Boundaries: Leaving Room for Teens to Grow

by | Apr 26, 2022 | Parents and Mentors | 1 comment

Flashback to Covid Prom 2020, Sarah & her beautiful friends!

We knew it as soon as we laid eyes on it. This was the dress!

Only, someone would have to convince her…

(Cue the Mission Impossible music)

Last week, Abby and I had the joy of going prom dress shopping with one of her sweet friends. Ana Lora was on our cheer team and her mom is one of my closest friends, so even though I don’t really like to shop, I jumped at the chance to spend a few hours with them. They are able to make anything fun, even shopping!

If you have ever shopped for prom dresses, you know what an event it can be, particularly if you are looking for something halfway modest. The current trends involve lots of missing fabric—low cut fronts, low cut backs, high cut slits, and openings all around the middle—so her options were somewhat limited. Still, she tried on at least a dozen dresses. Because she’s beautiful to begin with, most of them looked fantastic! It was just a matter of choosing the right one. (With the right price tag…Yikes! Prom dresses can be expensive!)

As we narrowed it down, I reminded myself that she is only a sophomore. There are likely many more formals in her future. So, more than finding the perfect prom dress, we wanted to find something that radiated her personality without being over the top.

When we saw the simple, ruffled periwinkle gown hanging on the rack, her mom and I both knew immediately.

THIS was the dress!!!!

It was definitely different than the other dresses she had been drawn to, but it screamed her name! She wasn’t sure about it at first, I could tell. Knowing teens often listen to other adults more than their parents, it was time for me to step up. 

I reminded her that this is her first prom and she wants to leave herself “room to grow.” If she wears her ideal, Cinderella-perfect dress in 10th grade, what is she going to wear to her Senior Prom? I encouraged her to be herself and let herself grow into her dresses. 

As soon as she slipped it on, we could tell by the squeals coming from the dressing room that we were right. This was the dress!


This idea of leaving room for teens to grow has been a consistent theme in our parenting. We use it as a guide when discerning what they watch, listen to, wear, and more.

What They Watch

Have you ever set boundaries on what your children can watch or listen to? When our kids were younger, they wanted to watch some TV shows and movies that their friends were watching but that we didn’t feel were age-appropriate. We told them the shows weren’t bad, they were just made for an older audience. By watching shows intended for their age group while they were the proper age, we were leaving room for them to grow into the other shows later.

We are doing the same thing with our boys and video games. They have access to a few games now that they couldn’t play a year or two ago. They still can’t play on weekdays, but are able to play online with their friends on weekends. Much to their chagrin, they still have pretty strict boundaries. But they are only in middle school, so we are trying to leave room for their gaming to grow in the coming years.

What They Wear

If you have teen girls, another area where this principle applies is clothing. So often we focus on modesty as an outward issue, when really it is an attitude of the heart. Obviously, this concept is something that requires great maturity to understand. Most girls need a lot of guidance in this area until they are old enough to grasp it themselves.  (Their boundary lines will continue to shift; as parents we have the opportunity to set boundaries with this concept in mind, giving them room to evolve over time rather than jumping right in and having no place to go but down.)

It was important to us that our girls not believe the lie that they are only as beautiful as the sum of their “parts,” or that the only way they could attract a guy was by showing off their body. We also knew that our human nature is to push boundaries and move lines over time. Therefore, for example, our girls could not wear crop tops or short shorts/skirts and could only wear one-piece bathing suits (or overlapping tankinis) in middle school. 

Once they reached high school, we implemented this principle of “leaving room to grow” by slowly moving back the line of what kind of clothing and swimsuits we approved. It wasn’t necessarily that we thought crop tops (well, I’m still not a fan, but whatever) or two-piece swimsuits were inappropriate. We just knew they would get smaller and tighter over time and we wanted to leave room for that to happen gradually. If they started with a string bikini, where would they go from there?

Of course, the whole time we were reinforcing the heart attitude behind modesty. Our hope was that by the time they reached college age, they would make their own wise clothing choices. Prayerfully, they will be mature enough to recognize their worth in Christ and not feel the need to show off their body to get attention. Instead, they will choose to dress in a way that reflects their beauty and honors their whole person.

We can apply this concept of leaving room for teens to grow in other areas of parenting as well. We do this with the privileges we allow, the responsibilities we assign, bedtimes/curfews, dating guidelines, and more. Instead of saying “yes” or “no,” learn to say, “not yet!”

What God Says

This concept is not our idea. Like all things, it originates with the Lord!  In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, he states, “Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly…” (1 Corinthians 3:1-3, NIV)

As we seek to disciple our teens, this same principle applies. Just as God has slowly revealed Himself to us over time, giving us grace to grow at our own pace and not expecting us to have maturity beyond our years, so we should do the same for our teens. We can start them in all areas, including spiritually, on “milk,” giving them room to grow into “solid food” when they are ready for it.

One of the best things you can do for your teen is help them grow into who God wants them to be by carefully setting age-appropriate boundaries and leaving room for those to move as they mature.

What Next?

Do you see any areas in your parenting where this mindset might be helpful? How can you use this principle to guide your decisions and help you set wise boundaries for your teen? If setting boundaries is hard for you, feel free to reach out!

You might also like: 8 Things to Do Before You Give Your Teen Access to Social Media

1 Comment

  1. Leslie Glass

    I appreciate this article so much! It’s relevant, godly, and encouraging for where we are with our teen daughter right now! Thank you for sharing such wisdom.