Putting Up Guardrails: Helping Teens Set Boundaries

Last week, as I was driving, I passed by a horrible car accident. As I prayed a Hail Mary while I drove by the scene, I noticed that one car had collided headfirst into a guardrail on the side of the road. As the traffic was inching past the accident, it was unsettling to think that the only thing keeping that car from falling down the steep ledge was one piece of metal.

The official definition of guardrail is a system designed to keep vehicles from straying into dangerous or off-limit areas. Designed to take the impact, the idea is to keep the damage from being as bad as it could have been. To create a minor accident from being a worse accident. Guardrails are never placed in the danger zone but rather before the danger zone within the realm of safety. In our lives, we should have guardrails in place as well. These guardrails act as boundaries.

I love using this analogy of guardrails when discussing boundaries with teenagers. In all aspects of your life, you need boundaries to help you create space and to help prevent injury. But the most important relationship to establish boundaries in is your romantic relationships. It can often be difficult helping teens establish healthy boundaries in their relationships. Here are recommended things to emphasize to teens who are setting boundaries in their relationships.


Within youth ministry, we have probably lost count of how many times someone has asked, “What superpower would you want?” My “go-to” answer has always been to read minds. But, unfortunately, as convenient as that power would be, we don’t have the ability to do so. Knowing that we have to rely on good communication.

Encouraging teens to communicate within any relationship is vital, especially in romantic relationships. They need to understand the importance of communicating expectations, feelings, and more. And most importantly, they need to understand the importance of in-person conversations in lieu of texting, snap chatting, and using other forms of social media.


When communicating, we must be honest. Teens tend to have a fear of being honest. Fears about being judged for their thoughts or opinions tend to be louder than their desire to share their truth. Honesty is extremely important to emphasize with teens as it paves the way for an honest and genuine relationship. Any relationship built on lies or deceit, even if only driven by fear, is unhealthy.

“I” Statements

To be able to honestly communicate, using “I” statements is a great skill. It’s vital for them to be able to express how they are feeling by saying “I am” or “I feel.” For example, “I am tired” or “I feel that I don’t spend enough time with you.” So often, we use phrases like, “You don’t spend enough time with me” or “You are doing this wrong.” By using “I” statements, you are expressing how you are feeling and what you are doing rather than trying to communicate what the other person is doing or not doing.

Finding Your Identity Outside of the Relationship

Too often, I see teenagers who are dating be defined solely by that relationship and primarily because they identify themselves that way. When they find their identity in the relationship, others will too. They have to be able to remember their identity as a son or daughter of Christ. By doing this, it will help them maintain a firm foundation in their faith and ultimately help lead their significant other to Heaven as well.

Establish Boundaries Early On

Encourage teens to establish boundaries in their relationship immediately. The longer they wait, the more difficult it will become to establish them. Many hesitate because the conversation can be awkward or uncomfortable, but in reality, the longer they wait, the more uncomfortable the conversation will be.

Remember that as you encourage teens to set boundaries, they are just that, teens. But even though they are teenagers, you should not lower your expectations for them or treat them as if they were younger. Sometimes I have to take my own advice and be honest and communicate clearly with teens.

Photo by Naomi August on Unsplash