If You're Struggling With Your Teen's Behavior, They Need Boundaries

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My youngest son who is in 8th grade just started going back to school two days a week a few weeks ago. The transition has been good for him and he seems like he’s come out of his 14-year-old slump a bit, which makes me happy.

He asked if he could stay after school last Monday because he and two other students were going to help his science teacher set up for his English teacher’s birthday.

I immediately thought he was up to something. Last year I found a few joints in his room. The story was, one of his friends had given them to him — the same friend he was caught throwing food with in the cafeteria.

I’m giving his friend zero blame for these instances; my son is capable of making his own decisions, and he knows what acceptable and unacceptable behavior is. He also knows the power of the word no, because he uses it on me all the damn time.

It’s been a year since he’s been out in the real world and while he’s been virtual learning and not seeing any of his friends, he’s gotten in zero trouble. However, I know my son — and to me, something was up. I told him he could stay but only after I cleared it with his teacher, the one who he told me was staying after to help.

My son wasn’t making something up so he could stay after school and raise hell. I was relieved (to say the least) when his teacher got back to me to tell me he’d be there with the kids for an hour after school.

After I told him he could stay, he let me know he knew I was going to check up on him, so there was no way he’d lie to me.

I’m not telling you this because my son is an angel sent from the heavens above and I’m #blessed by a well-behaved child. I’m telling you this because I’ve made the mistake (many times over) with my three teenagers of not giving them proper boundaries when they break the rules – and my trust.

And while it’s finally sunken in for my youngest (he’s been the most stubborn of all), that doesn’t mean he’s not going to try to pull something over on his mother again.

I’ve tried to be the “cool” parent and give my kids second chances too soon. I was burned every single time. My oldest had a friend he used to hang out with and they’d always get caught smoking pot together, yet I gave him a few more chances.

My daughter went through a stage where she was so nasty to me at times, but then she’d turn into the Glinda The Good Witch Of The North, and I’d treat her to new makeup, or let her have a friend over, even though she didn’t totally deserve it. Honestly, what started to happen is her attitude got worse and she disrespected me even more.

That’s the way it works when you don’t set clear boundaries with people. They will get away with what they can, and teenagers are especially susceptible to this (at least all three of mine are). If I let them walk all over me, they do.

As parents, we teach our kids how to treat us.

I understand they are also moody and have things going on in their lives that cause them to be grumpy, irritable, and shut down. I can be understanding and empathetic, but also show them I respect myself, and our relationship, by having clear boundaries and consequences so they know what to expect.

If they are being sassy, that looks like asking them what is wrong and letting them know I am here to help, but not here to be a human punching bag.

It looks like taking away their phone and restricting social time if they can’t follow curfew rules or they aren’t where they tell me they are going to be. I’ve also learned if they break that trust, checking up on them after I let them go back their social life doesn’t make me an overbearing mother. It’s a reminder to them they need to work harder at earning my trust back. If I didn’t do this, believe me, they would go right back to shady behaviors and try to get away with stuff.

I know this because my mother turned a blind eye to everything me and my siblings did as teenagers. We lost respect for her, we ran the show, and we knew we could get away with things with zero consequences.

Boundaries also look like not wasting my time, because my time is precious too. For example, when I go to get them from their father’s house, they don’t make me wait for a half hour in the driveway; they are ready. One of my friends is struggling with this with her daughter. Every time she goes to get her from her dad’s house she makes her mother wait in the driveway for at least a half-hour, sometimes more.

If they ask for something special at the grocery store and I make a trip to get it yet it gets wasted, they know I’m not going to get it for them again.

There has to be a happy medium. Everyone makes mistakes or has a shit day, of course. I don’t want my kids feeling like I’m running a bootcamp, and I do want them to like me and spend time with me in the worst way.

Yet after raising three teenagers I’ve realized something the hard way: If you don’t dole out the boundaries and remind them of them all the time, they will take advantage of you … and your life will be a lot harder.

Remember, you are doing this so they learn how to treat other people. It’s not fun, but it will be worth it — because I guarantee if they are raised without boundaries, they will have a really hard time once they are out on their own. And if we can avoid that by setting a few firm and clear boundaries, I’d rather have them not like me very much now than pay for it later.

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