Helping Your Teen Establish Healthy Boundaries in Friendships

teen boundaries

While your children are balancing the demands of schoolwork and friendships, you might find yourself experiencing just as much stress and confusion as your child – such as, diving into conversations of setting boundaries and trying to navigate friendships in a world where conflict plays out over social media. This article will dive into tips and skills for preparing you pre-teens and teenagers for challenges they will experience while finding their group of people that will accept them for who they are, while imparting crucial social skills that carry over into young adulthood.

Look Before You Leap!

When your child rushes in with excitement and elation at having plans with their new friend group, their excitement is infectious, and you might even breathe a sigh of relief at their eagerness to engage in social relationships since the COVID-19 pandemic! As you’re your kiddo becomes comfortable with their latest group of friends, it’s crucial to engage in regular check-ins to hear about the happenings in their friend group and be ready for discussions about trust – such as finding a balance between trusting people right away and not trusting anyone at all. These are opportunities to teach your kids to recognize signs that someone is likely to be trustworthy such as recognizing friends who don’t participate in too much gossip, who don’t post everything on their Snapchat or Tik Tok, as well as friends who aren’t dismissive or insulting when someone expresses an opposing point of view.

Cracking the Crucible of Mind Reading

While many parents see their teens’ behaviors as impulsive or rash, it’s important to normalize the emotional reasoning that influences social relationships. As your children grow into their adolescence and exercise their individuality, there can be growing pains such as learning skills for working through conflict with their peers. Our brains will often take shortcuts by reading social cues such as non-verbal displays of emotions from friends and family members to decipher someone’s intentions, yet it’s important to explore with your child that misunderstandings can happen when we try to mind-read or jump to conclusions. For example, “Just because she/he was quiet today doesn’t mean that they are angry at you specifically…you won’t know for sure unless you ask what’s bothering them.”

Friendship Musical Chairs: A Side Effect of Peer Pressure

It’s a process for your kiddos to find their ‘second family,’ outside of you and their family of origin – but the goal is for your child to finds a group of friends that will accept them for who they are and will be sources of emotional support while navigating the challenges of emerging young adulthood. This can look like your teenager or tweenager hopping between several different friend groups and trying to navigate many “falling outs” or “make-ups” along the way. Asserting boundaries and remaining true to who they are will help your child in maintaining their individuality within their friendships, while initiating discussions on the differences between “friendly disagreements” and all-out arguments with personal attacks and insults.

Setting Emotional Boundaries and Limits

Wanting to feel accepted by their friends and spending increasing amounts of time with their peer group is an example of your child’s friendships shifting to higher priority. While your kiddo makes this transition, you can be a source of support for them talking about signs for them to recognize when the cost of being accepted by others becomes too high. For example, when friends expect your child to change who they are, their beliefs, or give up their individual identity in order spend time with the group. Your child’s willingness to alter their identity can be an indicator of their current self-esteem levels and creates opportunities for you as a parent to empower your child with security and confidence in their uniqueness and personal qualities – a.k.a. it’s okay to be different from your friends!

Empowerment and Taking Responsibility for Mental Health

When your tweenager or teenager has found a group of friends they care for and respect, there can be challenges in setting healthy boundaries! Helpful tools to discuss with your child are setting limits on when they are available for their friends to vent [either in person or through tech communication], practicing “I Statements” to encourage open communication of feelings and setting limits such as not allowing friends to dictate other peer relationships. This sets the precedent for teens to realize that they’re responsible for their own mental health just like their friends are responsible for their own happiness as well. This sets the tone for open debate and discussion of what it looks like to be a supportive friend versus taking responsibility for their friends’ emotions.


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