Adolescence Communication Mental Health Parenting Recovery Therapy Trauma

Healthy Boundaries Make for Healthy Teens

© sarit z rogers

What steps can you take to ensure that you aren’t in violation of someone’s boundaries? For example, not everyone enjoys being hugged, nor is it always appropriate to express that level of touch. From the perspective of a teacher or a therapist, one must understand the innate power differential that exists between teacher and student or therapist and client. One is looking to the other for advice and pedagogic elucidation, and one is holding the power to elicit such information. We therefore need to be thoughtful in our approach to employing touch in these situations.


In a therapeutic environment such as Visions, we address more than substance abuse and mental illness; we are facilitating the excavation of trauma and creating safe boundaries. It’s important to maintain awareness around our own sense of boundaries and how execute them. Asking ourselves these questions and contemplating the answers through talking to our peers and writing them out will help you discern where you may need some work, and where you are strongest:


  1. What does it mean to set boundaries?
  2. Is it hard to say “no”? If so, what does saying “no” feel like?
  3. How do I feel when my boundaries are crossed?
  4. What is my reaction internally and externally?
  5. Am I afraid to set boundaries? Why?
  6. What is my history around setting boundaries?


As clinicians and teachers, it’s imperative that we know and understand where our weak spots are so we can work on them. For some people, it’s not uncommon to wait until someone pushes us to our edge before we set a limit. The desire to please others or to be liked plays a part here, and our own backgrounds and upbringing will also effect how we interact with others. Perhaps we come from a family where hugging and touch is part of the norm. It may be natural for us to reach out and hug someone when they are suffering, but it’s not always appropriate.


Hugging a client may be a violation of a boundary, but if the client has been traumatized in some way, they may not know how to set that boundary. Likewise, if a client persistently tries to hug you, you have to maintain a firm boundary so they learn to understand what is and what is not appropriate. I was volunteering at my son’s school recently, and a kid came up and hugged me, not wanting to let go. It was a child I don’t know and it was a clear violation of my boundaries and the school’s rules. I gently moved away and held a boundary with this child until he moved on. Teens look to us as examples to learn from and to emulate. If we don’t show strong, safe boundaries, they won’t be able to either. Understand that the boundaries we create encourage freedom to be who you are while creating a safe container for healing and recovery.

Respecting boundaries applies to parents too. If the family dynamic has been compromised, parents have to work to rebuild a healthy and safe family structure. Creating solid boundaries is key in that process. Adolescents love to push buttons and stretch boundaries; they are smack dab in the center of their individuation process. That doesn’t mean you, the parent, have to give in. Remember: “No” is a complete sentence, and when it’s said with certainty and conviction, it makes all the difference. A wishy-washy, non-committal “no” may as well be a “maybe” or a “yes.” Poor limits leave room for negotiation where there shouldn’t be.

We all have a part to play in creating safe limits whether we are parents, teachers, or clinicians. Kids, in their infinite wisdom and testing behaviors, demand strong limits, whether they admit it or not. Boundaries create safety. They provide defined parameters in which to develop and grow. So as much as a teen may push, inside, they really do respect a firm “No” and a defined environment.

Adolescence Holidays Parenting

Long Summer Days

Summer field in Belgium (Hamois). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Summertime seems to be that time of year when the common perception amongst many kids is: ultimate freedom. This perception sticks for some time, too, at least until adulthood or a regular job sets in. Think about it: There isn’t a school schedule to adhere to, there’s no homework to do, and no deadlines to meet. In many ways, summer can be the impetus for social free-for-alls: late nights, experimentation with alcohol and/or drugs. What can we do to preemptively halt the madness in its tracks?

We can start with providing some semblance of order in our kids’ lives. While school may provide the safety of confined activities and schedules that allow us to feel secure in knowing where our kids are, breaks from school can present a challenge for many of us. There’s no better time than the present to ensure that there is structure within the “freedom” of summer. Yes, that sounds like a bit of a contradiction, but we all must learn to create structure and boundaries amidst the chaos of life.

For college-bound kids, summer may have a different feel to it. It may be the last time they’ll see some of their friends for a while, especially if they’re off to different colleges. And in some ways, it may be a farewell to the freedom of childhood. College implies adulthood, and that last summer can be a humdinger.

We can start with some of these ideas:

  • Have regular family dinners. Sitting down together several days a week is a wonderful way to get grounded in family.
  • Check in with your kids. Do you know whom they’re spending time with? What they’re doing? Where they’re doing it? You should!
  • Get to know your child’s friends … and their parents.
  • Get involved. You can stay involved in your kids’ lives without being the quintessential helicopter parent.
  • Support their recovery. For example, if they’re going to college, help them find meetings in the area or support groups they can attend. Maintaining those ties are important.
  • Learn not to take things personally. While being involved is a good thing, we have to also learn when it’s okay to let go.  Remember, adolescence is prime time for individuation and sometimes that means giving the parents the cold shoulder.

Ultimately, summer reminds me of time slowing down. It’s a respite from the chilly, short days of winter. Living so close to the beach, it’s prime time for witnessing sunsets and frolicking in the sea. Even if we’re working or just busy, we are truly blessed with these longer days and warmer light. Spending time with our loved ones is one more blessing we can’t pass by.

Parenting Recovery Transparency

Tell It Like It Is

One thing is clear, there isn’t a definitive handbook for child-rearing. And while we

Image via Wikipedia

parents try our darndest to “do the right thing,” we often fall flat on our faces as a result of being mired by our own childhood stories. I think I can safely say that most of us didn’t grow up in some idealized version of Leave it to Beaver, which is not to say that all of us suffered hellish childhoods either. Still, we have to be careful that we don’t project our own experiences and expectations onto our children. If anything, parenting provides us the opportunity to do things differently. For those of us in recovery, that may also mean facing very real fears that our kids will follow in our sullied footsteps: drinking and using much like we once did.

Adolescence is all about pushing boundaries, experimentation, breaking rules, rebellion, and other assorted behaviors us parents typically loathe. And somewhere in the midst of diaper changes, spit up, and pre-adolescence, many of us simply forget what it was like to grow up. So, if we come across our very own “little Bobby” hung over or high, we are tend to fly off the handle. The truth is, that’s the last thing we should be doing. Our indignation and outrage automatically puts our kids on the defensive, making us the bad guys and the enemy, preventing them from opening up to us. They’re already exerting their independence, distancing themselves from us as much as possible, so being reactive parents will just push them further away. Precisely what we don’t want to do during adolescence. Face it, our teens will rebel. It’s in their nature. But it’s our responsibility to learn to respond to that rebellion skillfully. Even if it means confronting suspected or known drug and alcohol use.

If you suspect drugs or alcohol abuse or already know your child is using, these are some tips from The Partnership for a Drug Free America:

  • Talk to your partner or spouse and get in alignment with one another. You need to have a united front.
  • Expect denial and even anger.
  • Let your teen know you are coming from a place of love and concern.
  • Prepare to be called a hypocrite.
    • If you are in recovery, show some transparency. Your experience and its outcome is a teaching tool.
    • If you smoke or drink, you will more than likely be called out on it by your teen.
    • Have some evidence. Denial is a key component during these sorts of confrontation.
    • Work toward a desirable and realistic outcome: don’t expect full disclosure.
    • Formulate rules and consequences with your partner/spouse beforehand. The last thing you want to do is make snap decisions.
      • Don’t set rules you can’t enforce.
      • If you have addiction within the family, discuss your child’s pre-disposition toward addiction.
      • Be transparent. Talking about your past in a general way is helpful. If we aren’t honest with our kids, how can we expect them to be honest with us?

On occasion, our young ones will ask us questions we may feel are inappropriate or too revealing to answer truthfully, but as puberty hits, and curiosity burgeons, it’s really the time to answer these things as best we can. Our fears and issues need to be set aside, because it’s in those teachable moments where we can affect change. It’s in those moments of honesty and openheartedness where we can provide outlines for healthy perspectives on alcohol, drugs, sexuality, media use, et cetera. Our kids, whether they admit it or not, rely on us to be steady and forthright. If they can’t lean on us, or depend on us, who can they lean on? Who can they trust if we stumble and trip over our own lies while we encourage them to tell the truth? It’s time to be transparent with our teens; they need us to.

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