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Setting Rules For Teens May Be Just What They Need (and Want)

The best parenting: setting rules for teenagers and being open emotionally.

It happens, but very rarely. A sensitive and intelligent teenager articulates what most teenagers are can’t, “I want my parents to be strict with me.”

Consistent Parenting Means Setting Rules for Teenagers

I often witness a big irony when it comes to parenting teenagers: if you give them everything they want, they will resent you for it. Because in giving them everything they want, you’re not giving them what they need. Teenagers need consistent parenting and consistent rules. They need you to be firm, and they need to be frustrated by healthy limits to prepare them for the real world. For many teenagers, getting everything they want creates a sense of lack of preparedness and fear that they won’t be able to succeed in life.

I like to think about it starting at the following point. Teenagers are actually scared of getting everything that they want. They know, somewhere in the back of their minds, that they are not yet mature enough.

When teenagers are exposed to effective parenting, they feel frustrated (as they should) but they also feel safe. They feel like their parents have everything under control; that the parents are protecting the teenagers from themselves at a time when the teenagers do not have that ability. This is what setting rules for teens really means.

Healthy Boundaries For Teens Make Them Feel Safe

So what happens when the environment is not giving teenagers what they need? They’ll ask for what they need in the typical teenage way. They act out! They break rules, they are disrespectful and they start doing poorly in school. I see this behavior as an invitation. What they are really saying to you at these times is this: “Look! I am getting out of control! I’m not feeling good. I’m not feeling safe and I’m not feeling positive about my future. Help me!” Now, of course, they can’t actually articulate this. AND they might resist every rule and fight it tooth and nail, but trust me, they’re begging for it.

Sometimes parents are resistant to the idea of tightening up their parenting skills. I see the usual reasons for hesitating as follows.

  • I don’t want my kid to be angry with me!  There’s nothing wrong with a teenager being angry with his parents for setting good rules. Your teenager should feel that you are able to tolerate and respond appropriately to their anger.  Your teenager can be your friend when he becomes an adult, but not now.
  • I don’t want my teenager suffer. You cannot protect your teenager from suffering. It’s not whether he’ll suffer or not. Suffering is a given. It’s how he will be able to learn from and manage his suffering so he can be a well-adjusted adult.

I don’t mean to convey the message that it should be all business with your teenager. The best combination is firm with rules and open emotionally to provide comfort and support when they need it.  Teenagers need that mix of firmness and softness to be healthy. And BOTH show your teenagers that you love them.

Miguel Brown has been working with teenagers for more than 10 years. You can find Miguel at Miami Teen Counseling or on Facebook and Twitter.

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