8 Ways for your Teen to Set Boundaries and Avoid People-Pleasing

Last week’s blog discussed the importance and value of setting boundaries. This week, it’s time to help your teen learn how to make those limits. The good news is that people-pleasing is simply a habit – a behavior we have learned – so that means we can also unlearn it. When we set our mind, we can break any habit. Here are 8 ways for your teen to set limits with the people in their life:

1. Accept a few universal truths.

There are a few truths that you must accept if you are ultimately going to be successful at setting up and following through on boundaries:

  • You cannot be all things to all people, and that’s ok.
  • You will never be able to make everyone happy.
  • You can either be excellent at a few things or average at a lot of things. Limiting what you do allows you to be excellent.
  • Taking care of yourself is a necessity. It is not selfish, and it is not a luxury.
  • When you say yes to a responsibility that you can’t give your all to, or doesn’t align with your strengths, you’re hurting both the other person and yourself. By saying no, you allow the other person to find someone who can actually do a better job and enjoy it.
  • A “no” doesn’t have to be forever; it can be a “no” for right now and be revisited when circumstances change.


2. Identify your priorities.

Take time to determine your own goals and values. When you consider your moral and personal beliefs and plans for the future, you will be better able to define and maintain your boundaries. You need to know what is meaningful to you and that will help you determine what you should spend your time and energy on. You might try making a list of three current goals. Then, review your typical schedule and eliminate the activities that don’t really move you closer to your goals. There’s no need to deplete your emotional, mental, and physical energy on something that doesn’t align with your values.

3. Make a positive decision.

When you need to decide what to do or whether to say no, take these steps:

  • Consider the impact. Ask yourself what type of impact this commitment will have on yourself and others. Is it something that will improve your life or provide you meaning? Does it align with your goals or values? Consider whether it will it take up more time than it’s worth.
  • Ignore FOMO (the fear of missing out). FOMO often keeps us saying yes to things because we are afraid we will let an important opportunity or experience pass us by. Remember that ‘more’ does not mean ‘better.’ Focus on the things that you identified as priorities and then you won’t miss out on anything that would truly add value to your life.
  • Listen to your intuition. You know the difference between feeling excitement and feeling dread. You can sense when something is wrong in a friendship. Use that instinct to help you make decisions.


4. Just say no.

When you have decided to say no, you will likely feel uncomfortable delivering the news. We have been socialized to be cooperative and suppress anger. Learning to speak out goes against this conditioning. Although it feels hard, being more outspoken and stating your needs is the first step to establishing healthy relationships. When telling someone no, remember these points:

  • Stay neutral. The critical part of saying no is to do it calmly. By responding with a neutral tone of voice and body language, you will be surprised at how often people will accept your decision without issue. If you seem anxious, it makes the other person either feel like they have the right to pressure you into it or that you’re doing something wrong and they have the right to feel angry. You will likely need to practice saying no with a neutral tone in a mirror to master the technique.
  • Defer. If saying “no” outright is too uncomfortable, you can always buy yourself some time by saying, “I need to check my calendar,” or “I’m going to have to get back to you on that,” and then sending a follow-up message later ultimately declining.
  • Offer an alternative. If someone asks you to do something and you don’t think you’re the right person for the job, recommend a friend or another way to accomplish their goal that could help. This option allows you to be cooperative without having to take on the task yourself.
  • Don’t offer excuses. You are not obligated to help everyone with everything, nor do you need to give a reason or explanation for saying no.


5. Ignore guilt.

As you begin asserting your own needs, guilt will inevitably set in. This is perfectly normal, but don’t give into it. At first it will feel difficult, but over time the guilt will subside. When you follow through on your boundaries, you will be rewarded with a more balanced life in which you are more engaged and energized in all of your responsibilities and relationships, which is better for everyone. Anyone who tries to guilt you into taking on more than you can handle, or something you don’t want to do, is being selfish and trying to manipulate you to get what they want. True friends who support and care for you will understand. They might be disappointed, but they will respect your decision.

6. Manage your schedule.

A schedule is a boundary on its own. Write down all of your current responsibilities and allot the time that is needed to complete them all. You also need to schedule in self-care each week, which means spending time doing things that help you recharge or feel happy. If there is no time left after you have written down your responsibilities, say no to anything extra that will prevent you from meeting your current commitments.

7. Communicate your boundaries.

People will never know what they’re doing is unacceptable if you don’t tell them. You must speak up when people are behaving in a way that makes you feel inferior, unappreciated, or pressured. Don’t allow anyone to talk you into or out of things. Communicating your needs is not being mean. You can still be kind yet firm at the same time.

8. Hold yourself accountable.

If you want people to respect your boundaries, it starts with you. You must stick to your boundaries and not go back to your people-pleasing ways. Over time, others will start to see that you are serious and will learn to treat you the way you want and need. In fact, they will respect you more.

Final Thoughts…

Remember that you are in control of your choices and your life. Don’t let other people dictate your choices for you. Set healthy boundaries and give yourself permission to find your own purpose, peace, and balance. Ultimately, being true to yourself will make you, and everyone around you, happier.

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