Understanding Teenage Independence and Boundaries: 5 Top Tips

As a parent, you know more than anyone else about the adventure that begins when you become a mum or dad. Through every stage of your child’s development come exciting moments of joy, along with new challenges to navigate, and the teenage years are no exception. While every child is undeniably unique, this time can be especially turbulent for many parents and their teens. As your child explores a new sense of freedom, it can be tricky to balance enforcing boundaries with your teen’s desire for independence. We’ll explore how you can best manage this time and help you to better understand why this happens.

Why Does My Teenager Want More Independence?

Now that school’s out for the summer, you might be facing up to this new dynamic more than usual. When your teen seems more interested in hanging out with their friends than getting involved with family time, it can be disheartening. Fortunately, this is usually a perfectly normal part of growing up.

The teenage years are an opportunity for your child to establish their own identity and create a social status amongst their peers. Hormonal changes can also contribute towards their desire for more independence, which parents can often be at the receiving end of. This might look like your teenager being more irritable, withholding information, attempting to cross boundaries, or rejecting your attempts to show them affection. It can be hurtful or even confusing as you wonder what happened to your once angelic child from just a couple of years ago.

Showing a desire to listen to your teenager’s concerns when they do want to talk though, can make these challenging years a little easier. Remember that they also might not be enjoying this time either, as they face some of the biggest physical and mental changes that they’ll ever experience. However, if you are becoming concerned with your teen’s behaviour in any way, the following services can help:

Young Minds - Parents mental health support

Family Lives - Parenting and family support

Mind – Mental health information and support

The Mix – A range of mental health support for 13–25-year-olds

5 Tips for Setting (and Keeping) Teen Boundaries

  1. Establish Clear Rules and Consequences

When establishing boundaries for your teenager, being clear about what these are and what the consequences are leaves less room for any misunderstanding or interpretation for both parties. Specifically, what time do you expect them home from visiting friends, for example?

However, this isn’t to say you can’t be open to any negotiation beforehand. For instance, over the summer holidays, it may be more appropriate for your teen to have a later curfew than they usually would during school term time. By adding an element of flexibility, your teen has the opportunity to feel more independent and that you as their parent, trust their judgement.

  1. Address the Importance of Boundaries

Addressing the importance of boundaries doesn’t mean having to lecture your teen. Instead, you might find it helpful to incorporate real-life examples as to why certain boundaries need to be set. While you’re establishing your expectations, the conversation does not have to be one-sided. You can help respect your teen’s autonomy by using this as a time for open communication, encouraging them to engage in critical thinking by also asking why they think it’s important to have these boundaries.

  1. Reward Them to Following Boundaries

Some teens may struggle to respect boundaries more than others and push back for more independence. But encouraging them when they do as you would like, demonstrates that you really do appreciate when they uphold their end of the bargain. This doesn’t necessarily have to be anything material but could be some extra screen time, or a text message to tell them they’re doing great! Your words of encouragement might go further than you think.

  1. Encourage Responsibility

By having firm boundaries in place, your teen has the opportunity practise taking responsibility for their actions, thinking critically, and weighing up their options when decision-making. This can further their independence and help set them up for a life of having to navigate limits. Understanding that one’s actions have consequences is powerful life lesson that all children can benefit from.

  1. Communicate with Everyone Involved

Setting boundaries only works if everyone involved is on the same page. Depending on which other adults are in the household, be it your partner, an adult child, or your parents, it can make things a lot less complicated if they also know what your expectations are.

After making such an effort to have an open conversation with your child about their independence and boundaries, there are probably not many things more frustrating than hearing, “But Gran said I could!”. So, before you begin putting any rules in place, you might want to get input from anyone else in the home who is responsible for your teen, so that boundaries can remain consistent.