Using Boundaries While Parenting

By Jessica Darling Wilkerson, LMFT

There’s this buzz word out in the world called BOUNDARIES.

What does that even mean?  You know you should have them.  You think you probably don’t.  You hear the word “boundaries” and you think that it must be a measuring stick that you should be living up to, and that others are judging you by.

Let’s demystify boundaries when it comes to parenting.

Boundaries are the gauge by which you allow people permission in your life.  Basically, how you let other people treat you, and how you treat other people.



When it comes to children and teens, it’s even bigger.  They are engaging with their peers and teachers in school, so they have first hand experience trying to figure out how to treat other people and how others treat them (peers & authority figures).  They look everywhere for the measuring stick: television, other peers, and most importantly their parents.

Your child or teen looks to their parent for permission on what is socially acceptable and responsible.  When your child was little you could say the words and tell them how to behave and what to allow.  Then, when your child grew and became a teen they stopped paying so much attention to your words, but they start paying attention to your actions.

What do you let their other parent get away with in their relationship with you?  What do you let their siblings get away with?  How do your friends treat you, and do you put a stop to things when your friends are being impolite or do you allow their indiscretions?    In what ways do you allow your teen to talk or behave in your relationship?

What are YOUR boundaries with all the relationships in your life?

This is what your pre-teen and teenager is evaluating when they decide how to treat you and how to treat their friends.  


Safety.  Kids and teens know that you are their protector.  They know that you have it all figured out (even when we’re really just humans who don’t have it all figured out).

If you are a consistent parent who says “no” to certain and specific things regularly, they can feel safe to know that a) this is something that is not acceptable, and b) they can try to persuade you to give-in, and if you give in then they know that you really mean it’s okay this time – since you’ve been so consistently honorable with your “no” in the past.  It makes your teen feel safe to know that  you really thought this through and decided it is safe and okay – and they can rest in the knowledge that it’s safe and okay – they are safe and okay.

If you have been inconsistent in the past with “no,” “yes,” and “maybe,” they don’t really know what is safe and okay, what is negotiable because it’s is a power issue, what is negotiable because you haven’t thought it through yet, and what isn’t safe.  There are no fences in the world to keep the bad guys out, and the good guys in.  There’s no definition, and very little trust.

It would make sense that they would act disrespectfully when they don’t know where the boundaries are, how can they respect what they don’t know or trust?

As their negotiating skills improve, as their button pushing improves, they start to realize that there is an imbalance of power in the relationship – and they have the lion’s share.  Teens have never had this kind of power before, nobody has taught them to wield it wisely.

Teens learn to grow up with healthy relationships because someone loved them enough to tell them “no” and allowed them to suffer the consequences while they were still young enough that the consequence wasn’t too hard.  I talk more about consequences in another blog post coming soon.

In the meantime, what are a few ways that your child or teenager invades your boundaries?

What are some relationships in your life where you need better boundaries, and your child/teen has witnessed other people treating you poorly, and you’ve allowed it.

Now, what is one boundary issue that you would like to resolve with your teen?  Just one!  Rome wasn’t built in a day, boundaries are hard and it hurts when you make changes like this – too many too soon won’t stick.

Pick one boundary and focus on improving that over the next few weeks.  Then, re-read this blog post to refresh yourself and start on another boundary.  Put it on your calendar, schedule yourself to re-read the post and work on your 2nd issue.

Jessica Wilkerson, LMFT 104464 is a licensed marriage and family therapist in California.  She owns Inspired Life Counseling which has offices in both Chico, CA and Redding, CA.  Jessica has been a single mom of one boy (who is now grown and has graduated college) and she is currently a married woman with two children in elementary school.  She has had to navigate a blended family within all this.  Her advanced training in parenting and psychology thankfully gave her the tools she needed to navigate all the different life changes and how in impacted her family.  She is passionate about helping other families also navigate this life and remain close (or get close again).

If you’d like to learn more about Jessica Wilkerson, her career, fees, or make an appointment, then please click the button below to go to her bio.

This article was originally published on Jessica’s personal website on 6/3/2014.