Emotional Boundaries and Their Importance for Your Teenager

For your teenager to enjoy healthy relationships and keep his or her psychological integrity safe, he or she needs to set boundaries. Here's how you can help them do it.
Emotional Boundaries and Their Importance for Your Teenager
Elena Sanz

Written and verified by the psychologist Elena Sanz.

Last update: 18 July, 2022

Emotional boundaries aren’t just for adults. During adolescence, young people expand their social circle and the peer group becomes the center of their world. At this time, they need to know and express who they are, to respect and be respected, and to say “no” when necessary more than ever. But in order to learn to set boundaries, they will need the guidance and support of their parents.

Keep in mind that this isn’t an easy task for anyone. Drawing these lines is uncomfortable and scary, especially the first few times.

It can trigger difficult conversations, cause others to take offense, and even lead to lost friendships. However, your children need to know how important those boundaries are to keep their psychological integrity safe. If you want to help them put them into practice, we’ll offer some tips below.

The importance of emotional boundaries for a teenager

As we said, adolescence is a time of social expansion, and having assertiveness will be essential to reap healthy and successful relationships. There are multiple situations in which your child will need to set emotional boundaries:

  • When initiating their first romantic relationships to express that they need to go slowly or at their own pace. Being able to communicate that they’re not comfortable with kissing in public, for example, can be challenging.
  • If your friends or partners adopt controlling or harmful attitudes, such as asking for your social media passwords or calling you at any time and demanding that you answer the phone. Knowing how to refuse and state their reasons without fear is important.
  • To cope with peer pressure if their friends decide to drink and your child doesn’t want to, or if they don’t feel comfortable with a plan that others are proposing.
  • If a conflict or disagreement arises with a teacher, coach, family member, or any other adult. It’s also possible and necessary to set boundaries for them when they disrespect or assault your child in any way.

Ultimately, those boundaries arise from talking honestly and placing themselves in scenarios that feel comfortable and appropriate. This doesn’t imply being excessively rigid, isolating, or going over the heads of others, but it does imply making clear what their own feelings and preferences are.

Pareja adolescente.
Their first romantic relationships bring new feelings into play for teenagers, which they must know how to manage with boundaries.

How to help your teenager to set emotional boundaries

Setting  boundaries isn’t easy and is a task that is learned at home, a place where emotional intelligence must be cultivated. To help your child achieve this, there are some guidelines you can follow.

Teach them to connect with their emotions

Sometimes, young people fail to say “no” or “enough” because they’re not sure of what they feel and need. They don’t recognize that a particular situation requires boundaries and may normalize or overlook undesirable events. Therefore, it’s critical that they know how to connect with their emotions and listen to their intuition and their bodies.

If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t right. They should not feel guilty or exaggerated for expressing themselves when something displeases them. Also, they should never silence any negative feelings that serve as a natural guide.

So, teach your child to relate to their emotions, to recognize them when they arise, and to name them. And above all, teach them to attend to them and express them in an appropriate way.

We think you may also enjoy reading this article: You Need to Know How to Set Boundaries for a Manipulator

Give concrete examples

In other situations, the adolescent may be clear that he/she doesn’t want something, but he/she doesn’t know how to express it. Therefore, it can be very useful to have a series of useful phrases that can be used in those moments.

“Let me think about it and tell you tomorrow;” “I don’t feel comfortable with this;” “No, thanks, I don’t really feel like it”…. These are very simple phrases that should be part of their basic communicative resources.

When setting boundaries, they should do so firmly and confidently. They don’t need to explain or justify themselves. So, offer them a series of simple ways in which they can respond to the different situations they’re presented with.

Allow them to practice their emotional boundaries in a safe environment

Like any skill, the art of setting boundaries needs to be practiced so that it feels comfortable and natural. There’s nothing better than doing it in a safe environment such as the home.

We can’t expect young people to be assertive if we don’t allow them to express themselves or make their own decisions at home. Thus, asking to be alone in their room, deciding not to visit the family to stay home and study, or telling their parents that they didn’t feel good about the way they spoke to them are all small steps that will forge their skills. Allow them and encourage them.

Strengthen their self-esteem

The fear of being criticized, rejected, or abandoned is one of the main reasons why teenagers refuse to set emotional boundaries. In their eagerness to keep their friends or partner or to remain part of the group, young people may accept disrespect, abuse, or mistreatment.

Therefore, it’s essential that they have strong and solid self-esteem, which allows them to protect and defend themselves, even at the risk of making others uncomfortable or displeasing them.

If, when adolescence arrives, you feel that your child is lacking in this aspect, perhaps it would be a good idea to ask for the help of a professional to guide them in strengthening their self-esteem.

Emotional boundaries can help teens deal with bullying
In adolescence, peer pressure and the sense of belonging to a group are elements that forge or damage self-esteem.

Be a role model and show your child how to set emotional boundaries

Remember that you are one of their main references, and your children will learn to communicate and develop in the world from you. So, check how your relationships are, how you behave with those close to you, and if you yourself know how to set boundaries when necessary.

Do you communicate with your children or your partner in an assertive way, respecting your feelings and respecting theirs? If not, start by changing this in yourself to be a better example for your child.

In short, your teenager may find it hard to get used to saying “no,” to express himself or herself clearly when someone makes him or her feel bad, and to make decisions that go against the grain. However, with your support and practice, your teen will be able to establish those boundaries that will keep them true to themselves and be able to enjoy healthier relationships.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.