Setting limits and boundaries can be one of the hardest parts of any relationship. Having well defined rules in your family will help your teens set limits in his or her relationships outside of the family.
Children and adolescents need boundaries to be happy, healthy and successful. A consistent system of rules, guidelines, and consequences is important to establish early in the parenting relationship. It’s never too late, however, to start establishing standards and a framework for enforcing them.
First, set ground rules for any tense discussion:
- No name calling
- “Don’t hit below the belt:” don’t attack or bring up someone’s weak spot
- Don’t bring up anything more than three days old
- H.A.L.T.S. - don’t discuss anything when either party is Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired or Sick.
- Avoid terms like “always” or “never”
- Don’t bring in other people who aren’t involved, like siblings or friends
During a discussion, you need to provide structure and clear direction. Be consistent, and then follow through. Continue to coach your teen on the skills in question until he or she has learned them.
Two specific methods you may wish to employ as ways to avoid arguing are:
Sponges - Use statements like “Uh huh” and “Is there anything else?” that help you stay with the topic but do not become argumentative or attempt to deny your child’s feelings.
Example: Child: “I don’t see why I have to come before midnight.”
Parent: “Uh huh. Is there anything else?”
Deflectors - If the situation intensifies, stay focused on the issue at hand by deflecting your teen’s point and restating the rule.
Example: Child: “Everybody else gets to stay out until midnight!”
Parent: “Regardless, your curfew is 11 pm.”
Take the time to sit down with your child to establish dating, activity, and party standards. Think about appropriate age behaviors and safety issues. Does your teen have phone money or a cell phone to call you in an emergency? Set up a system where no matter what, your child can call for your help, using code words if necessary. That way, if your child finds him or herself in a dicey situation, your advice, intervention or rescue is only a phone call away.
Example questions to consider: Will other parents be supervising the party - and have you, the parent, called to make sure? How old are the teens that will be at the activity? Who is providing the transportation?
With your teen, generate a list of negotiable and non-negotiable standards for your family. Some examples:
Cost - up to a point
No drugs, alcohol, sex
Parents know about ALL plans
No unsupervised parties
Explain to your teen that situations will arise where they might not behave the way they’d like, simply because they’re not prepared to deal with the issue at hand. It is vitally important for your teen to know what he or she will or will not do in a tricky situation BEFORE the situation ever arrives.