Teens hear Who You Are more than they hear what you say. They aren’t looking for head knowledge, they want to learn through experience. That means they are siphoning your verbal and non-verbal communication with them and with other people. They are putting it in their gas tank to use later when they are with others or with you.
I’d like you to genuinely ask yourself: What are your priorities, and do you actually incorporate them into your life?
Do you say your priority is your family, but then you work late most days? Do you say that you value clean/sober living, but then laugh along with movies that have drug or alcohol use/abuse? Do you say that you place a high importance on good grades, but the tv or radio is always on?
Where does what you say and what you do connect, and where do they separate?
What happens when someone else in your life pushes your limit? Do you give in? Do you give in and gripe? Are you politely firm when you decline?
What happens when your teen breaks a rule? Do you follow through with the consequence? Do you give warning after warning with no follow through? Do you come up with a consequence on the spot, then feel guilty for how harsh it was and renege later?
Whether it’s a boundary in your family, work or social life, your teen is picking all of it up. He’s learning how far he can push you, and also he’s learning how far to allow others to push him.
When you exhibit healthy and appropriate boundaries, your teen will internalize those same boundaries. You can know that when he’s at school, work, or out with friends he won’t be talked into doing something harmful, and you can also know he won’t likely be as overly rebellious to seek out risky behaviors as he would be otherwise.
If you wonder if your boundaries are healthy and appropriate, may I suggest that you write a list of your boundaries and then talk to your friends, spouse or partner, or a therapist. If someone suggests you might have too strong of a boundary, or too weak of one, you have a starting point to find out where the happy-medium lies.
After you have thought about where your boundaries are and if you need to re-evaluate how you are manifesting them in real life, I want to encourage you to have the confidence to let your “yes” mean “yes” and your “no” mean “no”.
You don’t say “yes” or “no” lightly. You’re a thoughtful parent who thinks through these decisions without making a snap judgement. That means that you can stand by your decision. If you decided that your teenager hasn’t been behaving respectfully, and therefore isn’t living up to your priority of respectful behavior – it’s okay to keep saying no, even if he asks politely this one time. It’s okay to let your teen know that regular respectful behavior is necessary for the privileges of outings. On the same token, if you tell your teenager “yes” because they worked hard and earned something, don’t use that reward as leverage. You are a smart and clever parent, I am certain you can come up with a different and effective consequence.
Boundaries help children and teens feel like there is predictability in their lives. This world is scary and unpredictable! Having the predictability of healthy and appropriate boundaries at home helps children, tweens and teens to feel safe and cared for (even if they are rolling their eyes and trying to get their own way).
Just know, even when your tween/teen is knee deep in trying to convince you to give in – you are teaching them by example how to say “no” to people when their boundaries have been crossed. You are teaching your tween/teen how to make good choices when others are trying to convince them to take unhealthy risks. It might not be fun right now, but when they are all grown up – they will thank you!
From here forward, no more feeling guilty about the word “no”!
Written by Jessica Wilkerson, M.A.
You can find this, and other articles by Jessica Wilkerson at www.jessicawilkerson.com/blog
If you would like to schedule an appointment with Jessica, you can contact her via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling (530) 921-5122.
Jessica works for Chico Creek Counseling as a Marriage & Family Therapist Registered Intern #IMF69783 under the supervision of Joe R. Taylor, LMFT #MFT46406.