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Parenting with limits: Avoiding the "cool parent" trap with teens

Parenting with limits can be hard to do, especially with teens. Every parent wants to give their child the world, our teen experts acknowledge. But they also say great parents know that limits are important. Research shows that many teens actually appreciate boundaries.

By Contributor / April 30, 2012

Zach Lynch (r.) holds a video game controller as he plays his friend Brett Oppido in a game they play everyday after school. Parenting with limits can be hard to do, especially with teens.

Tony Avelar/The Christian Science Monitor

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It is hard to set a limit sometimes. You love your child and you want to give her everything including eternal happiness. Unfortunately, as you know, part of the role of a parent is to disappoint; to set a limit with your child that she perceives as unfair or even punitive.

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Talking Teenage

Jennifer Powell-Lunder (l.) and Barbara Greenberg (r.) are practicing psychologists specializing in adolescent issues. Both have been published widely and appear regularly in the print and broadcast media as teen experts. They blog together at Talking Teenage.

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You know you are making a decision in your teen’s best interests, but making the decision and delivering the news are two separate things. Usually it’s the second part that makes the situation uncomfortable.

When your teen has a negative reaction to your limit setting (which is often the case) the focus of a parent then becomes tolerating her negative reaction. Maybe he storms off and slams his door and blasts his music, perhaps she tells you she hates you and retreats to her room to text or call her support network of friends. You hear her sharing the news about how unfair and ridiculous she perceives the decision. Sometimes it is the glare of vehemence your teen gives you when you deliver the news, or the instant sadness that furrows his brow that challenges you, making you wish you could back off, take it back, although you know you must stand your ground.

Well, my friends, time to let you in on a little secret. Your teens not only need the limits set for them, they appreciate the boundaries!  The limits you set send the message that you not only care, but you are paying attention! Research reflects that the parenting style most associated with juvenile delinquency is permissive parents – aka: the ‘cool’ parents who have no rules or boundaries.

While there may be no way to avoid a negative reaction from your teen, here are some hints on how to approach the situation:

1.)    Think before you speak. Sometimes their requests can seem so outrageous it is hard not to have an immediate emotional reaction. Emotion begets emotion. Now is a time to keep your cool.

2.)    Take time to gather the information necessary to make an informed decision. When your teen asks something he most likely wants or expects an immediate answer. If the situation requires investigation, take the time you need. Do, however, be mindful that the longer it takes you to decide, the more anxiety and anticipation your teen will feel. If your final decision is not the one he wants to hear, his reaction could be quite negative and reactive.

3.)    Give her time and space to process your decision. If your teen storms off in a huff, do not follow her! Give her some time and space.

4.)    Once some time has passed, take the time to calmly explain your decision. Let your teen know that although he may not agree, your decision comes from a place of caring and concern.

5.)    Don’t expect her to understand. She may never agree with your decision. However, by setting a limit and offering an explanation, you have sent her the message that you take your job as a parent seriously.

6.)   Sometimes you actually relieve his anxiety when you set the limit. There are times when your decision saves your teen from an uncomfortable situation. What better way to take the pressure off your teen regarding a difficult decision than making the decision for him. He has the instant excuse of “My parents won’t  let me.”

Related: Are you a Helicopter Parent? Take our quiz to find out!

7.)    You can change your mind.  There are times when you realize the decision you have made is wrong. Perhaps you told her she could go to a concert or party but later received concerning information about the event. You can and should change your mind. Offer an explanation, but stand your ground. Once in a while you make a decision and realize you are wrong. Don’t be afraid to step up and reverse it. Explain your reasons for the reversal . Your teen will not only appreciate your choice but he will admire your ability to be flexible and fair.

We all need rules and limits. When you set boundaries for your teens you communicate caring and concern at the same time you are teaching them important lessons about life.

The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best family and parenting bloggers out there. Our contributing and guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor, and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. Jennifer Powell-Lunder and Barbara Greenberg blogs at Talking Teenage.

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