Taming Teens: Creating Boundaries


In these enlightened, information-rich days, it is around the age of 11 that most children seem to start considering their role as a teenager.  Anthony is a fairly typical example.  He has never been what you would call compliant.  Even before his eleventh birthday every request for him to help around the house has been met with a series of probing questions: “Why me?”, “Why not someone else?”, “Why now?”.  Now that he has discovered that he is only two years away from authentic teenager status he has started training seriously for what he believes will be his zenith of rudeness.

So, as parents, we have to think constructively about how to deal with the rebellious years. Dealing with it is the only option as ignoring or avoiding the rowdy, anti-social and downright dangerous behavior could be life-scarring or, at worst, fatal.  No, it is a parent’s job to face this traitor in our midst, the terrorist that we bred ourselves and find a way to teach them how to be strong, happy, healthy and respectful.

The first guideline for unruly teens (and pre-teens) is to agree clear boundaries for behavior. Please notice that this is not “attitude” as in the phrase “I don’t like your attitude”.  To a teenager that’s like saying “I don’t like your height” but talking about their behavior, the things they say and do, can seem more manageable.

Make the discussion about boundaries a serious one. If you have never had a family meeting this is a great place to start.  Don’t use the meeting to impose your will, use it to talk things through.  If your teenager won’t, for example, agree a sensible time to be home every night; give him or her a choice between two grown-up options based on the reason why being home by 10pm is a good thing; Mom stops worrying you are getting into trouble and you get a good nights sleep before school .

  • Option 1 – You can be home before 10pm Sunday through Thursday and 11pm on a Friday and Saturday.
  • Option 2 – You can stay out after 10pm any night but you’ve got to tell us beforehand and also every hour after ten gets added to the following night’s curfew so you can catch up on sleep.

One good reason for providing options is that it is difficult to rebel against flexibility. The options will engage your teenager in dialogue and will help them to feel you are going some way towards understanding the rush of hormones, feelings, confusion and the search for identity.

At these times it also seems difficult to find examples of good behavior to praise.  Raising teenagers makes parents think they are lurching from one disappointment to the next but, if you look real hard, you’ll find there is a spark of good behavior that can be fanned into a flame with enough attention.

In Anthony’s case the spark was an unprompted “Thank you” to Mom for helping with his homework.

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