Ask Mary Jo: Setting limits for teens & avoiding compassion burn out

Hi Mary Jo,

How much freedom is too much freedom to give my 15 year old daughter?



Many parents struggle with the idea of how much freedom to give their child. They fear if they’re too strict, their kids will rebel, and if they’re too lax, their kids will end up in trouble. There is no one set of rules about how much freedom your child should have, because every child is different and matures at different rates. However, the guidelines below can help you in setting limits and enforcing them at home:

  1. Set clear and consistent limits. Your rules should be reasonable and have specific consequences if your child breaks them. Listen to your daughter’s concerns, though; since she is a teen, be willing to negotiate if she has earned your trust from her past behavior.
  2. Monitor your child’s activities.  You should know where your child is and what they’re doing. Check in with your teen by phone; if you send them with friends, make sure you know their friends and their phone numbers. It’s extra insurance if you know who the parents are of your child’s friends as well. According to research, parents who monitor their child through teen years are associated with lower levels of risk-taking behavior and that is important.
  3. Offer choices. Whenever possible, give your child choices. An example of this would be telling your daughter she needs to clean her room or do homework. This allows her to choose, but both activities are within your rules because both need to be done. This parenting tactic builds independent thinking, accountability, and learning from your choices.
  4. Resist the temptation to control. You may not share your child’s taste in food, clothes, or music, but your child will benefit from being able to explore different styles and roles as they continue to form their identity. The way your child is as a teen will not be how they are when they are an adult, so stop scaring yourself. Allow your child a safe place to learn from their mistakes.
  5. Apologize when you mess up. Kids are more accepting and understanding when parents are able to tell them openly and honestly when they make a mistake. Plus, teens learn that no one is perfect, and it makes them less anxious or critical of their own mistakes. You cannot move forward in life without messing up. Mistakes are stepping stones for parents and children.

Hi Mary Jo,

I am in the service industry as a hair dresser. I give from my heart all the time. How do you keep yourself from having compassion burn out?



Being a hairdresser means you hear everything - the ups and downs of your client’s personal life and their struggles with parenting and relationships. They trust you and that’s a good thing, but sometimes the weight of the issues they trust you with can be overwhelming. Giving yourself permission to take time off and care for you is difficult when you know a client is going through a rough spot in their life. However, if you don’t take time away from work when you feel emotionally drained, it can cause complete burn out. Here are someways you can take care of you and maintain your giving heart at work.

  1. Practice self-care. This becomes more and more important when you’re someone that many are relying on. Make sure you are invested in your own health and take time away to pamper your needs when you need to. A 20-minute coffee break away from work can make a huge difference in reducing stress. 
  2. Build and use your lifeline. The more you give of your heart, the more you need to refuel and restore your compassion. Call on family and friends, meet friends for a short catch up during the week, and share as many of the work duties as possible.
  3. Practice setting boundaries, both physical and emotional. You won’t be helpful if you allow others to impede on your personal boundaries. Be there to support your clients, but don’t forget you are not God. Sometimes, the best we can do is pray for people who are going through a rough time. Enabling them or exhausting yourself to be there for them constantly may prevent them from doing necessary personal work they need to do.
  4. Use healthy coping skills. Withdrawing from what you’re feeling or continuing on when you are emotionally tired is not a healthy coping mechanism. Things like watching funny videos, painting, reaching out for emotional support, or getting more organized can help you cope in a healthy way.