How To Collaborate With Your Teen To Set Boundaries and Rules

Posted on January 22nd, 2015

Stacey Neil, LMFT, CPTTherapist & Wellness CoachTotalFit Solutions

As all parents of teenagers know, it is incredibly challenging to navigate the perils of setting boundaries, and successfully following through, during one of the toughest times to be a parent – the dreaded teenage years. Many times the relationships we struggle to maintain with our teenagers are tenuous at best as we long to find ways to connect and stay in tune with the space aliens who have taken over the bodies of what used to be our sweet loving children.

As I have taught many teenage parenting classes, I have found some really handy tips for surviving this period of time with your teenager, and have even used these skills for parenting my own teenagers as I too struggle to stay connected and engaged in my home.

One of the most human experiences we share is the need to be liked and appreciated. Our basic humanness craves this; however as parents of teenagers we are desperate for it as we begin to feel like there is nothing we can do that is right or acceptable to our highly volatile teens.

One of the best things you can do to set yourself up in the most stress free way with your teen is to give them a voice. Allow them to share in any discussions you have about them and help them learn how to negotiate with you in regards to boundaries, rule setting, time limits to come home, and other concerns. If you allow them to have an opinion and show them that your home is not a dictatorship, but a democracy, your teen feels empowered. This is especially true when setting consequences for your teen when they break the rules, don’t come home on time, or get into trouble. These are conversations you have before something goes wrong.

A successful conversation may look like this:

Parent: Son, I know you want to go out on Friday night, what time do you feel is fair to come home?

Son: Midnight.

Parent: Okay, midnight sounds a bit late since you’ve had a curfew of 10:30. How about 11? Maybe we can keep that time until your next birthday as your curfew. Then we can see if it feels like we can make it later as you’ve been doing a good job coming home on time. How does that sound?

Son: Okay, I guess.

Parent: And what should be the consequence if you are not home by 11?

Son: I don’t know.

Parent: What do you think is fair if you are not in the door by 11?

Son: Maybe you can take my phone away for a week?

Parent: That sounds reasonable.

The reasoning behind why this is such a successful model is that when something goes wrong, you do not need to enter into battle with your teenager as they have already set up the consequence for themselves. You may be surprised to see that your teenager will often set up a consequence that is more intense or punitive than you would have even have chosen. If they do not pick something that feels appropriate to you, or feels like something that would be a loss for them – feel free to negotiate something more serious. Just remember to set a consequence that feels appropriate to the behavior.

It is so natural to miss the connection and bond that gets worn thin and stretched to the breaking point at different times when parenting your teenagers. Not only do we have to practice letting go as parents, it is necessary for us to allow them to find their own voices and learn how to navigate this often complicated world. Giving them the opportunity to make choices for themselves is often one of the best ways you teach them self-confidence and self-efficacy, which are skills that are necessary for them to be successful in this world.


In what ways have you been able to collaborate with your teen in setting rules or boundaries?

How did it go when you allowed your teen to come up with his/her own consequences?

Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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Would you like additional guidance in this area? Los Gatos Teen Therapy provides individual teen therapy, family therapy, group therapy, parent support counseling, and in-home teen and family coaching 7 days a week, including afternoons, evenings, and weekends. For more information, contact us at 408.389.3538.

4 thoughts on “How To Collaborate With Your Teen To Set Boundaries and Rules

  1. Mr Mo

    I totally agree with Stacey about setting rules in collaboration with your teen, however, I disagree with her on setting the consequences beforehand. Any smart parent knows that the fear of the unknown consequence is a far greater deterrent to breaking a rule,, than allowing the teen to know the consequence, and letting them choose whether or not they wish to break the rule. They need to know that they are keeping a special trust with you the parent, and there will be serious consequences if they break that trust. Also, as a parent, we are preparing them for future life situations, and must teach them to make smart choices, not only to show their responsibility, but also to keep that trust.

  2. Lindsay Smith

    I really like this idea of collaborating with your teen to set rules and consequences. I too have found many times that the consequence the teen comes up with exceeds the consequence that the parent was considering, either in length or severity. I also really like the reminder to give our teens a voice and to listen and consider their thoughts/points of view before responding – this is often easier said than done, but it’s a great thing to keep in mind!

  3. Lisa

    Yes, something I need to remember. It becomes difficult when the response, if any, from my teen is, “Uh.” I feel like I’m living with a Neanderthal. That’s when the frustration sets in and I just start dictating. Argh. Deep breaths. Read above over and over.

  4. Carol Satterlee

    Stacey — I like how you’ve given an example of what a conversation would look like. Whether it is the common one parents have with teens around curfews, or the myriad of common issues they all must face, (particularly the hard ones like drugs, sex, alcohol, cheating, depression, etc.) teaching communication skills around negotiating, compromise, discussing possible natural consequences and personal responsibility are skills your teen will need and benefit from throughout life. A parent’s willingness to shift toward letting go and asking for their teen’s input and problem-solving thinking skills will no doubt serve them well once they launch from the nest!

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