Parenting in The Teen Years: Setting Healthy Boundaries and Holding Limits

I have been parenting for 16.5 years, but only parenting a teen for 3.5 years. I feel really, really confident in the birth to five-year-old range. It took me four children to get there, though. I’m sure by my fourth teen, I’ll feel much, much more confident than I do today.

Parenting in The Teen Years: Setting Healthy Boundaries and Holding Limits

Parenting tweens and teens is a new kind of challenge. Our first teen year was rough. There were some friendship issues that came up, and we reached out for help from local resources and other parents. I don’t actually have a large network of other parents of teens. Most of my friends have younger children. It can feel lonely. But we muddled through that first teen year. Then things went along fine for awhile. Now they are hard again–hard to the point I needed to reach out and get a bigger perspective.

One of the biggest challenges I face as a parent is this tight-rope walk between controlling and demanding obedience versus a laissez faire approach.

It is such a strange wrestling match inside my mind. I have to keep my priorities in sight at all times, or I can feel myself getting pulled too far to one or the other. My ultimate goal as a parent is to provide unconditional, positive regard toward my children because they exist. My hope is that they are well-rounded, competent, kind, and brave. Navigating how much freedom and how much risk we are able to handle in our choices is difficult. The support of others is invaluable during this portion of the parenting journey.

Our current struggle is with boundaries and limits. I reached out to ask some friends, “How do you encourage your teens in setting their boundaries and holding those limits without controlling them?” First, when I received their feedback, I felt less alone. Second, even parents of younger children struggle with this. I remembered my own journey.

My son was about 20 months old and intent on climbing anything and everything. It was so clearly what his body was needing in this developmental stage, I couldn’t bring myself to deny him. I don’t think I could have truly controlled him enough to end it, at least not while continuing a respectful and loving relationship. I had to think about what we both needed; he needed to climb, and I needed it to be as safe as possible. I told him that it was ok for him to climb certain things as long as he came to get me first and I could be there with him. He agreed. (It is amazing how capable of this young children can be!) Every time he wanted to climb, he would come get me. There were times he would find me engaged in something, so I had to ask him to wait. He did! And, I would go immediately when I was available so he could then climb. It was such a beautiful experience of mutual respect and understanding.

How could I create the same relationship of boundaries and limits with my teen inside this new challenge?

I’ve had great advice from others. Role play. Share about “putting on your oxygen mask first.” Discuss the boundaries desired, and then the parent states them. This allows teens the ability to honestly say, “My parents said…” Take the “blame” so they can practice and “save face” in front of their peers. Make a list of all the pros/cons of the situation, and make the better choice.

I also saw a post that stated: Setting boundaries is about what I will and will not do, not about controlling what someone else does. (Amy Bryant, Wild Child Counseling)
What a profound statement! It is exactly what I want to practice myself, and also to instill into my children. I have to identify my boundary, and then I have to enforce the limit to hold that boundary. Both of those things take practice and many trial and error experiences.

I was able to take these shared ideas and have an open conversation with my teen. I listened. I talked. I listened more. We both feel much more confident and capable to face the challenges ahead. Because life is full of those choices and struggles. I am so thankful we can provide a safe place to take risks and learn. It starts with trust and identifying our own boundaries and holding our own limits.


Dawn lives life to play! Wife to Bryan and mother of four (ages 17, 14, 12, and 8,) she finds what she most enjoys and does it. Bryan tells people she hates a blank calendar; Dawn says she loves a colorful one. With a BA in Theatre and a certificate in Performing Arts Entrepreneurship from the University of Iowa, Dawn has successfully run two business and volunteered on numerous community theatre Boards of Directors. She currently colors in her calendar with Youngevity confidence consultation appointments, Chamber Singers of Iowa City board meetings, strength training and kickboxing at NLXF-NL, managing the office at BerganKDV, and setting as many dates with friends as she can. Dawn is passionate about respect and intentional choices. She loves coffee with cream, a good wheat beer, seeing someone discover something for the first time, and listening to audio books while driving.


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