Boundaries With Teens

If you are a parent of teenagers and need to learn how to set boundaries with your teens, I would recommend the book Boundaries with Teens by Dr. John Townsend.

I know a lot of parents are really busy and don’t have time to read a whole book. If that’s the case with you, here is a nice summary of the book you can read from the Parent Book Summaries website.

The part I liked the best from the book is about the four anchors of boundary setting.

Use the Four Anchors of Boundary Setting (chapter 17, pp. 113-119)

Every boundary-setting conversation or situation must make use of four anchoring principles. As anchors stabilize ships, these four principles can provide stability, focus, and clarity to parents who want to establish healthy and appropriate boundaries with their teen. When applied to boundary setting, these principles help parents optimize the chances for success with the teen.

Anchor #1: Love – I am on your side.

Always begin with love.  Love will help your teen hear what you are saying, accept the boundaries and tolerate the consequences. This is true for all of us. When we hear hard truths from someone who cares about us, we need to know that the person is on our side. Otherwise, we are liable to feel hated, bad,  worthless, unloved, offended or victimized.

Anchor #2. Truth – I have some rules and requirements.

Love opens the door to change but is not enough. Truth provides guidance, wisdom, information, and correction. Truth exists in the form of rules, requirements, and expectations for your teen. They are the dos and don’ts  that spell out what your teen needs to do and what he needs to avoid.

Anchor #3: Freedom – You can choose to respect or reject the rules.

Your teen has probably exercised freedom to make some poor choices, and you haven’t seen much good come from that. But freedom is absolutely necessary, for a couple of reasons:

  • You can’t really make your teen choose the right thing. There is a lot you can’t control in your teen. You aren’t present for much of her life, so you can’t control what she does in school and with her friends.
  • Freedom to choose poorly is necessary to learn to choose well. Even if you could “make” your teen do the right thing, it wouldn’t help him develop into a mature, loving, responsible person.

Anchor #4: Reality – Here is what will happen.

If the only anchors were love, truth and freedom, they would not be enough. Children raised with only these three principles can easily become out of control. A fourth anchor, reality. adds the necessary balance. Simply put, reality defines what is or what exists. For our purposes, however, I am using the word to describe what exists for the teen in the form of consequences. That is, if she chooses to utilize her freedom to reject the rules and cross the line, she will experience consequences. Teens need consequences, because that’s how they experience a fundamental law of life:  good behavior brings good results and bad behavior brings uncomfortable results.

The next time you decide you need to have a boundary-setting conversation, be sure you tell your teen:

  • “I love you and am on your side.”
  • “I have some rules and requirements for your behavior.”
  • “You can choose to respect or reject these rules.”
  • “Here is what will happen if you reject these rules.”

When you use these four anchors, you are providing the stability, clarity, and motivation your teen needs to begin to learn self-control and responsibility.