Setting boundaries

One of the hardest things, at least for me, as a parent of many teenagers, is to find, set and stick to secure boundaries. The fine line between friend and confidant, parent and disciplinarian is often blurred and the children and all of their friends often step over this. Maybe this is where it is harder to be a single parent. Sometimes I yearn for the support of another adult, I long for someone to step in and tell them that enough is enough and it is time to clear off, tidy up or just leave me alone for one moment. One of the difficulties of doing that myself is that I would then have to go to great lengths to explain to the boys exactly how long the moment was, the hormonal girls would take offence, their friends feel uncomfortable and all in all I often opt for the safest option and suffer in silence.. .not to be recommended!

It seems that there are unwritten rules that come along with the whole adolescent package. Not only do teenagers have to slam doors, issue the most withering of looks, run up the heftiest of phone bills and perform the traditional, round shouldered and belligerent walk, but also it seems to be compulsory that all adolescents try their hand at extending any boundaries set.

With so many teenagers at different stages on their pathway to adulthood and such a colourful mix of autism scattered around the house, it is particularly hard for me to set boundaries and stick to them. In a large family there is always the ever familiar cry of "How come they can do that and I can't?" and it is particularly hard for the boys to understand that one set of rules doesn't apply to all. However, I do try to be consistent, and the only real problems we have in our home revolve around everyone doing their fair share (they don't!) ofchores. Though I can't say that I am always successful in setting boundaries for my technicoloured family, rebellion is not a major problem so here are some tips that work for us.

• Share the decision making. Discuss the limits set on your teenagers and explain the reasons why. If they are in agreement and understand the reason behind such boundaries, they are much more likely to comply.

• Recognize when children want the parent to take responsibility. Alternatively, some decisions are too hard for teenagers to make and I know that mine often want me to impose rules on them so that they can 'blame' me. Give them time to develop the strength of character to make decisions that are against those oftheir peers.

• Decide what is important and stick to it. Everyone has different boundaries and it is important to decide and make sure that the adolescent knows exactly what these are.

• Be flexible. Adolescents are emerging adults and are developing their own opinions and perspective on life. Adapting to each change as it arises is the key to reducing tensions.

• Don't be manipulated either by nagging or 'the silent treatment'. If you are sure that a behaviour is unacceptable then stick to your guns. As with small children, consistency is the key.

• Don't be afraid to change your mind. Listen to teenagers' arguments and if you decide that your original argument is not important then tell them exactly why. This will make them respect your future decisions and increase their feelings of maturity.

• Be consistent. Once a solution to a problem or a set of boundaries has been negotiated, it is important to stick to this in order for adolescents to feel that their world is secure and predictable.

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