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Why parents of teens should mean what they say


Our adolescents need us to set proper boundaries, even when they don’t like it.

“Love without demands makes me weak; demands without love discourage me; demanding love makes me grow,” said St. John Bosco. Between permissiveness and authoritarianism lies demanding love, which knows how to set a framework and limits for children in order to help them grow, even at the risk of displeasing them at the time.

Nathalie de Boisgrollier, parenting coach and author, sometimes hears parents admit, “I find it hard to say no because I’m afraid that my child won’t love me anymore.” This fear of upsetting your children, of being rejected by them, creates situations where parents no longer know how to say no. Child psychiatrist Marcel Rufo also sees this phenomenon, and cites the example of some divorced fathers who “are becoming more and more ‘Club Med dads’ — a kind of playmate who does everything to please his child,” he told Psychologie Magazine.

Love requires setting limits

Believe it or not, saying no and daring to oppose your teenagers is a gift you give them. “Setting a framework and limits may displease them at the time, but it’s to better meet their deepest needs,” says de Boisgrollier. She doesn’t praise authoritarianism, but “children need to have a framework, to have clear limits set which make them feel secure.”

In this sense, an act of authority is an act of love. To want what is good for your children, even if that means imposing that good sometimes, is part of loving them. On the other hand, to be indifferent to what is good for them is a lack of love. And standing firm in your position offers them a model of a self-confident and responsible adult.

Accept negative reactions

Yes, teenagers may react strongly when you forbid them to do something. Nonetheless, de Boisgrollier encourages you to stand your ground.

“Frustration is a learning process. Accept that your child may react very emotionally. Accept that your child ‘hates’ you for refusing – or more precisely, accept that they pretend to hate you when they’re frustrated.” That’s what they pretend, but it’s not the truth.

Choose your battles

You need to be a realist. It would be pointless to fight over everything.

“The more your son or daughter grows up, the less you will be able to fight on all fronts at the same time: clothing style, personal hygiene, friendships, schedules, schooling … Define what’s non-negotiable for you and know how to let go of what’s secondary,” advises de Boisgrollier.

It may be counter-intuitive, but teens feel loved when you set firm, fair limits for them—of course, with as much compassion and understanding as you can muster. And even if your teen is upset at the time, he or she will thank you later, as the good sense of your adult guidance becomes evident.

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