Healthy boundaries are essential for the psychological well being of children and teens. Although it’s hard for some parents to set those boundaries, feeling as though they are being too rough or too strict, boundaries help a child develop a sense of self.
When parents do not establish boundaries, teens have a hard time feeling safe, secure, and protected. For instance, when parents set a curfew for 11pm, and a teen understands that the boundary was established in order to keep him or her safe, that teen registers that his or her parents want to offer protection and safety. Even though he or she may not actually abide by the rule, feeling safe and protected is necessary for secure development.
Of course, that safety and development should have started in infancy and childhood. When children feel safe in their attachment to their parents, they have a secure base from which to go out and explore the world. They have a sense of confidence that they can always return to the healthy relationship they have with their parents, which includes healthy boundaries.
On the other hand, if a child or teen feels unsafe in his or her environment, it will be difficult to move through adolescence with ease. Instead, a teen will more likely display:
- A disrespectful attitude
- Self-absorption and the inability to see things from anyone else’s perspective
- Laziness and carelessness
- A negative attitude toward life, school, or other people
- The tendency to pick friends that parents disapprove of
- Bursts of anger that sometimes come from nowhere
- Lack of motivation for school
- Neglect of home chores and responsibilities
- Mood shifts
- A lack of interest in spiritual matters
- Detachment from family events
- Deception about their activities and behavior
- Physical aggression
- Truancy from school
- Abuse of alcohol and drugs
- Sexual activity
These behaviors might be seen as typical adolescent behavior. However, with unhealthy family boundaries, a teen might be more emotionally vulnerable to displaying these behaviors.
If healthy boundaries don’t exist in a parent-teen relationship, establishing them will at first feel difficult because it might feel like you are pushing your child away. However, slowly incorporating healthy boundaries can facilitate the emotional and psychological health of both parties. It’s important to have clear lines that are well communicated. Healthy boundaries have the following characteristics:
- Present and clear
- Appropriate versus controlling or manipulative
- Firm but flexible, not rigid
- Protective, not hurtful or harmful
- Receptive, not invasive or domineering
- Not set by anyone else but yourself.
Furthermore, as you and your teen grow in your boundaries and he or she begins to feel protected by your relationship, a teen might in fact want to learn about establishing boundaries in his or her own life. The following are types of boundaries that a teen might want to know about and apply the above healthy boundary characteristics:
Material Boundaries: Determining whether or not to lend personal belongings such as money, car, clothes, books, or food to others.
Physical Boundaries: Deciding how much personal space and privacy you need.
Mental Boundaries: Recognizing how easily vulnerable you are to suggestions of others or if you easily inwardly react to the words and behaviors of others.
Emotional Boundaries: Being able to distinguish your emotions and responsibilities from those of others. Healthy boundaries prevent you from giving advice, blaming, or accepting blame. They can help establish an imaginary line that keeps you from feeling guilty about events that are not yours to be responsible for.
Sexual Boundaries: Being able to protect your sexual intimacy with another and know your particular comfort level.
Spiritual Boundaries: Knowing what your own beliefs and ideas about God or a higher power and not being easily swayed by the beliefs of others.
Boundaries can be set within any aspect of life and can establish limitation upon how much a teen is willing to let another person in. Learning how to set these limitations during adolescence can create relationships that are long lasting, healthy, and fulfilling. Having healthy boundaries in the parent-teen relationship, in particular, can facilitate a teen’s healthy development into adulthood.