• Dr. Vin

Limit Setting Tips for Raising Teens



As young children, we were like a little flock of geese following my parents around gleefully. Then we older ones became teenagers and a new wind blew through the house. As the youngest of those first four teenagers (I am one of 12 siblings), I remember being shocked when my oldest brother raised his voice and started talking back to my parents. My parents also appeared stunned. My older sisters asserted their independence by having secrets and sneaking around. My parents initially tried to bring the hammer down by being controlling, which worked to a degree, but could not stop the train of adolescence from shaking up the old order.

Raising a dozen children, my parents learned as they went, and moved from being overly strict to more cooperative. They had one technique that was particularly amazing that none of us could “get around”. If they disagreed on what to do about a child’s behavior, they looked at each other, retreated to a separate room, closed the door, negotiated and came out with an agreed upon decision that was as solid as rock. I remember feeling that even if I did not like the decision, I felt this solid sense of security in the presence of their united front.

It is the developmental task of teenagers to push against the norm in order to define who they are. Trying to figure out where to set a limit and where to give teens room to fly can be hard on parents and takes thoughtful consideration. As parents we have to give them some room to try out their new wings, even when that hurts or scares us. We need to have compassion both for ourselves as parents, as well as for our children, who are just traveling the road to adulthood. My Dad once remarked, referring to our teen sisters upstairs bedroom, “I think independency breeds up there.” This type of humor helped him cope and we all laughed.

All parents need to set some limits, a line the teen cannot cross over. Good things happen within the limits, bad things happen outside them. Well-defined limits should be set with the child, reviewed and modified often. Be specific, use time frames and set consequences.

1.Set limits ahead of time (e.g. homework must start by 6pm. If you start at 6:02pm, no TV)

2.Be clear and check if they understand

3.Involve the child in the process

4.Set clear consequences, check for understanding (make sure you can enforce the consequence you set)

5.Follow through. (The first time you do not follow through, they know and will rebel next time)

6.Let the child take responsibility for their actions.

A Useful Quote for Parents:

I am the decisive element in my home. My personal approach creates the climate. My daily mood makes the weather…I have tremendous power to make my child’s life miserable or joyous…My response decides whether a crisis will escalate or de-escalate and a child humanized or de-humanized…

Adapted from Haim Ginott

When the winds of adolescence create a storm in your house, remember your teens are just flexing their new wings, to get big enough and brave enough to fly away on their own. In the meantime they could knock over the nest, so lovingly set limits, listen to their tales to know when to nudge them and when to hold them. And no matter how hard it is at times, I promise you will cry when they finally fly off and leave you.


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