6 Keys to Setting Limits for Teenagers

Setting limits for teengagers provides them with resources to resolve difficult situationd in the best possible way. It also ensures a better coexistence.
6 Keys to Setting Limits for Teenagers

Last update: 20 September, 2022

You may think that the words “boundaries” and “adolescence” don’t go hand in hand and you may imagine yourself involved in a constant battle with your child. However, adolescence isn’t all that they say, nor is setting limits for teenagers an impossible task.

The purpose of setting limits for adolescents isn’t punishment or conflict, but the opposite. It’s about being able to indicate that actions have consequences, simply because we live alongside other people who also have rights. So limits should be oriented toward values, toward what contributes, and not toward what impedes.

This stage is a time marked by certain conflicts that are to be expected and typical of the age, as there are certain challenges that young people face. But much of how they develop has to do with the limits already learned since childhood. Therefore, the best thing to do is to set rules calmly, without losing your head, and from an early age. This won’t only avoid numerous conflicts, but will also allow you to establish a good basis of trust. Let’s take a look at some keys.

6 keys to set limits for teenagers

Setting limits, since when? Since always. Limits should be set at an early age for many reasons. One of them has to do with the brain connections that are strengthened or weakened each time a behavior is repeated or avoided. Setting limits is healthy because we teach adolescents to respect the rights of others and to enforce their own.

Some recommendations for setting limits for adolescents are as follows:

1. Set limits in time

When the opportunity presents itself, set a limit. Don’t wait for the situation to cool down, because then it’s difficult to understand the meaning. This doesn’t mean that it’s okay to act out of bad manners or anger but refers to the timing in which we indicate what’s right or wrong about a given action.

A father and his teenage daughter having an argument.
It’s important to explain to young people what’s right and what’s wrong, just as they should learn to respect others. In any case, it’s important to do it calmly and avoid acting out of anger.

2. Be consistent

You can’t create rules that are then broken or changed the next day. There are certain actions that are non-negotiable and should always be enforced. When rules are made and allowed to be broken, we send mixed messages. Likewise, as adults, we must be the first to respect those rules.

3. Explain that the rules have a meaning

Rules aren’t made on a whim (or at least they shouldn’t be). The rules we set should facilitate coexistence, avoid danger, and help make us better people. That’s to say, it’s a matter of making the values that are behind the desired or undesired behavior explicit.

4. Do it confidently

When setting limits, it’s important to do it firmly, communicate the confidence that we know what we’re doing, and that it has a good purpose. But keep in mind that firmness doesn’t mean violence, shouting, or humiliation. These types of actions are far from promoting positive and assertive learning.

5. Give simple instructions and avoid double messages

When setting limits, we must be clear about what our children should do and what we expect from them. Another point to take into account is that both parents should agree on what’s important for the adolescent’s education and that there should be no contradictions.

6. Change negative phrases to positive ones

The brain understands better when we indicate the path to follow, instead of telling it which path to avoid. For this reason, it’s best to express ourselves through affirmations. For example, we can say “I prefer that you do such and such” instead of “don’t do this”.

A father and his teenage son having a positive conversation on a park bench.
Setting limits for adolescents will help them learn to respect others and to self-regulate. It’s also a resource for them to be able to resolve situations on their own in the best way. For that, good communication is key.

What do we gain by setting limits for teenagers?

When we set limits, young people learn to respect others, self-regulate, and stop negative behaviors early on. This way, we avoid behavioral problems in the future. Also, setting rules gives them resources to solve situations in the best possible way.

Learning to manage your own emotions

There’s a certain fear, which is logical and to be expected in parents, when it comes to setting limits for teenagers. What’s the best way to go about it? When is it enough and when have we gone too far? In order to educate with respect, we also need a moment of reflection and to learn to recognize and manage our own emotions.

We live with our own day-to-day problems, and getting home and receiving a note from your child’s school may seem very serious. However, if you think about it with a cooler head and talk to your young person, you may be able to understand the reason for their behavior and lay the foundations so that it doesn’t happen again. In adolescence, youth highly value communication and genuine interest in understanding what’s happening to them.

In addition, it’s also important to clarify the expectations we have of our child. Many times, we react against them because of an idea built about them that has little to do with reality.

Finally, being honest about these expectations will be a good starting point to understanding what’s behind our actions and what we need to improve. At the end of the day, raising children is also a learning of one’s own limits.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Bilbao, Alvaro (2015) El cerebro del niño explicado a los padres. Plataforma Actual.
  • Goleman, Daniel. El cerebro y la inteligencia emocional: nuevos descubrimientos. B de Books, 2015.
  • Seitun, Maritchu (2013), Capacitación emocional para la familia, Grijalbo.
  • Gaete, Verónica. (2015). Desarrollo psicosocial del adolescente. Revista chilena de pediatría86(6), 436-443. https://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.rchipe.2015.07.005

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.