Balancing Boundaries and Freedom with your Teen

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Do you ever get frustrated when working with your teen?  One minute he is so mature, you forget he’s not an adult yet.  The next minute he does something so incredibly childish that you suddenly lock up with fear at the idea of releasing him out into the world on his own.

The journey from child to adult can be a confusing and difficult time for teens and their parents, but it doesn’t have to be.

The journey from child to adult requires sensible boundaries and increasing freedom.

Becoming an Adult

Teenagers are people on the verge of entering adulthood.  This is an important season in their development.

  • It is not a time to abandon them to fend for themselves, thinking our parenting job is almost done.
  • Nor is it wise to turn them over to their peers, assuming they will no longer listen to us.
  • However, it is also not the time to hold firmly to our desire to control and say “you will do what I say because I’m the parent!”

Teens need our guidance in making decisions, learning how to navigate through life on their own, and thinking through all the important issues they face like education, career, and their own future family.

Teens must transition from being told what to do and how to do it to being guided by God without parent as go-between.

It’s not about control

Your job is to guide your teens through this sometimes turbulent transition into adulthood, not to control them or force them into the mold you desire.

Your efforts to control will only clash with their necessary growth toward becoming an individual.  You will find yourself battling one power struggle after another.  Nobody likes those!

Not only are power struggles counterproductive to the development of your teen, but it also hurts your relationship with them.

That said, teens still need boundaries.


Although teens are almost adults, they still need some reasonable boundaries.  These boundaries should not be inflexible.

Boundaries should stretch and expand with a demonstrated increase in responsible behavior.

Likewise, boundaries should tighten and shrink with immaturity and poor judgement.

It’s also important to take the individuality of your particular teen into consideration.  Not all teens need the same boundaries to flourish and grow.  Even two teens within the same family may need totally different boundaries.  Boundaries must be custom-made and frequently adjusted to fit the person God created your teen to be.

The goal of providing boundaries is not about restricting, but increasing personal freedom.


Teens also need adequate freedom within those generous boundaries.  How will they learn to be responsible and accountable if they are never given the freedom to fail and flounder a little?  Tighten down on the freedom as required to help them course correct, but over-bearing control could provoke rebellion.

Teens need your guidance, not your control.  Allow them the freedom to learn to control themselves.   They will not have the opportunity to learn self-control completely until parental control is relaxed a little.

What to do When You Mess Up

All parents make mistakes, especially if working with teens is new to them.  Don’t be too hard on yourself, but do be brave enough to be honest.  Humility before God, yourself, and yes—even your teen is necessary.

Swallow your pride and confess your mistakes to your teen.

They will respect you more for your humble honesty than they ever will for your feigned perfection.

They’ve already figured out you aren’t as perfect as they thought you were when they were little.  You might as well admit it.  A good relationship with your teen is far more valuable than your own self-image.

What to do When Your Teen Succeeds

Times of transition in life can also be times of heightened insecurity.  Acknowledging their successes (no matter how small) and encouraging them to keep moving forward will increase their self-confidence which is a necessary component of being a successful adult.

Celebrate your teen’s successes with the same heart and enthusiasm that you cheered his first steps or her first word.  No one ever outgrows the need for encouragement.  Be deliberate about looking for opportunities to high-five your teen’s accomplishments.

  • Make sure she knows you are on her team.
  • Make him believe you are in his corner.
  • Cheer her achievement.
  • Encourage him to reach for the next one.

Don’t Lose Sight of the Target

Our primary goal is to send our teens out into the world with the strong foundation of a personal walk with Christ.  We want them to live for Jesus, serve and love others, and have God-honoring priorities.

A subsequent goal is to develop and maintain a strong, meaningful relationship between us and our teens.  As they grow older and increase in their own personal responsibility, our relationship to them must gradually transition from that of parent-child to one of being their brother or sister in Christ.

Our target is to help them be more Christ-like, not to make them more like us.

Remember to keep your eye on the target as you fire your arrow out into the world!

Children are a gift from the LORD;
they are a reward from him.
Children born to a young man
are like arrows in a warrior’s hands.
How joyful is the man whose quiver is full of them!
Psalm 127:3-5b


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This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. Wise advice, Elizabeth! One of the most difficult things to do is to navigate that transition between adolescence and adulthood. It’s all about balance and grace and learning (and the mighty do-over–it works with teens, too). Our girls are now my best friends and we love spending time with each other. Maintaining that close relationship during the teen years and keeping the lines of communication open were so important!

    1. Anita, I agree! Grace is SO important to the whole process–grace on all sides. It’s the hallmark of how God deals with us. It’s how He longs for us to treat each other. I’m so glad to hear that close relationships during the teen years have blossomed into a rewarding friendship with your adult daughters. That’s what I’m aiming for as well.

  2. You have some really good advice here. “Your job is to guide your teens through this sometimes turbulent transition into adulthood, not to control them or force them into the mold you desire.” This is easier said than done but so wise. After raising 7 children, the youngest of whom will be 20 this year, I can say that your advice if right on. We made lots of mistakes, but God is good. Even though my children are grown and we have differing views on many areas, we still have a very close relationship with all of them. That is a blessing.

    1. Gayl, I really appreciate your confirmation, especially since your children are older than mine. It’s encouraging to know we are on the right track. So far, we have had positive results. Our oldest son “launches” this summer and the real test of our parenting and his response to it begins! Hang on! Here we go!

  3. You’re right on all counts, Elizabeth. The whole, “Because I said so” thing doesn’t work at this stage LOL. We have to be sensitive as we guide them WITH boundaries, yet treat them with respect and communication. Building a relationship is key, yet still establishing that you are the parent and not the BFF. It’s a delicate balance that deserves lots of time on our knees!

    Sharing with my readers this week! Hang in there, mom!

    1. Well said, Ruthie. Relationship is SO important. And isn’t that how God “parents” us after all? He seeks our heart and fellowship above all else. Thank you so much for sharing this post!

  4. I have a 12-year-old who will become a teenager this August. These are some awesome suggestions to help us develop a strong relationship with our children as we learn to guide them from childhood into becoming a responsible adult. Thank you so much!

    1. Oh fun! You are just on the verge of having a teen! I think teenagers are so much fun. They are really interesting people who are enjoyable to chat with. I’m glad you found something helpful here.

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Hi, there! I’m Heather Bowen, and I am so glad you’re here.

My passion lies in helping homeschool moms balance marriage, motherhood, homemaking, and homeschooling all while remaining sane!

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