Setting Limits & Expectations for Teens

Adolescent and family therapist Yshai Boussi L.P.C. joined us today with great advice about setting limits and expectations for teenagers.

Here is what Yshai has to say:

Setting Limits for Teens

The topic that we have chosen to write about is one that's been staring at us a lot recently. One of the biggest challenges in raising teens is figuring out how and when to set limits and expectations. While teens need independence and opportunities to make their own decisions, they also require boundaries to moderate their lack of judgment and experience.

There aren't easy or one size fits all answers to raising teens successfully. Discovering what works is a process of trial and error. The three most important things to consider are the relationship you have with your teen, an understanding of their unique personality and abilities and awareness of your own feelings and reactions.

Why setting limits and expectations is so hard

Teens are a moving target because of how rapidly they're changing. Not only are their bodies transforming before your eyes, but their moods, tastes and preferences are about as predictable as the weather here in Portland. In addition, they each have a unique temperament and constitution. This is why what worked with the first child (generally compliant and adaptable) may not work with the second (more challenging and oppositional) which may not work with the third (more sensitive and avoident). To make matters more complicated, we as parents carry our own baggage as well. All of us are impacted by our own upbringing in a unique way. Many of these early experiences have made us better parents, but most of us also carry left over burdens that cloud our ability to set effective boundaries with our kids.

How to do it in 2 steps
Below is a simple 2 step process that will help you reduce battles and stress, improve communication, and help your child grow from their mistakes.

Step 1:
Build and maintain relational currency with your teen.
A connection with your teen when things are going well will increase the influence you have when things start falling apart. If your teen seems to be doing well, they still need you to engage with them because as you probably already know, struggles are often right around the corner. Without a stockpile of trust and connection, your teen is more likely to push you away during the times they need you the most. In these cases, opportunities for growth and connection turn into power struggles that leave everyone angry and discouraged.
Step 2:
Be prepared to answer YES to the personal checklist below.
Whether you're trying to address a touchy subject, confronting your teen, or following up after a big fight, consider the questions below before and during your conversation with your teen.

Am I...
 Am I really trying to understand my child's perspective and validating their experience or am I just waiting for them to finish talking so I can finish my lecture?
Being consistent?
 Are the limits and expectations I set predictable and logical or do they change based on my mood?
Trying to collaborate? 
 Am I attempting to involve my child in the process of finding a solution to the problem? My teen is more likely to comply if they feel some ownership over the outcome.
Communicating clearly? 
 Am I stating my expectations and needs in a way that my child gets and understands?
 Am I too angry to talk about this right now? Even if my anger is justified, my child is less likely to listen to my perspective or think about what they did if they experience me as hostile and reactive.
Teaching something? 
 How can I help my child learn from this experience? What are some natural consequences that will help prepare them for the "real world"?

If you're like us or the many parents we've worked with over the years, you're already aware that knowing something and practicing it in the moment are two different things. However we hope you find that the more you practice these skills the better you will become. Teens are very forgiving and they are constantly giving us new opportunities to grow and try new things. It's never too late to try again and be a better listener, more calm, more clear, and more engaged with your teen.

To read more from Yshai Boussi L.P.C. check out his newsletters.


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