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How To Avoid The Regret of Shame and Guilt In Teen Relationships

Updated: Nov 8, 2022

We don't want to hear: "mom, can you pick me up, I don't feel safe here" or having to comfort a sobbing teen who has allowed a girlfirend/boyfriend to go "too far." However, what a joy to KNOW that they would be willing to make that call to US. or to have that conversation. It can bring some peace to know that we are the ones who have their best interest, their safety, and that we won't overreact.

The other side of this conversation is the one that we have involving an issue of self-control. It used to be that we were having this talk with our sons: When she says "no" you stop immediately and give her some space. Whether it's kissing, or a hug that has lingered too long, or a hand that has wandered past an appropriate boundary. It has become more frequent in the past 5 or 6 years that our daughters are having to be given this talk as well. With the rise in female use of pornography, even our little girls are susceptible to crossing boundaries once thought taboo among girls. Author Gary Wilson in his book "Your Brain on Porn" says it this way:

"Since sexual arousal releases the highest levels of (feel-good chemicals) dopamine and opioids — the potential for sexual conditioning, or even porn addiction, is possible for both sexes."

Just the Facts

But the reality is that almost 20% of females will face a situation involving a partner that tries to force themselves beyond what she is comfortable. AND would you believe that 55% of females who experience "date rape" have it happen in the home setting. Not only that but a shocking 70% of woman blame themselves for it happening. 1

We talk a lot about relationships in youth group because we are ALWAYS around other people. So whether they are acquaintances, close friends with, or even dating someone, they have tools for relating in healthy ways.

It Starts Here

Before teens even think about dating, they should ask themselves these two questions:

  • Am I healthy enough to date?

  • Am I healthy enough to put another person's needs above my own?

These questions are ESSENTIAL to making the decision to date and to be able to make and maintain boundaries. They are also important as they consider that being in a relationship means sharing my life with another person in a way that I consider their needs as well. Not just my own.

In the midst of these decisions, we need a way to decide what is okay and what is not okay. These are where the boundaries come in to play. The reality is, we do not communicate boundaries very well. It's hard, it can be awkward, we may even get pushback from our students. So we either freak out or check out and leave our students in the dark about our needs.

For example, it's okay for them to say, "I need to step back for a bit and gather my thoughts,"or "No, I do not want to hang out tonight," or "I would rather say hello with a fist bump than a hug." When it comes to helping our teens discover their boundaries, we do not have to justify our boundaries, we only need to communicate them.

We do not have to justify our boundaries, we only need to communicate them.

Healthy boundaries should reflect your principles, rules, and guidelines that you have helped your teen set for themselves. Not helping them set these boundaries in advance will mean that they will heave to make those judgement calls in “the heat of the moment” and let’s be honest there’s not a good chance of those favoring our Christian Values. Also, having a lack of boundaries can often lead to emotional manipulation from your significant other, whether or not it’s intentional. Overall, guiding our teens toward setting and communicating healthy boundaries is necessary as they grow into the men and women God created them to be.Healthy boundaries should ALWAYS be informed by scripture and viewed through the lens of what God says about healthy relationships.

Healthy Emotional Boundaries

· Help your teen know your physical, emotional, and social limits.

· Encourage them to take much needed breaks to practice self-care and to regulate.

· Empower them to recognize their worth, even if others don't.

· Despite the possibility of rejection, it is important for your teen to communicate their needs and wants clearly.

· Discuss ways for your teen to pay attention to when they feel like their personal boundaries are being invaded and clear words to express their discomfort.

Unhealthy Emotional Boundaries

· Your teen trusts no one, or they trust everyone.

· Your teen lies about their own values to make other people happy or to be liked.

· Your teens lets their friends tell them how to live their life.

· Your teen constantly shows up for others and others do not show up for them.

· Your teen says depletes themselves physically, emotionally, and socially and finds it hard to recoup.

Remind Your Teen While They Are In A Dating Relationship

A good place to start is to ask your teenager to think about what they are comfortable with in a romantic relationship. Not just in terms of sex, but also in terms of how independent they want to be, what they feel are appropriate displays of affection, and what they would want to share with a partner. You could also give them some examples of healthy boundaries in a romantic relationship, such as:

  • It’s okay to spend time with friends outside of the relationship. Your teenager (and their partner) should feel able to hang out with friends, and people of the same or opposite sex, without having to ask permission.

  • It’s okay to spend time apart from each other. Your teenager should be able to tell their significant other when they need to do things on their own, and not feel like they need to spend all of their time together.

  • It’s okay to set boundaries on what you can share about each other and your relationship online. For example:

-Is it okay for them or their partner to follow their friends on social media?

-Is it okay to use each other’s devices?

-Is it okay to post about their relationship?

What To Do When a Boundary Has Been Crossed or Challenged

If you think a boundary has been crossed, you can ask yourself what expectations or rules have been broken or why you disagree with someone else’s rules or expectations. You might find this framework helpful to identify what’s happening and choose how to respond:

  • Your boundary was respected (response: appreciate/validate): “Thanks for knocking and waiting for a reply before coming in.”

  • Your boundary was challenged (response: negotiate): “I’m not sure this is okay for me, can we slow down and figure it out together?” “I think I’m reaching a limit.”

  • Your boundary was crossed (response: reassert/reestablish): “____ crosses a line for me. Moving forward, I need ___”

  • Your boundary was violated (response: repair or protect): “What happened really wasn’t okay. I need ____ to move on from this.” Or, “I need to end this conversation and take care of myself.”

How about if your teen has crossed another's Boundary?

As you reflect on or listen to the boundary being named, you can use many of the same tips as for identifying your own boundaries. When you’re ready, find a way to apologize that honors yourself and the relationship. Realize that depending on the boundary that was crossed, it may NOT be appropriate for them to make contact. If it's ok, here are some tips:

  • Express remorse. Use a clear statement like “I’m sorry I did ____”, or “I apologize for ____”

  • Acknowledge the impact of your action(s). Show empathy: “I can imagine you felt ____, and ____ when I did ____” or “It must have hurt when I said ____”.

  • Accept responsibility. Use I-statements: “I was wrong to do ____, ____ wouldn’t have happened if I made a different decision”, or “I regret that I didn’t give you ____ when you needed it, I should have gotten it to you before ____”

  • Offer to improve or make amends. Saying how you plan to change your behaviour or make amends can help to restore trust.

  • Accept the outcome. Sometimes when you cross a boundary, relationships change or end, it takes a long time to work through the feelings involved, or the harm caused can’t be repaired.

  • Get support. It can help to talk about your experience with someone you trust before or after apologizing.

Have A Conversation

It's never too early to start having these conversations with your teen, especially if they are in middle school. Don't underestimate their ability to understand and begin to make their own boundaries, but make no mistake, if we don't help them and have these conversations, they will use culture, social media, or get their cues from friends. Here's a place to start:

  • What do you know about personal boundaries?

  • Here are some of my personal boundaries.

  • What do your physical boundaries include?

  • Tell me about your social boundaries.

  • What are some of your emotional boundaries?

Other Questions to Ask

How can you communicate your boundaries clearly and honestly?

How will you know that your boundaries are being violated?

What is your plan of action for when your boundaries feel insecure? Or when you feel that you are in danger?

What questions do you have?

How can I support you?

Other Resources You Can Check Out


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