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The Secret to Setting Boundaries for Generation Z

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…”

These words describing the French Revolution in Charles Dickens’ “A Tale of Two Cities” could just as easily apply to Generation Z, the group born just before the start of the Millenium. They have grown up in a world of political and financial turmoil and are described in a report by US advertising agency Sparks & Honey as the “first tribe of true digital natives” or “screenagers”. But unlike the older Gen Y, they are smarter, more mature and aware that an education is to be treasured. They also want to change the world.

Adolescence just got harder. So did parenting.

With the weight of the world on their still developing shoulders, no wonder teens and tweens throw toddler-level tantrums and have adult-level meltdowns. Today, emotion coaching is an essential part of helping kids to manage complex external challenges and internal turmoil. According to acclaimed psychologist and researcher John Gottman, emotion-coaching is the key to raising happy, resilient, and well-adjusted kids.

It is also vital for maintaining parental sanity.

Do You Set Firm, Reasonable Boundaries? Do YOU Stick To Them?

Most Gen X parents do not realize the mixed messages they send to their kids. In the hubbub of daily family life, parents continuously alternate between cheerleader and coach. One moment, our tween craves nurturing and motivation. The next, he is rebelling against firm boundaries and habit-building structures. I loved seeing my son’s eyes light up when he received his first mobile phone as a rite of passage to secondary school. I am completely demoralised, however, when this same kid glares at me when I ask him to put his smartphone away.

Let’s take screens as an example. Few parents want to deny their kids access to the toys and technology that other children are using. Yet today’s children are spending an average of seven hours a day on entertainment media, including televisions, computers, phones and other electronic devices. According to most paediatricians, screen time of any type should not exceed one to two hours per day. Nonetheless, even adults find it difficult to moderate their screen time. Ironically, the most effective ways to set boundaries for our children is to model similar limits for ourselves.

Many parents are keen to establish and maintain a system for ensuring moderation. Telling our children that smartphones must be turned off during homework is a reasonable rule. Limiting video games and other screen time is also a reasonable practice. Even better, have an agreed time for no screens across the family; this could be at night after a certain time, or one day of the week when EVERYONE powers off.

Give Your Child An Opportunity To Vent

Setting and maintaining boundaries isn’t easy. The tween and teen years are riddled with hormones and hormonal meltdowns. Kids will rarely respond to ‘no’ in the way that you hope they will. It is okay to give your child time and space to meltdown and to exhaust difficult emotions. Accepting this emotional reality is an important part of effective emotion coaching.

Let’s be honest, adults are no different. For better or worse, our kids are paying careful attention to our behaviours and patterns, even when we aren’t. We parents must first understand our own triggers to avoid letting emotions like guilt, regret or fear prevent us from honouring the boundaries you have set. 

Back to the tantrum. Once it is clear that you will not rise to the initial bait, your child will start trying new tactics. Your best bet is to “be the change you want to see” by managing your responses to this behaviour. If you don’t let them rile you and can retain your calm demeanor, your child’s negative energy will eventually fizzle out. Explain how certain types of behaviour are intolerable and while it is okay to vent, tantrums and meltdowns will not change your rules. Consider each tantrum as just another opportunity to reaffirm your boundaries. As they get older, they may even see how unreasonable they have been acting. I said maybe.

Offer Your Teenager The Opportunity To Negotiate

I think we’ve made it clear that neither parents nor kids are perfect. It is not uncommon for adults to discover that their logic was flawed during the rule-setting process. This means that while you shouldn’t bend or break your rules to accommodate a screaming, frustrated child, you can still be open to discussion, especially when your teenager approaches you in a mature and reasonable fashion. This is great for teenagers. Allowing your child to submit a practical and calm argument as to why a rule should be altered or adjusted is good preparation for the real world.

To be fair, some parental rules can look pretty silly from a child’s perspective. Take a look at the video below to imagine for a moment if your roles we reversed.

Allowing reasonable discussion fosters strong negotiation, critical thinking, and reasoning skills. It also gives teenagers greater incentive to confront challenges in a calm and respectful manner. If your child wants an extended curfew on the weekends, more screen time or a larger allowance, you can discuss the pros and cons of these changes together. You will also get the opportunity to discuss trade-offs, which are an inevitable part of life. Increased allowances could mean increased household chores and longer weekend curfews could entail more time at home with the family on week nights.

Be Candid About Your Reasons For Creating Rules

As teenagers grow into adults and eventually become parents themselves, they gradually gain a better understanding of why rules exist. For young kids, however, rules have a very negative connotation. The word ‘No’ becomes a trigger in and of itself.  Rather than making rules, setting codes for acceptable conduct and then laying them down like the law, try explaining to your tween why these rules exist.

Sometimes I try too hard to protect my children from life’s hard realities and preserve a bit of innocence. Without explanation, however, rules can be frustrating and even demeaning. For example, in the case of screens, talk to your child about the different dangers associated with excess Internet use and of surfing and using the web absent of adult supervision. It will take time, but as tweens and teens mature, they will come to understand your rules as the loving and protective measures that they are and with the information you’ve supplied, they may even agree with you. They may even like it.

And if you are really lucky, one day, they may even admit it.


I’d love to hear your perspective. What boundaries do you set for your children? How do you enforce them?   Which one of these tips most resonates with you, and why?

Remember that many parents are looking for inspiration and support so share as much detail as you can below. Your share may be the one that truly helps another person.

Important: please share your thoughts and ideas directly in the comments.

photo credits: geralt and StartupStockPhotos via pixabay cc

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