Setting Limits: When, Where, and How

Most of us seek guidance or advice when we feel stuck. We cannot see the forest for the trees, as the saying goes. We feel lost, and we need a pair of fresh eyes to help us find clarification and understanding. Such was the conundrum of parents of sixteen-year-old identical twin boys who sought my consultation.

As is so often the case, these parents were surprised and appalled by their adolescent sons’ behaviors. One youngster resolutely refused to go to his grandparents’ house after Mom and Dad had arranged separate plans for each boy so that they could have a night out by themselves. They explained that they cannot leave the boys home alone together. One youngster habitually comes home from school and provokes his brother. Another disorderly behavior occurs consistently at dinnertime. One twin provokes the other so that their family meal time is disrupted by irritating argumentative rants. Also, one boy frequently hurls devaluing, rude verbal insults toward his mom. She feels so hurt and devastated that she leaves the room rather than articulate a fitting response to such objectionable treatment.

The parents of these boys are conscientious and involved. The challenges they confront are not atypical. When I politely inquired about what they do when these situations occur, both parents replied that they did not know what to do. It seems that they needed my permission to help set consequences and boundaries on their boys’ behaviors. After a few minutes of my commenting upon some ideas and suggestions, they reflected, “Why did we not think of this? Of course, this is the right thing to do, but we did not think about it in this way. Why did we not see this?”

Figuring out how to “punish” an adolescent is a complicated and clumsy process. Trial and error abound. Both parents were upset and annoyed by the boys’ ongoing behaviors that were getting on their nerves, and they needed support and awareness to take back control. They understand that transitions are tougher for some kids than for others. However, parents can often be fearful and confused about exerting parental authority. Our cultural emphasis on articulating feelings can make authoritarian approaches appear uncomfortable and unsuitable. There is no one-size-fits-all solution in situations like this.



Photo by Kindel Media, Pexels


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