Healthy and Unhealthy Boundaries Teens Should Know

Everyone has different emotional and physical boundaries. For instance, one’s individual’s sense of personal space might be different than that of another person’s sense of space. Typically, relationships that are dysfunctional, co-dependent, or abusive will tend to have unhealthy boundaries.

Although it’s hard to believe that teens might have abusive romantic relationships, it happens all the time. Social conditioning, family dynamics, and whether or not there was abuse in her family of origin can contribute to a teen’s vulnerability to being a victim of abuse in a relationship. Aside from familiarity, other factors that keep a teen in an abusive relationship are:

  • Feeling responsible.
  • Feeling jealous.
  • Not having a place to go.
  • May not recognize the abuse.
  • May believe that they are in love.
  • They are not ready to leave.
  • Are inexperienced.
  • Feel pressured to stay.

Understanding a Cycle of Abuse

According to TEARS, Teens Experiencing Abusive Relationships, a cycle of abuse can develop over time, and sadly, a teen will stay in the relationship despite the abuse. However, one way to ensure that a teen doesn’t get involved in an abusive relationship is to teach him or her about boundaries. Unhealthy boundaries are those that include blurry or nonexistent lines between the two involved in that relationship. Typically unhealthy boundaries occur when each person puts the needs of the other person first, when each person disregards him or herself and feel like they do not have any rights.

Blurry or nonexistent boundaries can very easily show up in intimate, boyfriend-girlfriend relationships. However, they can also happen among family relationships, such as a daughter and father, mother and son, or between a grandchild and his or her grandparents. Furthermore, because relationship patterns are often passed down from one generation to the next, those with poor boundaries never learn how to have healthy boundaries in the first place. This is another reason to communicate to teens the importance of having healthy boundaries in relationships.

What Do Healthy Boundaries Look Like?

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


Also, an important point to remember and communicate to a teen is that at first, it may be unclear whether a relationship is harmful or not. Many relationships may feel good at the start, especially during adolescence where a sense of feeling accepted and appreciated is important. However, as the relationship progresses, it will have both good and bad qualities. It might be easy to forgive the negative experiences that might cause emotional harm because of the many positive experiences that two teens share together. Yet, the repeated pattern of emotional harm and violating boundaries can be an indication of potential abuse in the future.

Phases of Abuse

The cycle of abuse, which has a specific patterns to it, can get stronger and stronger over time. The cycle of abuse moves through four common phases: tension building, abuse, reconciliation, and calm. During the 1970’s, Lenore Walker developed the cycle of abuse theory that identified four distinct stages that an abusive relationship tends to get repeated again and again, often getting increasingly more intense. Over time, the relationship creates identified roles of abuser and victim and those roles get played out again and again as though each partner knows the steps to take and when.

When teens learn how to set firm boundaries, there is less of a chance that they would get caught up in this harmful cycle. Of course, having a firm sense of self, an absence of domestic violence in their family history, and an idea of what a balanced relationship looks like, they are less at risk for experiencing unhealthy boundaries and violence in relationships.



Understanding Dating Abuse. Teens Experiencing Abusive Relationships. Retrieved on March 20, 2014 from: