How to Determine the Right Consequences When Setting Boundaries

Not long ago I (Dr. Townsend) took my kids and some of their friends to a major league baseball game for an outing. While we were watching the game, a young boy sitting behind us was making everyone miserable. He was out of control, loud, and rude. His parents did try to manage him, but their efforts were ineffective. They shushed him, praised him when he was quiet, bribed him with food, and threatened to take him out of the game. Nothing worked. Finally, one of my son’s friends turned to me and said, “That guy needs some serious consequences.” I made a note to myself to call his parents when I got home and congratulate them. I don’t often hear that kind of thing from adolescents. If you are like many of the people I talk with, you may often have difficulty identifying and following through with appropriate consequences. Let’s take a look at a five simple principles that can guide you in determining the right consequences when setting boundaries. 1. Remove the Desirable, Add the Undesirable A consequence is either removing the desirable or adding the undesirable to someone else’s life as the result of a rule violation.... Continue Reading »

Let Go of Guilt-Centered Parenting

guilt

“I wasn’t there for him, so I avoided setting limits with him.” Ray was talking to me about his son Brad, who had begun drinking and running with a bad crowd. However, in assuming he would solve one problem, he actually created a second problem, and now his son was worse off. Fortunately, Ray saw the flaw in his thinking. A self-diagnosed workaholic, Ray had, from his own report, been too wrapped up in his career to connect adequately with his son. However, now that Brad’s problems were serious, Ray had reprioritized his life and was making up for lost time. I asked him, “Why did you think that not setting limits would help?” “I know, it doesn’t make sense. I think I felt guilty for not being there enough when Brad needed me. So I thought the time I did spend with him should be positive.” Guilt fueled Ray’s flawed thinking, as it does for many parents. Both guilt and fear are internal emotional states that often prevent parents from setting the right boundaries that can help a teen learn responsibility. So it’s important for you to understand how these emotions can affect your own parenting and what you... Continue Reading »

Why Teens Should Get Angry with Parents

Boundaries with Teens

Adolescents get angry a lot. They live in protest mode, so it is second nature for them to get mad at everything in the world, especially their parents. But some parents are conflict-phobic — they are uncomfortable and afraid of being the object of their teen’s wrath, and so they avoid setting boundaries with teens. However, this teaches adolescents that if they throw a tantrum, they can get out of a limit. Teens who learn this will also have difficulty experiencing healthy adult relationships. To help your child avoid this relational future, you’ll want to teach him to accept responsibilities in relationships without having outbursts. Many parents who fear their teen’s anger have either had little experience in dealing with anger or had some very negative experiences. Whichever the case, these parents have few tools to deal with angry people, so they avoid confronting them because it’s too uncomfortable. If this is your struggle, in addition to fearing your teen’s anger, you may also fear the strength of your own anger. To resolve this fear, learn to experience and normalize anger — your own and others’ — as a part of life. Make this an intentional item of growth for... Continue Reading »

My Teen Is on Drugs. What Can I Do?

It’s every parent’s nightmare: having a teen on drugs. This is not life as God designed it. Substance abuse causes the breakdown of all that is good. Enslavement replaces freedom. Detachment replaces love. Chaos replaces order. Despair replaces hope. Many young people abuse alcohol and drugs, and this problem is not likely to go away anytime soon. I (Dr. Townsend) can’t overstate the danger of substance abuse. It can, and often does, lead to poverty, injury, disease, and death. But despite the seriousness of this problem, parents of teens with this issue need to understand that the greatest single force to help a teen resolve a substance problem is an involved parent. What follows are some guidelines for the process. Defining the Problem Unfortunately, the teen years are a perfect fit, in a sick way, for substance abuse problems. By nature, adolescents challenge the authority and values of parents and are highly susceptible to peer approval. They are interested in feelings and experiences, often to the neglect of good judgment, yet they can quickly become disconnected and can feel isolation deeply. Teens get easily bruised, discouraged, and hurt, and they gravitate toward quick ways to medicate the pain. No wonder the issue... Continue Reading »

Single Parent: 3 Tips to Save Your Sanity

If you are a single parent, you may need to know something: you have the hardest job in the world. You have to meet all the needs of your kid, over many years, without the help of a spouse. Some of my (Dr. Townsend) closest friends are single parents, and my heart breaks with theirs when they encounter the rough years of parenting. Single parenting can sometimes be brutal and overwhelming. That’s why it’s important to discuss boundaries for single parents. Many of my friends have also found the balance and resources they need, and they are experiencing success as parents. Their children and teens are doing well and are maturing at the right rate. So there is hope for you as well. Let’s look at three of the biggest struggles single parents face and explore what you can do to meet those challenges: Single Parent Challenge #1 – Not Enough of You Single parents have to do the work of two parents, yet they have more limited resources than two-parent families, both in quantity and in ability. This limitation becomes more of a challenge when your kids are teenagers. They push against your authority and limits and assert their... Continue Reading »

God’s Design for Parenting: Standing Together

Are you and your spouse united or divided in your parenting? Consider the following dialogue: Dad: “You’re letting our daughter do anything she wants.” Mom: “You’re too strict with her.” Dad: “She needs more discipline and structure.” Mom: “She needs more love and encouragement.” Dad: “She’s becoming irresponsible and out of control.” Mom: “She’s becoming insecure and afraid.” And you thought kid and teenagers had conflicts! This conversation illustrates a primary problem that results when parents can’t agree on how to parent. Rather than doing what they need to do for their kids — put her together — divided parents pull their kids apart. Of course, no parents agree on everything. But in the best situations, they agree on the most important things and disagree only on styles, preferences, and smaller matters. This is what God intended, but often parents get in the way of God’s design. When parents are far apart in their values and perceptions of their children, the kids lose out. They have no one to contain and integrate their internal divisions. Their unifying environment is split up, so their inner conflicts remain stuck, and can get worse. If one parent is loving but has poor boundaries, and the other has... Continue Reading »

When Your Teen Pulls Away

Some parents fear that if they set boundaries with teens, it will cause their son or daughter to detach themselves and withdraw their love from them. This fear can cause these parents to avoid boundaries at all costs, and to do their best to keep their kid connected. When this happens, it teaches teens that they can get their way and avoid limits by cutting off the love supply. These adolescents often have difficulty experiencing healthy adult relationships, because they have learned to withdraw love, as a form of emotional blackmail, until the other person caves in. You don’t want this relational future for your teen. If you are vulnerable to fear, you may have some sort of dependency on your teen’s goodwill and feelings toward you. You may be trying to get your teen to meet your need for love and connection. If so, you are in jeopardy of not doing right by your child. To resolve your fear of withdrawal of love, connect with other adults who will support, affirm, and encourage you. Such adults can meet your relational needs. Use their good feelings to fill the vacuum so that when your teen withdraws because of some limits... Continue Reading »

What To Do When Your Teen Is Struggling At School

Make no mistake. Your kids are under more academic demands than you were. For better or for worse, the learning curve is steeper, and they have to study more than we did. Subject matters are more advanced. Projects, reports, and term papers require much more advance planning and steady work over time. If you don’t build boundaries with teens early, the situation can get out of control. I (Dr. Townsend) can remember how jarred I was when my kids started bringing back homework assignments from junior high and high school. We were in a whole new world, and a much harder one. When I saw how far ahead my kids had to be planning their reports, I called my mother and said, “What do you remember about my high school days, like how far in advance did I write reports?” She said, “You wrote them in the car on the way to school.” That is what I remembered too. Most kids can’t pull that off today. Ironically, this increase in responsibility comes at a time when an adolescent’s internal world is in chaos. Along with this increased responsibility comes an increase in pressure to do well. School matters more in... Continue Reading »

Are You the “Easy Mom?” How to Build Boundaries with Teens

I (Dr. Townsend) remember overhearing my kids and their friends making plans to go to a movie. It was one of those last-minute decisions that teens often make. None of them were of driving age yet, so they were trying to solve that first obstacle. One boy, Ted, said, “How are we going to get there? The movie starts in fifteen minutes.” His friend said, “Call your mom; she’s easy.” It was true. Ted’s mom, Andrea, is easy. She is a loving and easygoing person who also lets herself be taken advantage of by her teens. I have seen her interrupt plans that she has had in place for weeks in order to take her kids somewhere they decided to go at the last minute. When I told Andrea that she was known as the “easy mom,” she realized that her kids needed to learn to plan ahead. Now when they ask her to do something for them at the last minute, she tells them, “Sorry, I wish you had told me earlier, but I’m doing something else. Good luck.” Andrea does more than talk the talk; she walks the walk. She models the boundaries with teens that they need to... Continue Reading »

4 Secrets To Set Boundaries That Succeed

Boundaries for Single Parents

“I don’t know if this boundary stuff really works for me,” Jill told me (Dr. Townsend). She was having problems with her 14-year-old daughter. Holly was skipping classes at school and had been caught drinking. Things were definitely headed in the wrong direction, and Jill wanted to act before it was too late. “What happened?” I asked. “Well, I sat down and told her, ‘Things are going to have to change around here. I’m going to set some boundaries with you. This is for your own good. You need to stop the ditching and drinking.’” “What happened then?” “She got mad at me, yelled, and left the room. The next weekend she was drinking again. I guess the next step is to send her to some adolescent rehab center—” “Slow down, Jill. That may be in the cards, but you’re ahead of yourself. I don’t think you’ve given Holly or yourself a real go in setting boundaries. Boundaries aren’t about just giving someone their marching orders and then expecting them to salute. Especially teens.” Jill had thought that simply being direct and honest was all that was needed to set boundaries. But it isn’t. There are four necessary principles that... Continue Reading »