Mindful Boundaries: Integrating DBT and NVR Principles in Parenting Teens

As a parent, you know that setting limits is crucial and beneficial for your children. So, how exactly do we do that? Let’s start at the beginning; boundaries are integral to our daily lives. As adults, these boundaries become known as laws, such as speeding laws. Without a speed limit, we would drive at various speeds and collide with things and people, causing serious injury and harm.

In the workplace, we also have boundaries that determine when we are supposed to show up for work and leave. Some boundaries are written or spoken, while others are created by the office culture. Without these boundaries, we don’t know our limits. Not having clear-cut limits makes us feel anxious. Boundaries let us know that we are being held accountable, and it is up to us to make choices that align with these boundaries. They also imply that someone is in charge.

DBT Strategy: Mindfulness in Setting Boundaries

Applying Dialectical Behaviour Therapy’s (DBT) mindfulness, approach setting boundaries with awareness and without judgment. Be present in the moment when discussing limits with your child, fully engaging in the conversation and actively listening to their perspective.

If we didn’t have boundaries in our lives, we would spend much of our time and energy trying to decide what we can and can’t do, rather than investing in areas of growth and development. The same applies to our children. Not having clear-cut expectations and standards for your child academically, socially, behaviorally, and morally can lead to feelings of anxiety. If our children do not recognize us as the authority figures in their lives, they don’t have parameters in their world, and the world becomes an unsafe and scary place for them.

NVR Approach: Presence and Authority

Speak with a sense of presence and authority, embodying Non-Violent Resistance’s (NVR) principles. Let your teens know that you are a steadfast figure in their lives, providing a safe and structured environment while respecting their growing autonomy.

Speak With Authority and Clarity When you speak to your teens, do you think your tone conveys confidence and knowledge, or do you come across as hesitant and unsure? Our teens need to know that someone is in charge of their world. Although they will likely challenge you and claim that they know what they are doing or that they are older now and you can’t tell them what to do, the truth is they need to know that there are boundaries in place. Those boundaries help them make decisions when they are in situations that can be precarious, such as giving in to pressure to drink, vape, or use other substances.

DBT Strategy: Interpersonal Effectiveness

Communicate your expectations and boundaries effectively, using DBT’s interpersonal effectiveness skills. Be clear, assertive, and respectful in your communication, showing your teens how to engage in healthy, open dialogue.

Speaking to your teens with confidence and sticking to your word teaches them to do the same. Model your language so your child will use your words in everyday communications. For example, when your everyday language is not passive and is direct (e.g., “I care about you. What can I do to help?” or “I don’t approve of you going to a party where you know there will be drugs”), this provides language that your child can imitate and internalize as their own.

With teens, a good question to ask that will let them know that you understand and want to meet them where they are can be: “Do you want me to listen? Do you want to vent? Or do you want to problem-solve together?” Sometimes, the answer is just to listen; sometimes, it’s to let me vent and then let’s problem-solve. Either way, you are letting your teen know that you are not jumping in with both feet into fix-it mode when that’s not what they need from you at that very moment.

Hold Your Teens to Standards Your teen is likely outwardly rejecting or fighting you on what you expect of him. When we deny a privilege, she may not like it, but they also hear: “My parent has my back,” whether they are processing this on a conscious level or not. I know this to be true because my very own 15-year-old shared with me, in a moment of calm, that even though she gets outwardly angry with me when I tell her that she has to bring up her grade in English or that she can’t join a social gathering, she knows that I do so because I care for her. That is, we, as parents, are engaged in their lives (i.e., social friendships, academics, athletics, activities, etc.).

NVR Approach: Non-Escalating Authority

In the spirit of NVR, maintain a calm and non-escalating stance when enforcing boundaries. Show your teen that your decisions are rooted in care and concern, not in power struggles.

Knowing When to Be Flexible and When Not to Be Flexible As I’ve shared, parenting is the most challenging role I’ve yet to hold. It’s about setting guidelines while also being an art and a dance all at the same time. While keeping those boundaries and expectations in mind, parenting also involves understanding what your child is communicating with you nonverbally and emotionally and being flexible enough to ask questions, offer a hug, sit with your child or problem-solve.

DBT Strategy: Emotion Regulation and Distress Tolerance

Use emotion regulation to help your teen manage their emotions and apply distress tolerance skills to support them in coping with challenging situations. This balance between understanding and firmness is key to effective parenting.

There are situations where your instinct as a parent is to hold your child back from a social gathering or a specific interaction. There are also situations where you will feel like “It’s okay for my child to go in there, fail and come back out. I’ll be here to comfort them and use this as an opportunity for them to learn about themselves.” Teens like to learn for themselves, and learning is best served through direct experience. The best we can do is let our teens know that they can make mistakes and come back home, where we will be there to help them process and think about making different choices next time without judgment or negativity.

Raising teens is a challenging place to be as a parent. They are not yet adults but no longer little children. They crave independence but still want to know that their parents are there and will catch them when they need it. Setting boundaries is an important part of their development and future adult life.

In addition to setting boundaries, incorporating emotional regulation skills from Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) can be beneficial for both parents and teens in managing emotions effectively. These skills include:

  1. Mindfulness: Encouraging your teen to practice being present in the moment without judgment can help them become more aware of their emotions and respond to them more healthily.
  2. Distress Tolerance: Teaching your teen strategies for tolerating distressing emotions without resorting to impulsive or harmful behaviours can involve activities like deep breathing exercises or engaging in hobbies they enjoy.
  3. Emotion Regulation: Assisting your teen in understanding their emotions and developing healthy strategies for managing them may involve identifying triggers, practicing self-care activities or seeking support from trusted individuals.
  4. Interpersonal Effectiveness: Helping your teen develop effective communication and problem-solving skills for navigating relationships and conflicts can involve encouraging them to express their needs assertively while also considering the needs of others.

The journey of parenting teenagers is a complex and rewarding one, made more effective and harmonious by incorporating the principles of Dialectical Behavior Therapy and Non-Violent Resistance. By setting clear, mindful boundaries, communicating with confidence and understanding, and teaching valuable emotional regulation skills, we not only guide our teens toward responsible adulthood but also strengthen our relationship with them. It’s time to embrace these strategies in our daily interactions with our teens. Let’s actively engage in this transformative approach, fostering an environment where our children can thrive emotionally, socially, and intellectually. Remember, our actions and words today shape the adults our children will become tomorrow. Let’s make each moment count in guiding them towards a balanced, resilient, and fulfilled life.

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