries, but he or she can be required to respect them, even if they don’t agree, or face the consequences of not respecting them. Breaking personal boundaries is a pretty big offense in my book, so be sure to set your consequences appropriately.

Your job, for as long as your children live with you, is to faithfully provide an arena for your children to learn respect, relationship, and boundaries. If not, they’ll about it and stumble off to college, to work, or to become parents themselves leaving in their wake a path of destructive behavior and relational missteps.

As you begin to think about setting your boundaries, ask yourself, “What do I want the relationships and behavior toward me to look and feel like?”  Think about and communicate what you want changed in how your teenager relates to you. It will bring sanity to your home and help teach your children how to respect another person’s time, privacy, energy, space, and authority.  More importantly, it will ultimately teach your children self-control and to be good parents who teach boundaries when they have kids of their own.  So the cycle of life continues.



            Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a residential counseling center for struggling teens located in Longview, Texas.  He has been married to his wife, Jan, for 40 years, has two kids, and four grandkids.  He lives in Longview, Texas, with the Heartlight staff, 60 high school kids, 25 horses, his dog, Stitch, two llamas, and a prized donkey named Toy.

His past involvement as a youth pastor, Young Life area director, and living with more than 2,800 teens has prepared Mark to share his insights and wisdom about parenting pre-teens and adolescents. You can find out more about Heartlight at HeartlightMinistries.orgYou can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.

Mark is also the host of the radio program Parenting Today’s Teen; heard on over 1,600 radio outlets nationwide. Visit where you’ll find more parenting resources and find a station near you that carries the daily 60-second features or the 30-minute weekend program.  Download the Parenting Today’s Teens App for Apple or Android, it’s a great way to listen on your schedule.

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.