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Setting Limits

Adolescence is a time of growth and experimentation, and given the risks and challenges adolescents face, they need parents to consistently provide age-appropriate rules and structure. Younger adolescents especially rely on parents to help them make positive choices and teach them how to behave safely and responsibly.

Parents who set clear limits and provide explanations tend to have less conflict with their adolescents. Parents who take extreme positions—either setting inflexible rules and demanding total obedience or creating few rules and allowing for excessive freedom—tend to struggle more with their children.1 Here are some ways parents can set limits in a way that fosters a healthy parent-adolescent relationship:

  • Set clear and consistent limits. Rules should be clear, reasonable, and have specific consequences. When you set an expectation, explain the reasoning behind it. Listen to your adolescent's concerns or objections, but be firm in creating and enforcing limits that have their best interests at heart. If your adolescent breaks a rule, enforce the consequences consistently.

  • Monitor your child’s activities. Keep track of where your adolescent is, who they’re with, and what they’re doing. Check in with your teen by phone, and get to know their friends and their friends’ parents. Parental monitoring is important throughout adolescence and is associated with lower levels of risk-taking behavior, such as having sex at an early age, using alcohol and tobacco, and skipping school. If you’re worried about your adolescent’s friendships, share your concerns and talk with them about peer pressure.

  • Be open to negotiation. As adolescents get older, rules may become more flexible and open to negotiation. Listen to your adolescent’s concerns when discussing chores, curfews, access to the car, and other rules and privileges. By discussing guidelines with your children, you can foster your adolescent’s ability to think independently, compromise, and negotiate agreements—all important life skills.

  • Gradually allow more independence. As your child matures, allow them more independence in stages. Perhaps you transition from shopping with your adolescent to giving them a clothing allowance, with the opportunity to earn extra cash by performing additional chores or taking on a part-time job.

  • Offer choices. Find ways to allow your adolescent independence and agency within your rules. You might tell them that they need to do their homework or clean their room, for example, but consider allowing them to choose when they complete their tasks if they consistently accomplish them.

  • Guide without being too controlling. Resist the temptation to control every aspect of your adolescent’s life. While you may not share your child’s taste in clothes or music, they will benefit from the opportunity to explore different roles and styles as they navigate the process of forming their identity. Take an interest in your child’s choices and talk with them about their preferences, offering guidance as appropriate.

Footnotes


1 U.S. Department of Education. (2003). Being an effective parent: Helping your children through early adolescence. Retrieved February 28, 2018, from https://www2.ed.gov/parents/academic/help/adolescence/part5.html

 

Content created by Office of Adolescent Health
Content last reviewed on March 1, 2018