Over the years, I have been dismayed by the lack of boundary setting that parents/caregivers set for themselves as role models but also with their kids and I believe that there is a direct correlation between boundaries and why kids end up in my office with a host of behavioral & emotional problems. Let me preface the following by stating that I realize that some behavioral and emotional problems are genetic and are not the result of poor parenting, however, it would be expected that the child is still receiving some sort of ongoing therapy to work through those issues versus just giving up on any progress. Secondly, I know that there are going to be some caregivers who do not like what I am about to say because it is going to step on their toes–so be it, my job is to help correct what ails people by educating them on maladaptive coping skills and things they can try to help better their lives; my job is not to be their friend or candy-coat things, they hired me for a reason. It is always up to the client to decide whether or not they will follow through with the recommendations. However, if the client is non-compliant, then they either need to switch counselors or confront their real issues of resistance, but not to blame the practitioner who is trying to help them or their child. Blaming others for lack of responsibility taking is a boundary issue and a sign of an unsafe person.

If you have been in the counseling world long enough and dealt with families, then I believe that you have encountered the same frustration with the apathy of some parents when it comes to being a part of the child or teen’s therapy. So many parents just drop off their child, but do not want to come into the session with them—because after all, it is their child’s problem, not theirs. I have come across this issue on numerous occasions when it comes to running my self-injury support groups. On Saturdays, I run the Teen Girls’ NSSI Group and one of my interns runs the Caregivers of Those Who Self-harm group in the adjoining room. Repeatedly, I have parents who drop off their daughters to attend group, but have never graced on even one occasion the Caregivers’ group. What message do they think that they are sending to the teen? Answer: this is YOUR problem and I do not need to do anything to learn about it, understand what you are going through, learn how I can better handle the episodes of injury, etc. Is it no wonder then that the girls continue to struggle with self-blame, guilt, shame, and low self-esteem and feel even more isolated from that parent?!

Often times I see generational boundary issues. The parents set poor boundaries with other adults and with their own children. Lack of follow through with appointments or treatment recommendations is a boundary issue. In addition, the parent not being able to ‘find the time’ to bring their child into therapy because it conflicts with their hair appointment, social event, or one of the many activities in the child’s over scheduled life, is also a boundary issue. I have had teens who are more responsibly than their parents and have had to beg their parents to take them to counseling. My thought is, “how messed up is thatwhere the child is crying out to get help because the parent was too wrapped up in their own world to notice just how bad their child was struggling?”

Children and teens give warning signs that something is wrong, but parents have to be open to becoming educated enough to recognize and then look for them. Sadly, so many parents would either rather stick their head in the sand and be in denial about the possible issues or they simply can’t be inconvenienced with taking time out of their schedule to learn—again, what message does that give the kid? I have given several parenting seminars through my office and the turn out by the parents whose kids are being treated by my interns or myself is disappointing. Their kids are being seen for a reason and these events apply to them, but for some reason they dismiss the idea that they need to attend to become better educated about parenting issues. I understand people work on Saturdays or have to go to the other kid’s game, but for so many of them it would seem to be a case of apathy or denial. The teen clients are aware of these seminars, and some have reported to me that they thought their parent needed to attend.

Parents who try to be their kids’ friend is a major boundary issue that leads to teens going down some bad paths. First, parents that do not set boundaries AND KEEP them, lose the respect of their child. Empty threats do not intimidate or detour behaviors, they become posts to laugh out on social media. A child that no longer respects a parent will not listen to them. Secondly, children crave and need structure. Providing structure via rules, consequences, a set schedule, etc. is showing love. The absence of boundaries (rules, consequences) is neglect. I have had teens who have intentionally acted out to see if their parent would care enough to do something–anything to show that they cared enough to try to reign them in. For some kids, negative attention is still attention. Thirdly, a child without boundaries and guidelines for how to interact with people can leave them socially awkward. Kids who are awkward either do not know how to control their anger, emotions, or how to communicate are an increased risk for bullying. Kids who are bullied are at an increased risk to self-injure, get into eating disorders, and/or start experimenting with substances.

So, in essence, as long as parents do not either get help with their issues and/or set boundaries for their kids, then mental health practitioners should keep busy. There are plenty of other examples that I can give of poor boundary setting in personal and professional life, but I will leave the following to try to motivate the practitioners, like myself, who are dedicated to trying to help our minor aged clients and adults break the dysfunction that they were raised in. You may be theonly exposure to what healthy boundaries, communication, coping skills, assertiveness, and self-worth that client ever gets exposed to, and that even if you do not see quick results, you are still planting those seeds. You may help that person break the dysfunctional cycle and become emotionally healthier people than their parents or grandparents.

For additional information on workshops, CDs, DVDs, or books on various mental health issues, you can go to my website: www.LoriVannCounseling.com or watch some of the interviews that I have given on a wide variety of topics on my You Tube Channel— Look for Lori Vann, LPCS. My upcoming seminar on Sept 19th is called Boundaries in Parenting: tips for raising tweens to young adults. ¬†There are still some tickets available for this event.


Counselor, Author, Speaker, Mental Health Media Consultant, and Supervisor