Teens need rules and structure, but there are elements of communication and follow-through that must be present in order for the process to work effectively. In his book, “Boundaries with Teens,” world-renowned clinical psychologist, leadership consultant and best-selling author Dr. John Townsend identifies love, truth, freedom and reality as the four anchors essential to successful boundary setting.
Love indicates that a parent is on a teen’s side. It means being there for the teen, remaining on his or her side and being committed to his or her overall well-being. Using statements, body language and a tone that conveys love helps to increase communication and reduce a teenager’s defensiveness toward a situation.
Truth not only establishes but reinforces a parent’s rules and requirements. Moreover, truth provides a teenager with guidance, wisdom, information and a line in the sand that indicates to the teen when he or she has gone too far. Rules and limits help to make things clear and understandable. Specifically, parents should establish what is expected and what will happen if what is expected is not achieved. Instead of harping on a situation or becoming angry with a teen, parents should be clear and concise through firm consequences.
Freedom allows the teenager to choose to either respect or reject the rules. As parents, we cannot force teens to make the right choices. Rather, we must give them the freedom to make bad choices in order to learn to make good choices. Although giving freedom often sounds counterintuitive to parents, it is both an ingredient and a product of responsibility. After all, our goal is not to create robots, but rather adults who have freedom to make healthy, value-based decisions on their own. The limit to freedom, of course, includes dangerous or life-threatening situations. Instances in which it is necessary to intervene and protect teens from bad choices include hospitalization for self-harm or attempted suicide, residential treatment for significant and dangerous behavioral problems, drug abuse and arrest.
Reality gives a teenager a sense of what will happen. It is the balance to freedom and the result or consequence of a given situation. Parents should teach their teenagers that good behavior equals good results whereas bad behavior equals uncomfortable results. Consequences must be said and done and followed through on. Without follow-through, parents are training their teens that their warnings actually mean nothing.
The outcome of establishing love, truth, freedom and reality is responsibility. The teenager learns to own his or her own problems, develops self-control and is free to make his or her own good decisions.