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 develop, and she helps them experience the limits they need to face.

Andrea understands the bottom line of good parenting: teens will develop self-control and responsibility to the extent that their parents have healthy boundaries. When it comes to good parenting, who you are is more important than what you say.

All parents have at one time or another warned and threatened their teens with some consequence, only to let it go when they didn't respond. But kids learn more from what they experience than from what they hear.

This isn't to say that you shouldn't teach and talk about boundaries with teens and house rules. They are very important. But those rules will hold little meaning unless you stand behind them and make them real. Your teen needs to internalize your boundaries. That is, she needs to make them part of her own internal world. She will learn a powerful lesson when she loses something she loves because of a choice she has made. The more teens experience the negative consequences of their poor choices, the more internal structure and self-control they will develop.

Every time your teen experiences your external structure, you are providing something for your teen that she cannot provide for herself. Each time you go through this process, she becomes a little more aware, a little less impulsive, a little more responsible, and a little more mindful that she will control what her future looks like.


Read more about how to help your teens mature and maintain your sanity in Boundaries With Teens.

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  • Rebecca on

    I escaped an abusive marriage with a narcissist with my 3 children. It’s been a roller coaster of depression, anxiety, and other similar struggles ever since. My youngest (11 yo) battles with high anxiety every single day. Some days this includes a behavior almost identical to that of oppositional defiance disorder and, as a single parent, it tears me down and makes me feel completely defeated. It effects the entire family and all of my relationships both romantic and platonic. Everyone who knows my full story compliments me on how “strong” i am, but this child makes me feel helpless. He’s struggled with suicidal thoughts and I don’t know what to do anymore. He is on medication and sees a therapist, but it seems like nothing works. I need a break, but none of my children want to see their dad. I’m “on” as a mom 24/7/365. I’m so tired of everything being a battle. I’ve worked hard on learning and setting healthy boundaries, but none of the parenting books/ boundary books/etc discuss how mental health challenges play into things. I’ve read everything I can get my hands on and tried everything that’s ever been suggested. Either I’m missing something or I’m not doing something right. I need help.

  • Melissa C on

    With God it is NEVER too late. Now you have the wisdom that you didn’t have when your sons were younger, and neither did I.
    Don’t beat yourself up for what you didn’t know and what you learned and was taught. You turned it around and your breaking the generational curses.
    God is a God of miracles and he has healed you and he can heal your sons. Just do what he guides you to do, and the rest will fall into place.
    Your doing a good job! God bless you!

  • Linda on

    I did not come to Christ til I was older; nor did I enforce any boundaries with my 2 sons. (am/was single mom) It has been disastrous to witness the rotten fruit for which I hold my responsible to a point. Now, with the younger adult son who returned with his 9 year old son to live with me, I ask the Lord for wisdom to be the parent who exhibits healthy godly boundaries for my grandchild.
    It is with much gratitude that I read your articles. Sadly it may be too late for my sons, but with God’s grace I pray everyday to be faithful and honor Him in teaching my 4 grandchildren through His Word and your help.
    Thank you

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