By John Townsend, Ph.D.

As your teen enters the developmental season that will prepare her for independency and autonomy, things can get rocky at home. She may be showing a negative attitude, defiance or acting-out behaviors, or she may be spending time with the wrong kids, shirking her school responsibilities or using substances.

While most parents want to support their adolescent through this growing process, they don’t know what to do with some of these very negative behaviors. Their first step should be to set boundaries, just as they did when their child was younger. But it’s important to set the right boundaries to help your teen navigate this necessary time of life.

If your teen is doing well, she doesn’t need a lot of boundaries. Freedom comes from trust, and trust comes from good behavior. So a parent’s goal is to reinforce good behavior and healthy living. All teens should be responsible for waking themselves up, getting to school, helping out with family chores, doing homework, getting to bed on time, getting good grades, staying away from substances and the wrong friends, and not being violent with others. There shouldn’t be a lot of drama.

But if things are not going well, you’ll need to talk with your adolescent about her behavior and have a serious discussion about boundaries. This will include her abiding by a reasonable life structure with the expectations spelled out. These expectations are her boundaries.  If she chooses not to follow the boundaries, she will face the consequences.

Consequences help teens learn to take ownership over their choices. To be effective, consequences must:

  • Involve either removing something she loves (phone, computer, social time) or adding something she doesn’t love (extra chores).
  • Be reasonable, meaning they are not too strict or meaningless. The consequence must fit the severity of the boundary violation. For example, you don’t send a kid to Outward Bound for a messy room, and you don’t take away the phone for drug use.
  • Be communicated with love, not anger. You must convey to your child that you are not trying to show who’s boss. Instead, show your concern, and tell her this is necessary to provide stability to her and the family.
  • Be followed up with action. Don’t threaten consequences then say you’ll implement them tomorrow. Delayed follow-ups are worse than no boundaries, because your teen is learning your words don’t matter. Teens quickly learn to tolerate an angry parent because they know he or she won’t actually do anything about the behavior.

Using this blog, create a written document (one page) that lists your expectations and the consequence for violating each. Post it on your fridge or somewhere prominent.  It will help you and your teen see, in a clear and objective way, that there is a way to behave that works, and a way that will have negative consequences.

Boundaries are ultimately about love and freedom. Stick to them and be positive with your teen. For more information, refer to the updated and expanded version of my book “Boundaries.” Best to your parenting!