Personal boundaries are limitations on how far people can cross into someone else's personal space. The teen years are marked by the search for and finding an individual identity. As they travel this path toward discovering identity and gaining confidence in who they are, teens experience self-doubt and role confusion, according to Erik Erikson, child development theorist. This can add up to a teen, in his efforts to fit in, allowing others to violate his personal boundaries. Teaching your teen healthy boundaries helps him make better decisions about himself and others.
Boundaries can be divided into multiple categories, which work together to create vital personal space, according to therapist Darlene Lancer. Material boundaries refer to money and possessions. Mental boundaries include thoughts and opinions. Physical boundaries include all parts of the physical body. Emotional boundaries refer to the division between different people’s emotions and to the importance of not taking on someone else’s emotional states. Some experts add sexual boundaries and spiritual boundaries to the categories of boundaries.
Communication is vital in setting boundaries. Help your teen practice communication skills by discussing boundaries with him. Talk about the reasons that boundaries exist and what can happen when boundaries are violated. Discuss different situations in which your teen might need to set boundaries, such as a first date or a conversation with a needy friend. Help your teen brainstorm which boundaries might be violated in each situation and appropriate ways of communicating his boundaries.
Role-playing helps your child anticipate possible boundary violations and work out what to say to maintain his boundaries in different situations. Your child can take on the role of the person whose boundaries are violated or the role of the person doing the violating. It is often helpful for teens to take on both roles in different scenarios to better understand both points of view. Role-playing works particularly well in a group setting, where several different teens can provide feedback and ideas. If you don’t have access to a group of teens, you can still role-play with your teen. Be sure to switch roles frequently and discuss what happened in each scenario.
Mapping helps teens identify safe and unsafe spaces in their environment, such as at school. Have your teen draw his school campus and color code it according to his feelings about each area. Green marks areas that the teen feels entirely comfortable in. Yellow marks areas that trigger a feeling of unease, while red flags areas that the teen tries to avoid altogether. When the map is complete, talk about the ways in which boundaries can make people feel more secure and the importance of firmly enforcing them in situations that make your teen feel uncomfortable.