Keeping Teens Healthy by Setting Boundaries - at a Glance
- We can follow a few simple guidelines that will make teens less likely to engage in risky behavior such as drinking, smoking, having unprotected sex, or having sex before they’re ready.
- Knowing where teens are, not allowing them to spend too much unsupervised time with other teens, and knowing who they’re spending time with can limit teens’ likelihood of engaging in risky behavior.
- We need to establish clear expectations with our teens and check in regularly to be sure those expectations are met.
As parents, we expect to keep a close eye on our infants and young children to care for them and keep them safe. As our children grow into teenagers, they gain a great deal of independence. That is a normal part of growing up. So, it’s easy for us to believe that there is less need to pay close attention to our teens. But in order to keep them healthy, we must still keep close tabs on them, set rules, and help them learn how to protect themselves. As they grow, our teens are increasingly likely to encounter opportunities for potentially risky situations. For this reason, we need to stay involved and actively check in with them.
Here are some questions and answers about how to keep your teens safe by setting boundaries.
How Does Setting Boundaries Help Keep my Teen Healthy?
Knowing where our teens are, who they are with, and setting boundaries for their behavior are important parts of helping our teens stay healthy — especially when it comes to sex. Sometimes people refer to this part of parenting as monitoring and supervision. Monitoring means knowing where our children are, who they’re with, and whether or not there is an adult present. Supervision means setting clear boundaries and expectations and getting our teens to agree to them. It also means following through consistently with agreed upon and “fair” consequences when rules and expectations are not met.
Most parents monitor and supervise children less as they grow older. While it’s important to support our teens’ need for independence, monitoring and supervision continue to be important as our kids age — especially because risks such as pregnancy and STDs increase with age.
If we do not monitor our teens and set clear expectations for behavior, they are more likely to drink, smoke, and have sex before they are ready.
How Do I Set Boundaries for my Teen?
Many teens resist when we want to know what they're doing because they are at a stage in life when independence becomes very important to them. But most teens will listen to their parents and try to stick to the rules if they have a strong relationship. We should let our teens know that we want what is best for them. It may help to read more about having good parent-teen relationships.
Balance is key. We don’t want to smother our teens by insisting on knowing everything they do. But if they are going out for a couple of hours, we should know where they are going, who they’re with, what they’ll be doing together, and when they’ll be home.
The ways in which we monitor and supervise our kids usually depends on our parenting style. Some of us are very strict. Some of us allow our teens to have too much independence. Our parenting style depends on our life circumstances, family culture, and values.
Take a moment to think about your own parenting style:
- Do you tend to set strict rules and enforce punishments?
- Do you give your child a lot of freedom?
- Do you feel overprotective of your child?
- Do you think that you’re more relaxed in your style?
No matter what our parenting style, it’s helpful to avoid the extremes. If we rely on authority and fear, or if we’re too overprotective, our teens are more likely to rebel. On the other hand, if we give our teens too much freedom, they may feel like their parents don’t care what they do.
It’s also helpful to involve our teens in setting rules for themselves. They will be more likely to respect the rules, feel respected, and respect us if they understand the reasons behind the rules and get to negotiate with us about them. We can revisit the rules from time to time with them as teens age and show increasing independence.
What Are Some Specific Things I Can Do to Set Boundaries for my Teen?
All parents can adopt some specific parenting practices that will help keep our teens healthy and reduce the chances of them being involved in risky behaviors.
Here are some tips for setting boundaries and effectively monitoring teens:
- As much as possible, try to have an adult at home when teens are there. This could be a parent, a neighbor, or another family member. Teens are more likely to take part in risky behavior when they have friends over with no adult around. And when it’s not possible for an adult to around, we can make sure we touch base with our teens frequently while they are alone by phone or text.
- Encourage teens to get involved in activities where an adult will be around — like afterschool clubs or sports.
- When teens go to parties, make sure there will be an adult there. We can call the parents of the teen who is having the party. We might even offer to help supervise the party.
- If hosting a party, keep alcohol, drugs, and tobacco out. If we choose to let our teens have parties, it’s important that we stay home during it and make sure only invited guests are allowed in. We can also ask guests to leave bags and jackets in a safe place when entering the party to help prevent guests from bringing in alcohol and other drugs.
- Discourage younger teens from hanging out with older teens. Older teens are more likely to take risks, so this can lead to trouble.
- Do not encourage teens to date. A romantic partner can have a big influence on teens, and this influence may not always be good. Teens who date early are more likely to engage in risky behaviors. This is even more likely when teens date people much older. This does not mean that we should forbid our teens from dating. But there’s no need for us to encourage it. Keep in mind that for many teens dating a specific person lasts for a short period of time, but dating is closely connected to the likelihood of being sexually active. If our teens are dating, we can try to help them from keeping things from getting “too serious” too quickly.
- Support teens spending time with friends who are good influences. Encourage them to have a number of friends.
- Know our teens’ friends. We can take the time to talk with our teens and their friends about what makes a good relationship.
- Talk with other parents. We can get to know the parents of our teens’ friends and stay in touch with them.
- Keep track of your teens online. It’s important to set clear expectations about Internet and cell phone use and online communication, and to talk with our teens about how they spend time online. Learn more about your teen’s Internet use.
- Be available. It’s important that we make sure our teen knows how to contact us at any time.
How Can I Ask my Teens About Their Activities?
When asking our teens about where they’re going and who they’ll be with, it helps to sound interested rather than suspicious. We want our teens to get the message that we care about them and want to keep in touch while they are out. As our teens get in the habit of sharing with us what they’re doing, who they’ll be with, and when they’ll be home, and we take in interest in hearing about what they’re doing, they will be less likely to see our monitoring as prying. And by showing interest in their lives, friends, and activities, we strengthen our relationships with our kids.
Should Teenagers Have a Curfew?
Yes, it’s important that we set clear expectations about what time we want our teens to be home. It sends the message that we care about them and their well-being. We can also set the expectation that we expect a phone call or text if they’re going to be late.
We can discuss with our teens what they think are appropriate curfews given their age and what they will be doing. By listening to them and allowing them to negotiate with us, it shows that we respect them and understand that they are increasingly responsible for themselves.
In general, it’s a good idea discourage teens from socializing too often on school nights. We want them to stay focused on school. We want them to do their homework and get plenty of sleep. Socializing on school nights can make this difficult.
How Can I Use Discipline Wisely?
As parents, we use different ways to get our teens to meet our expectations for their behavior. Some use rewards and others use threats. Threats and punishments are usually met with anger and resentment. Thinking about how we might have felt when our parents punished us might help keep punishing our teens in perspective.
While discipline can sometimes be necessary, we shouldn’t rely it on as our main method for controlling our teens. Use it when absolutely necessary, but don’t overdo it. Instead, encourage good behavior through praise, expressions of pride, and encouragement.
When we decide we must discipline our teens, here are some things to keep in mind:
- Cool off first. If we discipline our teens when we’re angry, our emotions may get in the way, and we might say things we’ll regret later.
- Discipline in private. It’s humiliating for teens to be punished in front of others. When it happens, they’ll resent it — and you.
- State the reasons. Make sure teens understand why they’re being disciplined. Parents who discuss the logic of rules help their teens think logically. Even if our teens argue with us about our reasoning, they will think about it later.
- Make the punishment fit the “crime.” Discipline that is too severe can hurt our relationship with our teen.
- Don’t give mixed messages. Once parents decide on a punishment, present a united front.
- Follow through. Don’t make threats that won’t be carried out. As parents, we can give second chances, but it’s important that our teens know we mean what we say.