Setting Boundaries With Parents: A Guide for Gen Z

Setting boundaries with parents can feel like navigating a minefield because they come in all shapes and sizes.

Your dad just shows up unexpectedly at your dorm.

Your mom blasts Facebook with cringe-worthy baby photos on your first day of college. 

And you’re not alone if every trip home ends up in a screaming match about politics.

It’s natural to start thinking about boundaries a lot more often when you’re living on your own for the first time. Whether you’ve chosen higher education or one of the many alternatives to college, the change in your lifestyle can make existing parent issues glaringly obvious. Sometimes, your newfound freedom might even encourage new oversteps from them.

Learning to set boundaries is the key to improving and maintaining relationships—including those you have with your parents. 

But setting boundaries is no easy task, and often, it’s just the beginning of a long journey of healing for you and your parents. Boundaries give everyone involved some space to breathe so you can coexist peacefully (and make room for improving your relationship even further). 

If you’ve never had to set boundaries with a parent before, then the idea of doing it can be very daunting. This article aims to simplify the whole process by breaking down what boundaries are, explaining why they matter, and giving you practical tips on how to set them. I’ve included real-life examples to help you identify where boundaries might be needed in your own life. 

Ready to dive in? Let’s go set some boundaries. 


Setting boundaries with your parents isn’t easy, and having a professional in your corner can make a huge difference. Here are resources that can help you find someone who can provide guidance and feedback on this journey. 

Dial 988 to reach the national suicide & crisis hotline

Mental Health FIRST AID

American Counseling Association

Healthline Resources


Key points about setting boundaries with your parents

Before we jump into the nitty-gritty, let’s get some basics out of the way. Here are some important things to know about setting boundaries with your parents before you start.


Boundaries are essential for a long-term relationship

Setting boundaries is an inherently challenging, uncomfortable process. If you’re new to it, it can feel like you’re being cruel and unkind. 

But there’s an important mantra to remember: Boundaries aren’t barriers. Their purpose isn’t to put up an impenetrable wall between you and your parents (unless you decide to go no contact—more on that later). 

Rather, boundaries are guideposts that help navigate the complex landscape of parent-child relationships. The sooner you set them, the smoother the road ahead will be for you and mom and dad.


Boundaries don’t mean you have a bad relationship with your parents

You might think that the need to set boundaries with your parents means your relationship with them is broken in some way. But setting boundaries with your guardians is part of growing up, regardless of your background. 

While it’s true that people with abusive parents may have to work harder and set up more boundaries than those who come from a more functional home, no one gets through life without putting up at least a few healthy boundaries with the people who raised them. 

Don’t believe the myth that boundaries are only for the broken. In fact, it’s often the opposite: Boundaries make space for a healthier, more honest relationship to flourish.


Setting boundaries is a practice that takes time and patience

It would be nice if setting boundaries was like flipping a light switch. You put them in place, and voila—end of discussion. 

Unfortunately, nothing this important is ever so simple. Setting boundaries is more like tending a garden than flipping a switch. It’s an ongoing process that will likely need some tweaking along the way.


Signs it’s time to set boundaries with parents

Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s talk about the next step in setting boundaries with your parents: Knowing when you need them! 

This isn’t always easy, but the key is to look for consistent behavior patterns over time. (Since you’ve known your parents your whole life, you should have some good data by now!) 

These patterns are usually emotions or behaviors that keep popping up—like unwelcome guests at a party, causing you emotional strife, stress, or frustration. Here are a few warning signs to watch for:


You feel stressed whenever you have to see your parents

Stress may be the very best indicator for when you need a boundary. If being around your parents generally, or at certain consistent moments, brings you a lot of stress and frustration, that’s a big red flag that you might need a boundary.

⚡ Real-Life Example:  When you’re getting ready to go home and visit your parents, you find you’re losing sleep, biting your nails, and unable to focus on your work. This is your body warning you of a harmful pattern that needs to be addressed. By the way, here are a few other resources that can help with stress: 


Your parents frequently say hurtful things

It’s natural that every once in a while, your parents will say something that hurts your feelings. (And you can bet that you’ve done the same to them at some point!) But if you often come away from conversations with your parents feeling hurt, disrespected, or bullied, then you likely need to think about boundaries that will limit the pain they inflict. 

⚡ Real-Life Example: Every time you see your mom, the first thing she mentions is your appearance. Whether it’s your hairstyle, clothes, or body shape, she seems unable to talk to you without making you self-conscious about your appearance. 


You’re lacking personal space or privacy

This is often a bigger problem when you’re living at home or close to your parents. But even from a distance, parents can invade your personal space. This can be done by physically entering your space uninvited or never letting you have a moment alone. Or it may be a digital space invasion—like looking at your phone or private documents, or spying on you via social media. 

If you’re over 18, you’re an adult—and even young children deserve some modicum of privacy and personal space. If your parents aren’t giving you what you need in this realm, it’s time to think about boundaries. 

⚡ Real-Life Example: Your guardian frequently barges into your room without knocking, even though you’ve asked them multiple times to knock. Worse, they won’t let you get a lock for your door.


You’re always their emotional dumping ground

Part of a healthy familial relationship is being able and willing to listen and support each other. But there’s a very delicate balance here with parents and children. While your parents should be people you can trust and confide in, you shouldn’t be expected to be their therapist.

⚡ Real-Life Example: Your parents are going through relationship problems, and each of them calls you every few days to vent about how frustrated they are with the other. This leaves you feeling emotionally drained and neglected. 


Your relationship with your parents differs from others you meet

Comparing isn’t always helpful, but sometimes it can be eye-opening. If your relationship with your folks feels way off compared to what you see among your peers, it could be time for some boundary work.

⚡ Real-Life Example: You go over to dinner with your friend from college and realize that no one speaks in an elevated voice and no arguments break out. You compare this to  dinners with your parents, where an argument is pretty much inevitable. That’s a sign you may need to work toward a healthier dynamic in your own home through the help of boundaries.


Preparing for challenging conversations

You’ve identified the need for boundaries and what types you want. Now comes the hard part: having the actual talk with your parents. 

The key to setting a successful boundary is planning ahead. Here are some ways you can prepare for what’s likely to be a challenging conversation.


Map out your ideal outcome

Rather than solely focusing on what behaviors you want your parents to reign in, try picturing what a happy, healthy resolution would be. What would it look like if your parents could listen to you and respect your boundaries?

Now, think about what an “ok” outcome would be. You might not get your parent to change their ways entirely, but you come to a place where you can be around them without the negative emotions affecting you. 

Finally, think about the “absolutely not” scenarios. What outcomes would be absolutely unacceptable to you? 

You may not know exactly what boundary you need to set yet, but this exercise will help you start imagining the ways forward.

⚡ Real-Life Example: Your mom is calling and texting you several times a day, even when you’re in class or at work. In an ideal scenario, she’d agree to set times of day to catch up and curb her texting to one or two a day maximum. In an “ok” scenario, she’d agree to generally call and text less often, especially if she knows you’re busy. The unacceptable scenario would be for her to maintain the same level of contact or try to reach you even more than she does now.


Put yourself in their shoes

This might be difficult, but consider things from your parents’ perspectives before you have this important conversation. Based on what you know about them, how will they likely feel about this conversation? What makes this such a sensitive topic from their perspective? What do you think drives their behavior? 

The idea is to start thinking about how your parents might react when you bring up boundaries so you can be prepared to stand firm despite their response.

⚡ Real-Life Example: Your dad always gets defensive when you talk to him about moving out of the house. You realize he’s likely worried about living without you because he’s not sure how he’ll manage the household on his own. You can now factor this into your conversation so you can counter his defensiveness with your own gentle insights about the future.


Cultural and generational differences

It’s not just your personal relationships that can cause the need for boundaries with your parents—your different cultures, ages, and backgrounds certainly come into play. 

Your parents may believe certain stereotypes about GenZ that aren’t true for you, and because they were born in a different decade, they may not fully understand the issues your generation faces. Thinking about this ahead of time will help you navigate the tricky conversation more smoothly.

⚡ Real-Life Example: You’re frustrated that your parents constantly ask you about your relationships when you’re happy being single. You realize that part of the issue is that they got married young, which was common at the time. You’ll need to factor this into your conversation when setting boundaries.


Choose the right time and place

When and how you have this conversation can make a huge difference. Timing, technology, and even the room you’re in can influence how well the conversation goes.

It’s never a good idea to try and set a boundary on a whim (unless absolutely necessary). Instead, plan ahead to have the conversation in a calm environment. Consider whether it’s the kind of conversation that should happen in person, via a phone call, or through email or text messages—all of these methods have their merits, but some are better suited for certain conversations than others.

⚡ Real-Life Example: You’ve identified a boundary you want to set and are eager to get it done. You’re tempted to text your parents and tell them what’s on your mind, but you remember they’re not very good at communicating via text. You decide to wait until you can Facetime them to have the conversation, knowing you’ll get a better result. 


Language use: How to say the unsayable

You’ve pinpointed the problem and made a plan, but now comes the hard part: actually saying the words. Effective communication is key. You’ve got to say your piece clearly, calmly, and in a way that makes your point unambiguous. (This is vital!)

Here’s how to do it.


The power of calm communication

Boundaries can’t be set in anger, no matter how heated the topic. It’s tempting to let emotions take over, but that’s exactly when misunderstandings happen.

Instead, you should start setting boundaries when you’re feeling calm. This is why preparation is key—it gives you time to gather your thoughts and get into the right headspace. 

If the conversation starts to elevate to a place where emotions are running high, it’s time to hit pause and let things settle down—even if that means walking away from the conversation for now.

⚡ Real-Life Example: You’ve told your dad that you don’t want to discuss politics when you’re home, but he insists on talking about the latest news stories whenever you’re around. When he brings up the presidential race, you feel your blood start to boil. You start to snap at him but instead take a deep breath and say, “Remember we talked about keeping politics off the table for conversation. How are things going at work?”


Use “If that, then this” phrasing to your advantage

One of the tricky things about setting boundaries is that it can feel very negative. “Don’t do that” or “Stop doing this” comes off as aggressive and can make your parents go into defensive mode. 

That kind of directive also doesn’t make it clear that you’re setting a boundary—it sounds more like you’re making a request. With boundaries, we aren’t requesting or accusing; we’re setting up rules to make everyone happier and healthier. 

So, instead of throwing around blame or making demands, try phrasing your boundary with language that follows the “If that, then this” format. “If you do xyz, then xyz will happen.” 

⚡ Real-Life Example: Your mom keeps posting embarrassing photos of you on social media, and you want her to stop. Instead of saying, “Stop posting pictures of me without my consent,” you can set a firmer, clearer boundary by saying, “I don’t want you to post pictures of me without my consent. If you post another one, then I’m going to block you from my profile.”


Hone your active listening skills

Like any conversation, one that’s focused on setting boundaries has to be a give-and-take. While it’s vital that you clearly and calmly state your perspective, it’s equally important that you listen to your parents’ side of things, even if what they say is hard to hear. 

Do your best to practice active listening—listening genuinely and fully, rather than simply thinking about what you want to say next. This can be incredibly illuminating, helping you better understand (and grow closer to) your parents, even after the boundaries are in place. 

⚡ Real-Life Example: You set a firm boundary with your guardian, and they say they feel hurt because they think you don’t love them. You hear this and reassure them, making it easier to set and enforce the boundary because of your understanding and empathy.


How to enforce boundaries

Remember when I said the hardest part would be having the conversation that sets the boundary? That’s only half true—the other really hard part comes when it’s time to enforce the boundaries. 

It’s almost guaranteed that your parents will attempt to push your boundaries even after you’ve set them calmly and firmly. And it’ll be tempting for you to give in, especially if they appear hurt or angry. 

Unfortunately, failing to enforce a boundary can make things worse than they were before you set it up in the first place. When you bend your boundaries, you’re sending a message to your parents: “I know I set a boundary, but I’m going to let you break it if you ask the right way.”

That’s not the message we want to send, so here are some methods to help you enforce boundaries with your parents.


The importance of consistency

Boundaries are easily ignored if they’re inconsistently applied. Consistency is what turns your words into reality. 

That means if you set a boundary, you need to follow through, no matter how awkward or uncomfortable it might make you feel in the moment. Allowing something in one moment and then forbidding it the next sends mixed messages.

⚡ Real-Life Example: You told your mom you would no longer answer her text messages in class and that if she tried, you’d ignore them until you had a break. A week later, she sends you a barrage of texts, and you’re tempted to respond, especially as she grows more frantic and pleading. Instead, you stay firm and, when you have a chance to get back to her, remind her that you won’t be answering texts while in class.


Seek support from trusted allies

Enforcing boundaries is hard enough, but trying to do it without any support from others can be challenging. While you may not want to air your dirty laundry to just anyone, having a few trusted friends or mentors you can talk to about the boundary issue can be immensely helpful. 

Not only will this give you a chance to gather a friend’s insights on your situation, but it’ll also give you someone who can support you when you feel your resolve to keep a boundary slipping.

⚡ Real-Life Example: You don’t want your guardian showing up at your office unannounced anymore, and you’ve set a firm boundary with this. Now, you speak with the receptionist and your manager, letting them know you’ve put the boundary in place and need their help enforcing it by telling your dad to call you instead.


Be prepared for pushback

The hard truth is, in most cases, when you set boundaries with your parents, they aren’t going to like it. They may feel defensive or attacked, or accuse you of disrespecting them or being entitled. 

There’s no getting around this except to be prepared for it. This is why having a game plan for your parents’ likely responses is key to keeping your boundaries intact.

⚡ Real-Life Example: You’ve tried to set boundaries with your mom a few times, and she bursts into tears every time. This works on you—it makes you feel so bad that you end up giving in. This time, you go into the conversation expecting tears. When they inevitably show up, you say, “I’m going to pause this conversation now and go for a walk. Let’s pick it up when I’m back, and you’ve had time to process what I’m saying.” 


When parents simply won’t respect boundaries

It would be nice if all the tactics we discussed in this article were guaranteed to work. But the truth is, some parents won’t respect your boundaries no matter how calm, clear, and reasonable you are. 

So, what do you do in such situations? As painful as it sounds, the answer may be reducing or eliminating contact with your parents altogether. This is often known as “going no-contact” or “going low-contact.” 

This decision should not be taken lightly, nor does it have to be a permanent solution. It may be best to start with low contact: 

  • Cut down how often you come home
  • Reduce the number of calls and texts 
  • Keep conversations brief and surface-level. 

But if that still doesn’t work, you can consider going no-contact altogether. This can be very complicated if you are reliant on your parents financially or you want a relationship with them despite the pain that comes with it. (In such cases, low contact may be a better option.) 


Setting boundaries with parents is an ongoing process

While it’s tough, remember that you’re not alone in this. If you find it hard to navigate these emotional waters, consider seeking the help of a professional counselor to guide you.