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Setting boundaries with parents
It’s normal for your relationship with your parents to change as you age. Your parents will always be your parents, but the dynamic doesn’t have to remain the same. In fact, respectfully setting boundaries about your personal life can ensure a healthy family dynamic and teach you how to communicate your needs with friends, romantic partners, and colleagues. Keep reading to learn tips for setting healthy boundaries with parents and when boundary-setting may require professional support.
7 tips for setting healthy boundaries with parents
Setting boundaries with your parents is an opportunity to become more independent, own your values and beliefs, and establish guidelines on how you’d like to be treated by others. Having clear boundaries can help people navigate conflict, avoid co-dependency, and be mindful of their own mental health and emotional well-being. Below, we list seven tips to help teens and young adults set boundaries with their parents.
1. Understand your rights
As people grow up, they naturally want more independence and control over their lives. While a child relied on their parents for meals, an adult child may want to go out to dinner with friends. Or maybe someone who used to side with a parent on certain topics has developed their own opinion on the issue. Whatever that growth looks like for you, it’s important to acknowledge the rights that you have within that specific relationship.
According to Judith Belmont, MS, a licensed psychotherapist and author, remembering your rights is part of setting boundaries in relationships. For example:
- You have a right to be treated with respect
- You have a right to say yes or no without feeling guilty
- You have a right to prioritize your own needs
- You have a right to make mistakes and show yourself grace when you do
- You have a right not to meet other people’s expectations when they are unhealthy or unreasonable
So how do you know if you need to set boundaries with your parents? Here are some examples of unhealthy family dynamics that may require better boundaries:
- You feel responsible for your parent’s happiness or well-being
- Your parents feel entitled to know everything about your life
- You often receive unsolicited advice or comments about your personal choices
- You feel responsible for fixing other family member’s problems
- You don’t know how to avoid family conflict
- Your parent’s influence makes it difficult to develop a strong sense of self
- Your parents have strong opinions about how you should live your life
- You’re guilted or shamed for choices that allow you more freedom or autonomy
2. Consider what’s important to you
Setting boundaries with your parents and other family members takes courage, so begin the process by reflecting on what’s important to you. This is a chance to advocate for yourself, so take the time to think about what changes will best serve you. If you’re thinking about setting boundaries in your personal life, you may already have a clear source of tension that you’re hoping to resolve. If not, here are a few questions to help get you started.
- Why do you want to set boundaries?
- Is there a toxic relationship in your life that you’re hoping to change?
- Is there a specific feeling or behavior that you want to address with these new boundaries?
- How do you feel when your current boundaries aren’t respected?
- Have you considered your parents’ perspectives or concerns?
3. Be assertive
While the hope is that your family will be open to a conversation about boundaries, it’s not always easy for parents to hear that their children are ready to do things their own way. In these cases, it’s important to be firm without being confrontational. This also means being clear and concise in order to avoid any misinterpretation. One helpful strategy is to use“I” statements, such as:
- “I feel ________ when ________.”
- “I want ________ because ________.”
- “I need ________ when ________.”
- “I value my ________, so I’m setting a boundary around ________.”
Other effective communication strategies to show assertiveness include maintaining eye contact, practicing active listening, and keeping an even tone.
4. Be respectful
Assertiveness and respect go hand-in-hand when it comes to communicating personal boundaries to others. Boundaries are not about rebelling or disrespecting your parents. Instead, they’re an opportunity for family members to learn how to recognize, respect, and understand each other’s differences. Refrain from labeling someone as a toxic parent or calling out a dysfunctional family member, and instead, focus on how these new boundaries will benefit you and your relationship with your parents.
5. Be patient
Behavior change doesn’t happen overnight, especially when it relates to how parents view and treat their children. While you’ve been ruminating over these changes for weeks or months, be mindful that this may be the first time that your parents are hearing your thoughts.
It can be frustrating when a parent doesn’t respect an important boundary, so have clear next steps to help you maintain your patience and understanding. To start, firmly restate your boundaries in case your parents didn’t understand your intent the first time. If a family member continuously forgets or chooses to disregard your wishes, it may be helpful to have consequences for crossing the boundary. For example, “I feel ________ when you do ________. If this happens again, I will have to ________.”
6. Create a support network
Trusted family members
Group therapy members
Setting boundaries with your parents can be tough, but you don’t have to do it alone. If you’re struggling to find the right time to speak with your parents or are looking for additional ways to reinforce your wishes, consider confiding in others. This may be friends, teachers, coworkers, or other trusted family members.
Group therapy is another opportunity to connect with others who are going through something similar with their own families. Group therapy can help teens and young adults hear diverse perspectives, gain confidence, and grow and heal through shared learning and increased accountability.
7. Seek professional help
If you and your parents are struggling to understand one another’s boundaries, you may benefit from working with a mental health professional. There are various forms of talk therapy that are designed to help individuals and families create healthy behavior change. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of talk therapy that’s used to help people understand how their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors impact their overall mental health. CBT can help teens and young adults develop a greater sense of self and gain the confidence to let others know what they need.
Family therapy also helps young people and their parents address dysfunctional family dynamics and improve communication skills. Family therapy can teach people to identify codependency issues, improve problem-solving skills, and build stronger, more balanced relationships.
Set healthy boundaries with the support of Charlie Health
If you’re having trouble maintaining a healthy relationship with your parents or other family members, Charlie Health is here to help. Charlie Health’s virtual Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) is designed to help young people navigate complex mental health conditions and interpersonal situations. Through individual therapy, family therapy, and supported peer groups, we help clients to identify unhealthy habits, develop interpersonal skills, and connect with others who are experiencing similar challenges. Complete this short form to get started today.