Tell Them About Boundaries

With four sons ranging in age from 17 to 28, we’ve had a wide window on the world of teenage and young adult relationships, and we’ve watched the barriers we constructed to protect them fall away as they and their friends move into adulthood.

The harsh reality is that, in a world where we can know in a flash what goes on in one another’s homes, minds and hearts — as long as they choose to text it, post it or exploit it in cyberspace — boundaries have become less acceptable.

Domestic_Violence_Car_Magnet_RibbonFebruary is Teen Dating Violence Prevention and Awareness Month.  As I talk to teens about this very real problem, it’s important to help them know that boundaries in relationships are necessary if they are to feel safe and valued.  However, boundaries are often difficult to define and even harder to establish and maintain.

According to Wikipedia, “personal boundaries are guidelines, rules or limits that a person creates to identify for him- or herself what are reasonable, safe and permissible ways for other people to behave around him or her and how he or she will respond when someone steps outside those limits.”

In an abusive dating relationship, failure to say what you will and will not allow opens the door for an abuser to gain control.  CONTROL — psychological, emotional and physical — is the motivation behind most abuse. The abuser seeks to control how the victim thinks, feels and acts.  When boundaries are not clearly defined, an abuser can gain control over their dating partner.

Personal boundaries do a number of things. They define:

  • What is your “property” physically, emotionally and mentally.
  • What you are responsible for and to whom you are responsible.

Personal boundaries protect:

  • They keep the good in and the bad out.
  • They keep you safe.

Personal boundaries establish the rules:

  • You have the right to say “No!”
  • You have control over how others treat you physically, emotionally and mentally.

When I talk with teens about safety in dating relationships, I encourage them to claim their right to have boundaries.  This right applies to all relationships.  It is surprising to find that many young people don’t believe they can draw lines to protect themselves from abuse.  In the classroom, I share the true story of one young woman’s abuse.   The abuse might not have happened had she set boundaries in her dating relationship.

Add to the equation the use of social media in most young dating relationships, and boundaries become even more important.  Cyber-bullying is rampant among teens, but it can be prevented.  Help your teen set these boundaries:

  • Be wise about who you give your cell phone number to. DON’T put your cell phonecyber-bullying image number on a social media site.
  • Choose wisely who to “friend” in social media and think twice about who sees your “wall” and profile.
  • Monitor unwanted posts or messages in social media. You can control what you read or accept. Block a person if necessary.
  • Don’t respond to unwanted texts, messages or posts.
  • Show unwanted texts, messages or posts to an adult if necessary. Save the evidence and contact law officials if you are unable to stop the contacts.
  • Don’t share social media passwords with friends.

Too many young people today walk around with scars from abuse that we can not see.   Emotional and psychological abuse is no less painful than physical abuse.  In fact, the deep wounds they inflict may take longer to heal and can cause lasting damage.

No one should  suffer the heartache of abuse.  Protection and prevention begin with a decision to respect and protect ourselves.  Help the teens in your life by telling them about boundaries.

(Personal Boundaries tips adapted from material compiled by Brenda L. Yoder, MA.  Follow Brenda’s blog “Beyond the Picket Fence” at

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