When a teenager doesn't have boundaries, he does what seems right in his own eyes.

Contrary to what most moms and dads think, teens really do want rules. Rules help keep them headed in the right direction and prevent them from ending up in a place that they don't want to be. When coupled with consequences, they help the teen more easily resist temptation and the inappropriate scheming of their peers. Having a good reason to say "No" comes as a relief to a teen raised to know basic moral values. Deep down, teens understand this, no matter how much they push against the rules, bend them, break them, and balk at them.

To be effective, rules need to be based on the boundaries you establish in your home, which are even more important and foundational for a child to learn. Boundaries aren't the rules; they are the fence posts placed around behavior. They are the delineation of how a family's beliefs are to be lived out; the "I will" and "I will not" statements that are the basis of our daily living and interaction with others. They help everyone in the family take responsibility for their own behavior, improve their choices, and know if they are headed into dangerous territory.

Boundaries define what you will and won't accept, and should come from what you believe is right for your teen at this stage in his life and for your family.

An example of a boundary might be: "We will treat each other with mutual respect."  If you believe that respect for one another has merit (I certainly do), then your boundary will include showing respect to those you live with, and teaching family members to respect authority and those outside the family as well. Being respectful means: not taking things without asking, not talking badly about another, not leaving a mess, not calling names or mouthing off. On the positive side, being respectful means: celebrating one another's successes, helping each other out when it's needed, asking permission before using something that is not yours, or standing up for other family members. You fill in what you consider to be respectful and disrespectful practices.

Did you notice in this example that boundaries are about every member of the family, not just the kids? They are more about setting an accepted lifestyle and mode of interaction for everyone in the home, versus specific do's and don'ts. If the boundaries are completely understood, then rules almost become redundant. For instance, "respect" would also cover issues like theft, honesty, caring for others, taking care of one's belongings, etc.

Boundaries insure each family member takes responsibility for themselves and their own actions.

Boundaries include what your child already knows, what you've taught them all their life. But sometimes teens get confused by "childhood" rules within those boundaries and rules which are lifelong.  For instance, the boundary, "We will avoid unnecessary risks and dangers," would include holding mom's hand as you walk across the street as a child. This would of course not be appropriate in the teen years. Rather, it would shift more toward wearing a car seatbelt, a bike helmet, and not taking medications without a parent's permission or doctor's prescription in the teen years.  But another typical boundary, "We will avoid illegal activities," is a lifelong boundary. It never changes, other than according to changes in the current laws. The goal, then, is to make it clear to your teen which boundaries and related rules are now appropriate for him, according to the values you hold dear and just common sense (you may have noticed that teens don't always have a lot of common sense).

Boundaries aren't just to corral behavior, but they are also for protecting teens from their peers on the other side of the fence. For instance, a teen girl should establish her own personal boundaries in regard to her body and not allow others to cross those boundaries with her.  Talk to her about those boundaries, so she solidifies them in her mind before the situation arises.