Setting Boundaries as a... Teen!

Picture this:

teen girls with lights.jpeg

You're hanging out with a bunch of your friends, practicing your selfie poses and posting them on Instagram. You get a few that you're really proud of, post them, and feel great as the likes and positive comments roll in. Then one of your friends points out a post from a classmate—someone you aren't really close to, but you know of. She seems really proud of her selfie pics, but your friends start laughing and making not-so-nice comments about her frizzy hair, failed attempt at contouring, and sad fashion sense. It starts off as just some giggling between friends—harmless enough, right? She'll never know. Then one of your friends decides to share the photo and add her own hashtags: #hotmess, #lame, and #omgjustkillyourselflol. You realize you're really uncomfortable with the turn this has taken—but what do you do? If you say something, you will be the killjoy and your friends might not like you anymore. But if you don't, you'll feel bad that this girl is getting bullied and you don't feel good about being part of that.

If you find yourself feeling pressured to do something that makes you uncomfortable, there's a good chance what's going on is pushing on your boundaries. The problem is, a lot of times you don't know your boundary has been crossed until after it happens. It's a good idea to think a bit about what your personal boundaries are in advance so you can know what they are and be prepared to handle boundary-pushing situations when they arise.

So first off—what is a boundary? In very basic terms, boundaries are lines that separate one thing from another. There are several types of boundaries: material, physical, mental/emotional, sexual, social, and time. Let's take a look at some situations where these boundaries come into play.

1. Material Boundaries

Material boundaries have to do with your possessions – phones, clothing, money, shoes, cars, computer/tablets, etc. Questions to think about: Are you comfortable loaning out or giving away your material possessions? Are there things you don't want to share, loan out, or lose? How do you want to respond if someone asks to use something of yours that you're not comfortable letting them use? What about someone who uses things and doesn't return them, or takes without asking?

2. Physical Boundaries

Physical boundaries have to do with your body, personal space, and privacy. How do you feel about people being in your physical space, and how do you protect it? Questions to think about: Hugs or handshakes, and which do you prefer for whom? Are you ok with sharing a room with a friend to share your clothes, or would it bother you if someone else was in the room when you changed? Would it bother you if your boyfriend or girlfriend wanted to hold your hand in public?

3. Mental/Emotional Boundaries

Mental boundaries have to do with your thoughts and opinions. Being too rigid or too loosey-goosey in your thinking can bring problems for you. If you're too rigid, you close yourself off to learning new things and developing insights. If you're too flexible and have no opinions of your own, you might be too easily swayed by every meme, hashtag, and argument you see, and you will find it hard to develop your own worldview. Questions to think about: Are you able to be flexible in your thinking when someone presents a different viewpoint, or do you find it hard to see things from another perspective? Do you become so angry you shut down or resort to insults when someone challenges your view? Or are you easily swayed from your convictions by someone disagreeing with you?

Emotional boundaries are the separation between your feelings and someone else's. You are only responsible for your own, but sometimes it can be hard to tell where you end and someone else starts. If you feel like you HAVE to fix someone else's problems, or you're to blame for their feelings all the time, or like you can only be happy if they are happy, your emotional boundaries probably need some attention. Questions to think about: Can you tell the difference between your feelings and someone else's? Do you have to accept it when someone says it's your fault they feel or act a certain way? How do you want to respond when someone tries to guilt-trip you?

4. Sexual boundaries

Sexual boundaries have to do with what you are comfortable with in terms of sexual expression,  activity, and involvement. Sex isn't just about doing the deed, though—sexual boundaries include your feelings about all of it. Questions to think about: What are your family's rules about dating and sex, and are the lines of communication open with your parents? What kind of sexual activities do you personally feel comfortable with? Is a kiss ok? Touching over or under clothes? If a partner asks you to do something you're not comfortable with—like take nude pictures or video, wearing a pushup bra or thong, or going all the way—can you say no and stand firm?

*Special note: If your partner continuously pushes you to do things you don't really want to do, or says “if you loved me, you'd do this,” red flag! This person may not mean to, but they are not respecting your boundaries. Healthy, loving relationships exist when partners respect each others' boundaries.

5. Social and Social Media

Social boundaries include what you're comfortable doing in social settings as well as on social media. It's easy to forget sometimes that social media hasn't been around that long, so many people are still figuring out where their boundaries are with this. Questions to think about: What are you ok with doing in a social setting? If the group wants to break into a store and steal something, or join a flash mob in Center City, are you comfortable with that? How can you say no if you are not? If you're part of a group chat, or tagged in a picture that makes fun of someone else or jokes about a topic you don't think is funny, how do you want to respond? If your parents or your younger sibling saw what you posted or liked on Instagram, Snapchat, or any other social media, would you be embarrassed? Why or why not?

6. Time

Boundaries around your time involve deciding how much time you are willing to give to another person, project, job, or task. If you've ever had that one friend who just HAS to hang out RIGHT NOW even though you're trying to finish homework, or those friends who always want to hang out past your curfew even though it gets you in trouble—those are examples of your time boundaries being pushed. Questions to think about: What kind of boundaries do you have about your time? How do you know when you have given enough time to someone who asks for it? How do you feel about asking for other people's time?

Healthy boundaries are created by thinking ahead, paying attention to how you feel when something happens, and deciding what you feel comfortable with. Talking it out with people whose judgment you trust can be a great way to work out how you feel, even if it doesn't line up with how your friends feel. Finding your boundary lines can be tricky, complicated, and uncomfortable—but so valuable! Healthy boundaries help you stay true to your awesome self, and don't we all want that?

Wondering if your teen is struggling with healthy boundaries? Enter your email below to have our FREE Healthy Boundary checklist delivered right to your inbox!


Amy Marlow-MaCoy's work with teen girls and adults has a strong focus on helping clients set healthy boundaries in order to thrive. To contact her directly, click the button below. 

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