Setting Boundaries with your Tween/Teen

“We should not look back unless it is to derive useful lessons from past errors.”
–George Washington

One of the greatest dilemmas of raising adolescents is maintaining the balance between keeping them safe and supporting their increasing need for independence. Adolescents can look and sound like adults, but as we learned last week, their decision-making capabilities are significantly delayed compared to their physical development. They tend to be impulsive and driven by peer relationships. This is why it is paramount that we consistently provide boundaries for behavior, and we re-evaluate them often. Establishing boundaries or limits can help to reduce conflict within families and help adolescents feel safe and less overwhelmed. After all, they are often dealing with many physical and social changes.

Many online resources or books on parenting provide age appropriate guidelines for boundaries or rules. I encourage parents to use those guidelines, but to also evaluate a child’s maturity level in addition to age. For example, you may have set the standard that your child can get a cell phone by the age of thirteen. However, they have not shown the responsibility to complete homework on time or complete daily household chores, then they should not receive the cell phone.

When setting boundaries with your children, you should be explicit in your expectations by being specific about what is and what is not permitted, and being specific about the consequences of violating the established boundary. It is also important to establish reward systems for consistently following through, especially when emphasizing new skills.  Below are a few areas that are common boundaries to consider for tweens/teens:

  • Chores, meal prep/clean-up, table manners, etc. (Kids should have responsibilities as early as age 2 or 3.)
  • Rules for socializing with friends, including sleep-overs, adult supervision on outings such as the mall or movies, etc.
  • Use of technology: phones, the internet, gaming, etc.
  • Number of after school activities per week
  • Riding in cars with an older sibling or a friend’s older sibling
  • Appropriate communication or interaction with boyfriends/girlfriends

Remember that every child is different, and each should have boundaries based on their specific needs and development. Also, remember that adolescents will make mistakes. It is how they learn about their place in the world. Be sure that whatever consequences you give fit the “crime” and are easy to implement. In addition, your children should be included in all conversations regarding setting and following up on expectations. It is important that they have a voice. By including them in our conversations, we promote self-advocacy and accountability.

Enjoy this excerpt from How to Raise an Adult by ex-Stanford Dean Julie Lythcott-Haims: Eight Life Skills all 18 year olds need.


Jensen, Frances E., and Amy Ellis Nutt. The Teenage Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Survival Guide to Raising Adolescents and Young Adults. New York, Harper, an imprint of Harpercollins Publishers, 2015.
Siegel, Daniel J. Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain. New York, Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, a member of Penguin Group (USA), 2015.

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