Communicating with Your Teen: Boundaries and Independence

Peace at Home February 24, 2023 | Stephanie Rondeau

Adolescence comes with a whole host of new challenges in parenting. Not the least of these is your child’s increasing drive for independence. While we want to encourage our teens to become independent people, we also want to make sure that they’re safe and making smart decisions. Figuring out how to guide them while still supporting increased autonomy can be incredibly challenging. 

When teens seek more independence, it’s easy to simply set rules and guidelines that they are expected to follow. However, parents may want to consider taking a more collaborative approach in order to make the process more beneficial—and a little easier—for everyone. 

Instead of making all the rules yourself, working with your teen to develop guidelines can be a wonderful exercise for both of you.Inviting your teen to propose curfews, safety plans and other agreements actually strengthens your child’s belief that they are capable of making mature decisions while still receiving guidance from you. In addition, it helps increase their sense of autonomy while helping you build trust in their ability to be responsible. And finally, they are more likely to keep agreements that were negotiated together. You have the final say, but it will go a long way to take their ideas and preferences into account as you come up with a final plan.  

If your child comes to you with a challenge in their life or you’re working together on creating boundaries or you just want to help them develop general decision making skills, there are effective strategies you can use. Remember that whatever the scenario, it’s not about telling them the right answer, as tempting as that may be. In many situations, it’s about listening with compassionate curiosity, giving them guidance and in some cases giving them space  to come to their own solutions. 

  • Help teens recognize that they are in charge of their choices. As much as we don’t want to admit it, when teens say, “You can’t control me,” they’re right. They are in charge of their decisions. It can be helpful to remind them that along with this, they are responsible for any consequences that may occur as a result of their choices. 
  • Offer guidance—but listen to them first.  Try not to give your teen unsolicited advice. Instead, after listening, invite them to tell you what solutions they have in mind. Ask them what they think might be the outcomes of each of those solutions. You can offer suggestions without blame, shame or judgment. If your teen is not open to any suggestions, consider revisiting the conversation another time. 
  • Ask open ended questions. Give your teen a chance to speak to you about their concerns with more than a yes or no answer. And if they do provide you with any information, make eye contact and listen to what they are saying. Check for understanding – make sure you “get” what they are saying. Helping them to feel seen and heard without judgment is a great way to keep the lines of communication open. 

Helping kids develop independence isn’t easy. It’s often downright scary. It can be difficult to watch them make decisions while knowing that they may not always make the right decision. But developing the skills to weigh possible outcomes is incredibly important in this stage of life, and you can help them do this. 

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