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Setting Boundaries for Teens


Let’s talk about consequences.

When it comes to putting boundaries and consequence  natural and logical consequences in place with your teen there are “Natural Consequences” and “Logical Consequences”

So a natural consequence is benefit when it’s about to rain so you tell your teen “Put on your coat before you go out”.

The teen, surprise surprise, say “No, why should I do what you say?”

So you let them go out and get wet and figure it out for themselves. Maybe next time they’ll listen to you.

Logical Consequences

A logical consequence is: “If you spend more than two hours on your X Box tonight I’m going to take your X Box away for tomorrow night”

The point about Logical Consequences is:

  • They need to be related to the misdeed and not unreasonable
  • The Teen needs to be specifically pre-warned so that they knew the consequences
  • The consequence needs to be soon or immediate; not in a week’s time
  • There need to be not too many – keep it simple!

We parents tend to do consequences badly – me included. We make them really hard and kind of unobtainable or unavoidable. For example we say things like “If you spend too much time on your X Box you are grounded for a month”. The consequence is unrelated, it isnt clear how much is too much, and to be grounded for a month is out of proportion. 

I’ve done it too!  I actually canceled Christmas once. That’s bonkers thing to do. What a miserable consequence. I had to uncancel Christmas and that’s the most humiliating thing I’ve ever done as a parent. #

Making Boundaries and Consequences Simple 


Make the list of boundaries and consequences simple.

Suggest three rules and the consequences attached to them. It could be for example 

  1. No swearing in the house
  2. No smartphones overnight in the bedroom
  3. No hitting a younger sibling

….and let it slide when they roll their eyes. It’s annoying, but try just sticking to the three. These are just examples, use what is relevant for your household.

What if My Teen is Withdrawn?


But what happens when they won’t communicate? What happens if they actually just want to disengage? What happens if they’re playing the X Box or suddenly they’re avoiding you. What do you do then?

Engaging with teenagers like this is a bit like trying to find 18 points tag on the Scottish moors. 

It takes time. You have to go into their turf. It might take a long long time.

But let me give you a couple of examples of things that we’ve done with parents which have been transformational in building their relationship into one of communication.


The first thing is every teenager communicates. But it may not be with words.

Even as they are withdrawing and they are just saying “I don’t like this” or “I don’t like that” you might need to engage what that is even if it’s “I don’t like you”. Respond with “I’m so sorry you feel like that; how can I change or what can I do to change that?”

The moment you’ve got them to respond to that question you’ve brought them a little bit out of that hoodie state.

Or perhaps they are on their X Box and they’re gaming all night – we are talking about teens here, not children. And they will not talk to you.

Well we’ve worked with parents where we’ve advised them to go up into the teen’s room and sort pants and socks in the bedroom while their teen is on the X box late at night.

Now at first reading you might think that’s a crazy thing to do. Just force them off the X Box.

But that’s exactly the point. The child on the X Box will begin to clock you in the room. You will be there in the periphery of their vision and he will be asking himself “What is Mum/Dad doing here and why?”

Now we did this with a woman over a period of six months.

For six months she began to sort out the pants and socks in her son’s room while he was gaming on his X Box.

She began to observe the game and show interest.

Then she commented on the game and asked questions.

Then she asked if she could have a go.

Then she asked if they could they play together.

So they ended up playing together, and it transformed their relationship. It was the first meaningful interaction she had had with her child for YEARS.

We always want to rip the hood off a withdrawn teen but that is not necessarily possible. Sometimes we need to make the first step and it needs to take time.  She came onto his turf. She came to the hoody and went underneath the hood with him.

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