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The Ultimate Guide to Boundaries for Teens: What They Are, Why They Matter, & How to Set Them (with Adult Help)

Written by Cameron O’Brien, ACC


This article gives the 411 on boundaries and teens: what they are, why they matter, what good (and bad) boundaries look like, and how adults can help teens create strong boundaries that protect themselves and their peace.

What Are Boundaries?

Boundaries are the limits and rules we set for ourselves. They are a way of openly asserting and communicating your values and needs to others through words and actions. Boundaries vary from person to person and are facilitated by variations in culture, personality, and social context. There are different types of boundaries, and they include: physical, social, emotional, sexual, professional, time, etc.

Why Boundaries Matter:

Boundaries are a part of all healthy relationships. Many often think of a fence when envisioning boundaries – a clear divide. However, boundaries can be less fixed and change based on circumstances including the situation, personal values, physical, emotional, and social capacity. Everyone’s boundaries are different.

Boundaries are important because:

  • They tell others what you need
  • They help you feel safe and comfortable in relationships
  • They promote mental and emotional wellness
  • They help you with assertiveness (learning when to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’)

Why Do Teens Need Boundaries?

It is important for adolescents to become aware of and consciously enforce personal boundaries as they develop in maturity and independence. Research shows that as teens grow up, they spend less time at home, and surround themselves with social groups. Boundaries are essential to protecting teens from succumbing to peer pressure, unwanted advances, and anti-social or risky behavior.

How to Recognize a Teen’s Unhealthy Boundaries:

Unhealthy boundaries can be either poorly designed or poorly enforced. Research shows poor boundaries can lead to worsened self-concept, lowered self-esteem, and increased stress in adolescents and adults.

Signs of unhealthy boundaries in teens include…

  • Lack of self-care
  • Overwhelm
  • Avoidance
  • Resentment
  • Burnout
  • Rescuing other people
  • People pleaser
  • Can’t say no
  • Not asking for help
  • Not receiving help
  • Going along with uncomfortable situations

Signs of Healthy Boundaries in Teens:

When we gain insight and awareness around our values, morals, and beliefs, we are then able to construct boundaries that protect those core drivers of our identity. Cultivating boundaries allows us to get to know ourselves and our needs in a deeper way and share that knowledge with others.

When teens develop and maintain healthy boundaries, they…

  • Decrease guilty feelings
  • Shed unhealthy relationships
  • Gain healthy relationships
  • Increase self-confidence
  • Increase peace and happiness
  • Increase respect of others’ boundaries
  • Increase assertiveness

How Adults Can Help Teens Create and Enforce Boundaries:

Here’s 5 ways adults can help teens develop strong, healthy boundaries:

  1. Build Self-Worth

If a teen recognizes their inherent value as a person, they will be more willing to protect their best self-interest. See our blog on building confidence in teens for tips on increasing their sense of self worth.

  • Increase Self-Awareness and Self-Advocacy Skills

Encourage your teen to get in touch with their values, beliefs, thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. The more aware they are of how they experience and process information will help guide their boundary setting behavior. Once they identify those key components, encourage your teen to verbalize their needs and wants. If you want to help your teen become a better self-advocate, check out one of our latest blogs.

  • Preach Bodily Autonomy

Research shows many teens experience dating and relationship violence, as well as unwanted sexual advances from others. It is vital to teach your teen body ownership, consent, and clear signs of healthy and unhealthy platonic, sexual, and romantic relationships early in adolescence.

  • Identify Red Flags and Green Flags 

It is important to help your teen identify red flag (bad) and green flag (good) behaviors in all types of relationships. Share statistics with them on peer pressure, risky behavior, teen dating violence, and sexual misconduct. Help them understand that it is important to evaluate how those around them respond to the boundaries they set. Give them tips on handling individuals who continue to cross their boundaries after they’ve stated them.

  • Model Boundary-Setting Behavior

Young people learn primarily through observation and modeling behavior. That’s why it is crucial for adults to model the behavior they want to see their teens adapt. Use the language of boundaries when establishing rules and limitations for the adolescent to follow in the home. Share age-appropriate examples of times when you had to set a boundary, or navigate a relationship where boundaries were crossed. If you need more tips on how to positively influence your teen, check out our blog on adult role models.

If you want to learn more about the importance of boundaries for teens, check out our accredited youth life coaching programs.

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