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Healthy teenagers learn how to set boundaries.

Well, healthy PEOPLE learn how to set boundaries! And it’s good to learn while we’re still young.

Rebecca and I are deep in the throes of writing our mother-daughter book combatting harmful teachings for girls in the church, and talking about how to raise girls who are emotionally healthy, spiritually mature, and wise. That’s why I haven’t been as active in the comments here and on Facebook lately–we’re just feeling a tad overwhelmed!

All week I’ve been working on our boundaries chapter, and I’ve been thinking deeply about how girls are taught about boundaries–how we’re taught that God wants us to love others first; how we’re supposed to be nice and kind; how we’re supposed to be at peace with everyone around us. And that can make girls feel as if they have no right to their feelings. If the most important thing is other people praying the prayer and letting Jesus into their heart, then we can’t cut anyone off, and we can’t end any relationship, because what if we were supposed to show them Jesus?

But this lack of boundaries can lead to girls making very unwise decisions about relationships and even marriage. And it can lead to a lot of anxiety.

So I asked on Facebook, “Anybody have an example of setting a boundary with a friend as a teenager?”

And I got some great answers! I want to post some below, and then leave it open for all of you to comment.

​My daughters have set some boundaries with a friend.

After giving her and her boyfriend a ride home and being uncomfortable with how physical they were being in the back seat (at ages 15 and 16), we told the friend’s mom that she wouldn’t be driving the two of them together anymore.

A friend tends to spend all of her time on the phone with online friends even when my daughters are at her house in person. They’ve now told her that they love to spend time with her, but they’ll leave if she is constantly on her phone.

I had a band director that repeatedly selected underclassmen for leadership opportunities despite me showing up for all the trainings my senior year. That particular director would make passive aggressive comments about me to other students and parents, so I decided it would be good for me to step away from that group. In doing so, I established a standard for how I would allow myself to be treated, even with adults and authority figures. It really helped.

I had a friend who, whenever we would hang out, it would inevitably turn into a sobbing cry-fest about whatever drama was going on in her life. I eventually got tired of trying to be her emotional sponge and one day told her “Look, I care about you and I want to be there for you, but this is too much. I can’t handle all of your problems, and I actually want to have a good time with you when we’re together. Maybe you should find someone to talk to who can actually help you, like our guidance counselor, but I just can’t take this anymore. I’m sorry.” Unfortunately, she did not like hearing that and we parted ways soon after.

My oldest is quick to stand up for what she thinks is right even if she’s alone or loses friends over it. She told the drama teacher that she didn’t think it was appropriate to do a play about a girl being raped despite pretty much the entire rest of the class declaring that she’s wrong and they’re old enough to deal with it. She had a few friends thank her later cause they had been raped and it felt like they had someone in their corner.

As a teen, I worked in a male dominated work environment. They were quite crude at times. When they’d tell dirty jokes, for example, I’d leave the circle and find jobs to keep me occupied. I sought to work hard and represent Christ by my actions first, and of necessary, my words. They’d ask me why I didn’t swear and if it bothered me. I would explain that only the words related to God bothered me because I’m a Christian… Because of the way I carried myself, they stayed treating me with respect and became super gentlemanly towards me. They also started to encourage others to respect my boundaries too. It was really neat to watch.

I asked the probationary driver of a car I was a passenger in to stop and let me out as I didn’t feel safe with the aggressive way he was driving. He took it well and drove safely after that. Had to speak up again as a young adult and the much older driver was mortally offended and wouldn’t talk to me for years. Be prepared to lose relationships but remember your boundaries are more important than their ego.

I had a friend who, whenever we would hang out, it would inevitably turn into a sobbing cry-fest about whatever drama was going on in her life. I eventually got tired of trying to be her emotional sponge and one day told her “Look, I care about you and I want to be there for you, but this is too much. I can’t handle all of your problems, and I actually want to have a good time with you when we’re together. Maybe you should find someone to talk to who can actually help you, like our guidance counselor, but I just can’t take this anymore. I’m sorry.” Unfortunately, she did not like hearing that and we parted ways soon after.

What if I told you that not all teenagers rebel?

why i didnt rebel 3d cover image square - Did You Set Boundaries for Yourself as a Teenager?

And what if I told you that a lot of typical parenting advice makes rebellion more likely?

I interviewed 25 young adults, trying to figure out what made them rebel or not.

And here, as an example, is why boundaries are so important:

I had a friend in highschool who was very clingy, needy, and manipulative. Though I’m not certain she was aware of her manipulative and gaslighting behavior, it was there, and it was a catalyst for me going down a not so great phase/path. Anyway, at the time, I was friends with her and remained friends because she didn’t have, like, any. My mom sort of enforced this not realizing how bad she was for me until I had a complete emotional breakdown, shaking and bawling under a blanket on the living room floor. Then we attempted to set boundaries. If mom noticed a phone conversation going to a point that I wasn’t comfortable with, I could use my mom as the excuse to get off the phone. I stopped hanging out outside of school. And after school, I ended up blocking her for a long while. I got back in touch with her more recently and now have some quiet boundaries. I won’t give her specific details about where I live. I won’t agree to hang out. I won’t call or talk on the phone. And I leave a text convo whenever I darn well please and for however long I please. Having that incredible distance helps me to keep grounded and maintain a sort of acquaintance-ship with this person. Nothing deep. Just some pop culture stuff. Which, honestly, is somewhat refreshing sometimes when most of my people are close, deep, also talk about my life people. I kind of like having someone left on the surface level.

Many people gave a variation of this one, which I think is important!

I never set boundaries with my friends that they knew about, but I had a code word for my mom to just say “no” if I felt uncomfortable doing something. I would call her in front of my friends to ask to “hang out” (which could’ve meant anything), and if I said “pretty please”, she would say no and give some excuse. Got out of a lot of parties and situations because my mom was “mean”. I wish I was brave enough then to set boundaries with friends, but I’m not sure many teenagers are.

And I really liked these two pieces of advice, or guidelines:

Red, yellow, and green light people. Green we can trust (empathetic, honest, and authentic), yellow we trust with some things (I can laugh with this person) but perhaps not everything (don’t share intimate secrets) , and red lights – they’ve broken trust in many ways and I need to not have them in my inner circle.

Former high school principal here (and huge fan of teens) I always suggested them saying (when in a tough spot) “it’s not that i wouldn’t like you/don’t like respect you/participate in x it’s that I wouldn’t like me, thank you so much for understanding.” Then get out. Leave.

They can use (and have) in peer pressure situations or w adults who push too hard.

When I’ve “befriended” post graduation or if someone is sharing too much etc a good reminder on both ends is a smile and jokingly say, “oh boy on this one you are staying in your lane and I’m definitely in mine.”

I thought those were great! But I’m left with a few more questions:

Was there something particular that you believed in high school that made it harder for you to set boundaries?

Did you feel like boundaries would be “mean” or unChristian in any way? And if so, can you explain what you mean? Or did you just never have an example of it in your own life so you had no idea how to go about setting boundaries?

Did your parents ever help you set boundaries?

And if so, what particularly did they do?

Boundaries are the foundation of emotionally healthy relationships.

And if we aren’t taught from a young age that our own safety and comfort matters, it’s so much harder to set those boundaries later in life. 

It’s always going to be a balance: we do need to love others, and we do need to live lives that are not focused primarily on our own comfort and our own happiness, but rather with bringing the kingdom of God to earth. That means we need to be others-focused. 

But if we’re so others-focused that we lose ourselves, and we feel exhausted, sad, overburdened, and everything else that goes with living a boundary-less life, we won’t be able to do the things that God has specifically called us to. 

So how do we teach our teens? I’d love to hear from you!


You may also enjoy:

Teens Set Boundaries - Did You Set Boundaries for Yourself as a Teenager?

Let me know: What made it harder for you to set boundaries? What made it easier? Or anyone else have a good example? (And thank you for helping us with our chapter!)

4d5d2dc667e7acd64221c42a103248a4?s=96&d=mm&r=g - Did You Set Boundaries for Yourself as a Teenager?

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Founder of To Love, Honor and Vacuum

Sheila has been married to Keith for 28 years, and happily married for 25! (It took a while to adjust). She’s also an award-winning author of 8 books, including The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex, and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila is passionate about changing the evangelical conversation about sex and marriage to line up with kingdom principles. ENTJ, straight 8

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