Healthy families: Set limits when developing family boundaries

Understand the importance of setting limits to develop healthy family boundaries.

According to the Search Institute, a family boundary is one of the external assets which support the healthy development of adolescents. Family boundaries involve clear rules for adolescents. These rules help teach and guide adolescent behavior and also keep teens safe. Thinking about family boundaries is like thinking about the sidelines on the football field, they act as guides to inform adolescents where they can play and act, and what areas are out of play or off limits. These rules or limits must be coupled with consequences and monitoring.

Limits help teens develop a secure sense of family boundaries. Teens feel safer and more secure with boundaries. Their lives are safer and their choices clearer. Of course, boundaries change as teens grow and become more responsible, in the same way that the boundaries of young children grew from crib to playpen to backyard to school yard. Once appropriate and fair boundaries are established, they must be consistently monitored. Imagine playing a football game with sidelines and goal lines that keep changing on each play with off-sides and out-of-bounds plays called sometimes, but not others. Family boundaries are critical to the healthy development of adolescents.

Adolescents need appropriate limits to provide direction for their efforts-but teens feel restricted if there are too many limits. Limits may include clear agreements on expected behavior, family rules and prohibited behaviors. They are based on family values and, therefore, differ among families. This information is from the Building Strong Adolescent Michigan State University (MSU) Extension Program.

For more information regarding helping your teenager set limits, contact an MSU Extension expert in your area.

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