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Teaching Girls How to Set Boundaries

by Jill Avery-Stoss

Women and girls are often pressured to conform to societal gender roles. They are expected to be sweet and polite, passive and pretty. They are encouraged to please others. Subsequently, it can be challenging for them to set boundaries. Doing so involves considering their own needs before others' needs, and often -- at the expense of a well-mannered image. Setting healthy boundaries, however, can increase self-esteem and cultivate strong, meaningful relationships with others.

Discuss Personal Limits

Be sure that teen girls understand what boundaries are and how they can identify their own. Explain that boundaries can be physical, emotional, sexual, or even spiritual in nature. Adolescent girls can learn their own limits simply by being aware of comfort levels. For example, a teen may enjoy kissing and cuddling with her boyfriend, but she isn’t ready for any further intimacy. She may tolerate teasing from her family members, but find it highly upsetting when initiated by her peers. Boundaries vary depending on person and context, and can change over time.

Encourage Teen Girls to Use 'I' Statements

Urge teen girls to own their feelings by acknowledging their feelings to others when they set boundaries. She can do this by using 'I' statements. For instance, "I feel frustrated when I'm consistently interrupted." Teens should also indicate how they will respond to future boundary violations, such as, "If I am interrupted again, I will no longer participate in the conversation." Warn that they must follow through on stated repercussions, because if a teen girl continues a discussion despite ongoing interruptions after she has set the boundary, this will send a message that these limits are not to be taken seriously. In turn, others will continue to cross her lines and she may feel insignificant.

Teach Her to Say "No"

Refusing requests from others might not come easily for a young girl who is potentially self-conscious and subjected to aforementioned gender roles. She may go to the movies with her friends, for instance, when she would have preferred to relax at home. She may loan money to a sibling, knowing she probably won't be reimbursed. Turning people down takes practice. She can do this by rehearsing aloud with you. She can say, "Thanks for asking, but I've decided to stay in tonight," or "No. I'm not giving you any more money, because I know you have no way to return it." She can decide when or if it's appropriate to offer an explanation or an apology.

Explain the Exceptions

Communicate to adolescents that there are times when it is acceptable to cross lines -- serious threats to someone's health and well-being should be recognized, according to Palo Alto Medical Center. This applies to their boundaries as well as their peers. A situation in which a teen is being abused should be disclosed to a trustworthy adult. In addition, an adolescent who is struggling with her body image and purging her food may swear her friends to secrecy, yet in this context, violating her confidentiality may save her life.

About the Author

Jill Avery-Stoss is a graduate of Penn State University and a writer and editor based in northeast Pennsylvania. Having spent more than a decade working with victims of sexual and domestic violence, she specializes in writing about women's issues, with emphasis on families and relationships.

Photo Credits

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