• Posted by ROWI
  • On October 11, 2017



Setting limits and boundaries is a BIG one. As a family therapist, I find that most parents are good at setting boundaries, but they often have difficulty enforcing boundaries. Mostly this is the result of the poor relationship that seems to exist between boundaries, circumstances/situations, and power. A common example is a teenager who has historically been depressed or using drugs and is now in active recovery but is continuing to violate curfew or other rules established by their parents. Since this teen appears to be doing well in certain areas, his parents are concerned that “punishing” him for curfew could lead to him becoming depressed or using drugs/alcohol again. Parents frequently tell me that implementing consequences when their kids are happy or doing well in certain domains is difficult because they fear their kid may act out or be angry at them. In other words, parents do not want to “rock the boat”. So, parents fear of relapse, either behaviorally or with drugs and alcohol, makes their child incredibly powerful. When a teen catches wind that their mental health wellbeing or sobriety is more important to their parents then them, it can be a powerful tool in manipulation.

To all parents- if something is not okay with you, trust your instincts. It doesn’t matter how happy your teenager is doing whatever they have been told not to do or how mad they will be at you for setting limits. And if grounding your son/daughter or taking away their cell phone is the only thread they are hanging on by- there is a much larger problem. Consistency with boundaries and expectations, regardless of circumstances is necessary. This supports your child in making informed decisions and puts the responsibility of their choices on them. This situation recently came up in a session with a new family- “I don’t want to talk to my son about being late last night because last time I did he said, ‘At least I called and let you know I was running late. You guys weren’t awake anyways and now I am just being punished for being honest. Next time I will just sneak in and not tell you.’” So, in an effort to “keep the line of communication open,” many parents are not implementing the consequences they promised their kids they would. If this is the case, it’s not surprising that teens continue to engage in negative behavior (it certainly doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that one out, so pull it together people). If I could speed and never get a ticket, I most likely would. These brilliant teenager masterminds have tricked their parents into believing that if they keep their word, their child will rebel.

The ball should be in your teen’s court. They should know what you expect and what the consequences will be if the rules, boundaries, and expectations are not followed. It may be worth it for your teen to be late coming back from curfew because whatever they were doing was worth the consequence, but that is a decision that is ultimately up to them. Understandably, I frequently hear parents say, “setting limits and boundaries ultimately just makes our job as parents harder.” Setting limits and boundaries does not mean it is your job to micro-manage your child to ensure that they are holding up to their end of the bargain. This comes up frequently for the many parents who are trying to create some restrictions and balance with cell phone and social media use and they are setting “electronic curfews.” A dilemma that arises with this “curfew” is parents having to be in their son or daughter’s room at 11:00 p.m. ensuing in a tumultuous power struggle over handing over the electronics. It is a constant and unnecessary fight, when really, if we are trying to raise adults we would put the expectation of responsibly turning off their electronic devices, back on them. So instead of engaging in an inessential power struggle, provide the option; “We want your phone in our room at 11:00 p.m. and if it isn’t there, then this is the consequence…” Again, they may or may not comply and simply accept the consequence, but either way as parents, we need to teach our kids to take ownership of their own decisions.



By Brittany Cohen

At ROWI, we offer the highest quality mental health and addiction treatment for teens and their families. CONTACT US to learn how we can help.