Creating boundaries with your child at the start of the school year

You have your child’s schedule in hand and your first inclination is to fix it. You have a senior who has yet to start anything…and I mean anything…with their college applications. You have one checked out on Fortnite and won’t leave their room. You have a daughter who is so glued to her phone and you’re genuinely concerned for not only her eyes, but her mental wellness.

Look, no one said having teenagers was easy. It’s actually ridiculous. Because you’re dealing with an individual who literally does not have a portion of their brain developed. You know, the pre-frontal cortex, the one responsible for sound decision making, planning and understanding future consequences for their actions? That one. So if you’re thinking a teenager is tough, and then you couple that with some neuroscience and realize they literally cannot function in ways that help their decision making, it is easy to feel helpless.

As you begin a new year with your children, take a deep breath and keep in mind the following. Because it does not have to be a daily struggle. Really.

Empower them.

Helping to foster an environment that creates empowerment in decision making, not only helps students become more independent and responsible, but it allows you to honor where they are in their process and builds rapport. Eventually your son or daughter will begin a new experience, perhaps on a college campus out of state, a new country or even beginning a Gap Year. Allow your son or daughter to get used to making sound decisions that lead them through troubleshooting and getting to the next step.

If you’re debating on whether they should take another SAT or not, just ask them! Let them weigh the pros and cons and be the driver in the decision making seat. Trust them!

Let them fail.

Your daughter heads off to school and forgets her homework at home. You then promptly hop in your car and deliver the homework just in time for the next class. What this doesn’t do is provide an opportunity for her to fail in a safe environment. Ultimately they will need to be responsible for their own life. If you are constantly saving your child from every bump in the road, they’ll forget that bumps are a part of normal life. They will bounce back, they will learn that life is not always easy, in fact, it’s really hard. Providing them with spaces to fail safely and allowing them to rebuild is a huge component to healthy development!

Listen to your child.

About 80% of the time all you need to do is listen. Even when their tragedies seem SO small. Teenagers want to feel heard. Oftentimes they just need to talk out their problems out loud. That can be difficult when we forget just how big the world can feel and just how misunderstood they can feel as teenagers.

Take a breath, let their be a pause in the air before you dive in and allow them to voice their concerns. In counseling our role is not to solve the problem, but give our clients the tools to figure it out on their own. Give the space to allow your children to work through their issues as well as offer support along the way.

Choose your battles and know when to hold off on a convo.

Maybe college applications are coming quicker than expected. But also consider your conversations and battles wisely. If your child comes home distraught from getting back into an early wake-up routine in addition to their new classes and upcoming quizzes, hold off on the college application. It is OKAY to recognize when your child just needs a break. One hour, or one day will NOT make or break them, but overload will.

Parent the child you have, not the one you want.

Remember your child has unique personality, unique ambitions, quarks, talents, preferences, learning and communication styles. As you begin to think about their future and what’s best, begin with them. Help them find and celebrate their values and apply that to their next steps. With thousands of universities throughout the country and international and gap year options, there is a path for everyone. Foster their talents, celebrate where they are and remind them how amazing they are.

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Published by Casey Barneson

Author of The College Wellness Guide. Beverly Hills High School College Counselor.

2 thoughts on “Creating boundaries with your child at the start of the school year

  1. I always love your posts so much. I share them all the time and send other parents your way too! Thank you for being a great resource! My oldest daughter is just a sophomore so it has been great to ease into all this information the last couple years or so. Thanks again!!


    1. Thank you for taking the time to write your comment!! I am happy to hear it has been a helpful resource and grateful that you’re sharing! Best of luck throughout the Sophomore year!


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