Raising teenagers can be like riding a rollercoaster. Between their ever-changing moods, their increasing need to be independent and the almost 24/7 connection to their peers, sometimes it seems it would be easier to give in and not demand too much from our teens.
Sometimes parents have a much harder time enforcing rules with teens because they remember being a teen all too well. Treating your teen like your BFF may seem fun — and easier than enforcing rules — but it’s a bad idea for both of you. What teens really need are boundaries.
Teens are on their way to becoming independent, capable adults. Giving them boundaries may seem counterintuitive if we are trying to teach them independence. Not according to Karyn Gordon, a Toronto-based family consultant and author of the book Dr. Karyn’s Guide to the Teen Years: Understanding and Parenting Your Teenager. “It’s our job to teach our children the life skills that we want them to have,” says Gordon. “If we want them to have a good, healthy sense of boundaries, we have to start in our home.” If you have set age-appropriate boundaries for your children in the past, now is not the time to stop.
Setting too many boundaries for your teen is likely to backfire. Parents need to decide which rules are most important to them, and which are negotiable. Maybe you are a stickler for having chores finished before your teen goes out with friends, but are more flexible about curfews. Involving your teen in setting his boundaries makes him more invested in them, and more likely to be responsible. Many parents are pleasantly surprised at how sensible teens can be when asked to help define house rules.
In addition to setting boundaries for teens, parents need to follow through with consequences when rules are broken. The most important things to remember about consequences for teens are to be consistent and to match the consequence to the behavior. Taking away your daughter’s cell phone for a week will certainly make an impression, but is it a fitting punishment for missing curfew by 15 minutes? Make sure the punishment fits the crime and your teen is more likely to learn from her mistakes.
Setting boundaries and following through may not be easy, but it is a critical piece in the parenting puzzle. Dr. Gordon says, “In order for children to learn responsibility, there must be a clear boundary between the child’s responsibilities and the parent’s responsibilities. That boundary needs to be talked out, negotiated and rewards or consequences should be agreed upon to help the boundary stick. And then parents need to stick to it!”
By helping your teen gain the independence he needs, you are helping him grow into a competent young adult. Save the friendship for your adult children and just be a parent while they are teens — it’s best for both of you.
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