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How do I know what boundaries to set for my teen

Definitely not easy to pick your battles

How to set boundaries for a teen

It’s not a news flash to say all children are hardwired to test limits – toddlers, elementary school age, tweens, and particularly teenagers. But because they are almost adults, and have the size, skills, and often the means to be more forceful – and more dramatic – in their rebelliousness, teens get the most attention.

Since the 1950s, teen rebellion has even enjoyed its own culture. (The term “teenager” did not exist prior to the mid-20th century.) Despite – or maybe because of – innumerable books and articles on how best to handle teen rebellion, parents still need help keeping the peace through setting boundaries in their households. Writer Lizzy Francis, and some insightful interviewees, offer that in Fatherly.

Right off the bat, they acknowledge it takes different strokes for different folks. Good boundaries are rooted in the values that are important to the family.  Family therapist Lisa Howe says, “You want to be mindful with what is important to your family. Some families may have a rule that they don’t use phones at the dinner table. Some families may not care. But the rules will be specific to your family.”

READ MORE: Setting consequences for teens

In our house, we employ the “no phones at the dinner table” rule. Luckily, we started it when our son got his first smartphone at 16. It became a family habit so much that when we saw others – often dear friends – not observing it, it was like seeing someone smoke in a restaurant, quite jarring. While in our house – like, say, for Thanksgiving – we ask folks to abide. Elsewhere, we keep our mouths shut.

(Incidentally, even sitting down together at dinner is a general rule we’ve employed since our son was a baby. Neither my wife nor I did this in our families growing up, and twenty two-years in, it’s one of the best decisions we made as a family.)

Howe says rules shouldn’t be arbitrary. “Because I said so” isn’t going to fly, or at least it’s not going to fly well. And health and safety are primary concerns, battles worth picking. A battle not worth picking is trying to force a kid to take off “a dirty T-shirt with a hole in it” and put on something you think is a better look.

All of the experts say not to take limits testing personally. Of course this is probably one of the hardest things to do. Especially if your teen knows exactly which buttons to push to get your attention. But hang in there, know you’re not alone, and listen to the experts, especially if they’re parents.

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