Setting boundaries and teaching self-discipline to teens

Teenagers Series Part 4: Setting the boundaries with teenagers

This article is about the importance of setting boundaries.

In this article:

1. How discipline leads to self-discipline

The ultimate goal of discipline is not just about making your teen obey your rules, it is about teaching self-discipline.

Teenagers who learn to manage themselves will be better equipped to face life’s challenges and make safe and healthy choices even when you’re not around to guide them.

The term ‘discipline’ is often equated with punishment and control, yet it is derived from a latin term meaning ‘to impart knowledge – to teach’.

A tricky part of fathering teenagers is the shift from you ‘managing’ your child’s behaviours (as you did when they were younger) to supporting them to begin to self-manage as teenagers.

During this developmental phase, it is normal for tees to be testing out their skills to begin to independently manage their own feelings, behaviours and relationships – however they still need lots of support and guidance.

In laying down a strong foundation for your teenager to develop and test these skills, you need to be aware that they will still need firm boundaries, consistent expectations and unconditional love.

It is important for teens to learn to judge when they can deal with things themselves, and when they need to seek support.

Most importantly they need to know that you will be there for them if they need you and will love them unconditionally even when they make mistakes.

2. How to guide teenagers

Parenting a teenager requires a delicate balance between giving them enough guidance and boundaries to ensure they learn to make healthy choices, and giving them enough freedom to have-a-go on their own and learn from their mistakes.

As with all learning, some behavioural, emotional and social “mistakes” will be inevitable, and sometimes you may need to step in and take control to ensure their safety and wellbeing.

It is important that they know that even though you are supporting their efforts to ‘take the reins’, you are there to back them up if needed.

Some teenagers will be ready for more autonomy in their decisions and others will need a bit more support and guidance.

As their father you will have sense of how ready and capable they are of managing their own decisions, and how much you will need to guide them and support them to take on this responsibility.

Top Tips for guiding your teenager

  • Be clear and consistent. Teenagers gain strength and self-respect from parents who are clear and consistent in their expectations and willing to discuss reasons for their decision.
  • Give love and support. Teenagers still need (and usually react positively to) parental love, support and guidance.
  • Allow competent teenagers to take responsibility when you see them handling situations well.
  • Praise their efforts. When your teenager displays good self-management skills, let them know you have noticed and are proud of them.
  • Step in if you need to. Show respect for your teenager’s feelings and opinions by only limiting their actions if you feel they may be at risk.

3. Family values for good decision making

As your teenager develops, they will be exposed to more outside influences through movies television, peers and all the other people they meet along the way.

With teenagers now also navigating the online world, where there are fewer rules and less supervision, it is more important than ever to instil values that will help them to make safe and healthy choices.

Family values form the foundation that teenagers need to know right from wrong and to make independent good decisions when you are not there to guide them.

Your family values define what you, as a family, think is important, what is good and how you want to live.

These values may differ from one family to the next, however, there are some fundamental core values that tend to match within a societies’ values, such as love, kindness, trust, honesty, respect, generosity, courtesy, fairness, right and wrong.

“When asked why they don’t engage in risky or unhealthy behaviours one of the most common answers given by teenager is that they thought their parents would either be disappointed, upset or angry with them. We also know that fathers have a powerful influence over their teenager’s decisions and that warm but firm parenting by fathers or father figures is a critical factor in reducing harm among teenagers.”

Top Tips for family values

  • Carefully consider what is important to you and your family when establishing your family’s core values such as love, kindness, trust, honesty, respect. etc
  • Use your family values to form the basis of family agreements and rules, this way they become part of everything you say and everything you do each day.
  • Use situations offline and online to stimulate discussion about your family values. Explain how these values can help the whole family to make good decisions and safe and healthy choices.
  • Remember, you are a powerful influence in shaping the beliefs and values of your teenagers, both through what you say and what you do.

4. Family agreements and rules

Sometimes the words ‘rules’ and ‘discipline’ can automatically cause friction between parents and teenagers.

A useful tip is to consider changing your approach to how the rules are created. This helps to establish a sense that you are responding to the changing needs of your teenager, so they don’t feel you are still treating them as the ‘young child’ they once were.

The term ‘agreement’ suggests a ‘negotiated arrangement between parties as to a course of action’, as opposed to the term ‘rule’ which is a ‘prescribed direction of actions’ (a more rigid approach with little room for negotiation or the handover of responsibility).


However, rules are still important, and you are not giving up your authority as a parent.

There still need to be some rules that are non-negotiables. Your teenager still needs to adhere to and respect rules just as they need to follow the rules at school and the laws of society.

The rules for your family can be guided by your family values and what is important for your family to function well together with respect and harmony.

The aim of these rules is that each member of the family will show respect and care for each other by honouring these rules.

Some examples of general family rules

We all agree to:

  • Be kind to each other.
  • Be fair to each other.
  • Speak respectfully to each other.
  • Treat each other how we like to be treated.
  • Respect our family agreements.


Agreements are a great way of giving your teenagers more responsibility within the safety and support of the family.

There can be family agreements for everyone or agreements that are dependent on age and maturity.

Agreements involve discussions around safety, health and wellbeing of the family plus the potential risks associated with more freedom for your teenager. This then leads to agreements on the rules and boundaries that need to be in place.

Examples of agreements for teenagers

  • Household agreements:
    – Chores to be allocated.
    – Completion of chores before activities/screen time
    – Beds made each day and room tidy
  • School agreements:
    – Schoolwork/homework completed before leisure time
    – Bags pack night before school
    – Curfews – e.g. 8 p.m. on weekdays, 10 p.m. on weekends (depending on age)
  • Technology agreement:
    – A cap on screen time.
    – Technology use times – e.g. ‘all Phones/devices on bench at bedtime’
    – Limits on downloading and installing
    – Using privacy and password settings

Involving your teenagers in the development of these agreements and rules (as well as the consequences if those rules are broken) demonstrates that you are listening to and appreciating their growing need for more independence.

It also shows that you are open to them earning your trust as they show they are capable of being responsible.

This forms the basis for trust and respect rather than just control.

The best thing about these negotiated family agreements is that the more teenagers are involved in their development, the more likely they are to respect and follow these agreements. In fact, parents often comment that they teens suggest harsher consequences than they would.

Top tips for agreements and rules

  • Involve each and every member of the family while establishing your family agreements.
  • Identify those areas that are important to your family’s safety and wellbeing.
  • Keep it simple. Form rules and agreements that are easy to follow, apply and adhere to.
  • Ask teens to suggest appropriate consequences and then discuss. Whether it be withdrawal of privileges, or pocket money etc., let them initiate them.
  • Be firm, fair and consistent in applying agreements and consequences once you have all established your agreements.
  • If they break a rule or agreement calmly remind them of the family agreements you made and why they were agreed to, then move to the consequences that apply.
  • Generously praise responsible behaviour: Let them know you are proud of the way they are honouring the family agreements and showing maturity.

Remember fathers really do matter to teenagers

The aim is to build your teenager’s confidence and ability to eventually be able manage their own behaviours, emotions and relationships.

They will do this best in a warm, loving and consistent family environment where they feel safe to take the steps towards independence but know they have you there to back them up should they need it.

Teenagers Series on The Fathering Channel
This series has been designed to give an insight into the workings of the teenage brain and some tips to help to navigate parenting your teenager. These learnings are based on our research and years of experience supporting fathers and father-figures. But the fact is, everyone’s situation is different, so feel free to be creative, and adapt our wisdom to suit your circumstances. In this series we look at:

  1. Teenage brain development
  2. Communicating with your teenager
  3. Staying connected with your teenager
  4. Setting the boundaries with teenagers
  5. Teenager self-esteem and body image
  6. Teenage relationships, friends and groups

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Have you enjoyed this article? Explore expert advice tailored to fathers, and gain a fresh perspective on instilling discipline while nurturing a strong and loving relationship with your kids. Discover more behaviour and disciple advice for fathers on our blog.

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