This year, even more than usual, young adults are wondering how to set boundaries with their parents.
Due to the pandemic, more young adults are living with their parents than at any point since the Great Depression. Whether it’s taking college classes remotely, working from home during quarantine or something else, millions have millennials and Gen Zers have found themselves plunged into a new dynamic.
That dynamic? Living like a grown, independent person while staying under your parents’ roof. It’s a situation that, according to therapist Dr. Marquis Norton, can cause your personal boundaries to “shift” significantly.
“Especially to the young world, a lot of people are back in that predicament being at home and used to being away for school,” Norton told In The Know. “When you’re away, there’s more distance which means that communication is a bit more limited.”
Dr. Norton is a licensed counselor, a college professor and a TikTok creator who uses his platform to educate young people about mental health. That resume means he knows a thing or two about boundaries — and how young people can maintain them while they’re back living at home.
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1. Schedule time with friends
If you’re home from college or work for the first time in years, it might be difficult to maintain a regular social life — especially during a pandemic, when our normal hangouts are often held over Zoom.
That’s why, Dr. Norton said, it’s crucial to create designated, separate social time, just like what you’d be doing if you were living alone.
“Whether that means scheduling times to play a game, or scheduling Zoom calls, and just making sure that you have that private individual time that you can be your authentic self,” he said.
2. Reach out to your support system
It’s also important to reach out to your friends, relatives and loved ones for support too. As Dr. Norton explained, your support system is anyone with whom you can be fully “transparent.”
For many, your parents are those people, but, if you’ve been living with them for months, there may be times when you want to vent to someone else.
“When you’re in that college-age, you’re developing not only academically and professionally, but you’re developing through this process of life. So some things are going to be important for you to navigate [emotionally],” Dr. Norton said. “It’s important to be transparent [about those things] with your support system.”
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3. Have a process
As Dr. Norton explained, boundary-setting is a process. To him, there are three steps to establishing your personal space when at home with your family: Knowing your limits, understanding what you value and being assertive.
These steps, Dr. Norton said, can help you contextualize your own preferences and then express them to others. Knowing your limits means acknowledging your boundaries, so you can clearly recognize if you feel they’re being violated.
Understanding what you value, meanwhile, can help you process the things that are most important to you — whether that’s time alone, a space to unwind or just a few minutes to watch Netflix. The final step — being assertive — means expressing those feelings clearly to the people around you.
“When it’s time to have those difficult conversations of keeping certain things to yourself or processing certain things … it could certainly bring about anxiety,” Dr. Norton said. “But if you’re assertive and you’re clear, it certainly opens the door for a discussion.”
4. Prioritize self-care
There are a million reasons why self-care is important — especially in 2020. According to Dr. Norton, it’s also a helpful way of embracing your emotional boundaries.
“I think in this state where people are, it’s important to practice that self-care, whatever that looks like for you,” he said. “So for some people, it may be exercise. For some people, it may be gaming or social media. For some people, it may be farming or planting.”
Just like spending time with your friends, focusing on calming, restful activities, can help establish a sense of normalcy — even if, as Dr. Norton puts it, you’ve been “displaced” from your college or normal home.
5. Understand the different types of boundaries
Another big part of establishing boundaries is having the vocabulary to communicate your needs. That’s why, Dr. Norton said, it’s worth knowing that there are different types of boundaries.
He categorizes them into three buckets: rigid, healthy and porous. Dr. Norton explained that rigid boundaries involve the most “extreme” limits, where you typically want to keep others at a distance.
Healthy boundaries, meanwhile, are more “neutral,” meaning you’re willing to share some info — but not everything — about how you feel. Lastly, porous boundaries are where your limits are very low and you have risk allowing others to “have too much influence over your decision-making.”
In any conversation with your parents, it’s helpful to understand your own boundaries and how you can explain them aloud. That language, along with Dr. Norton’s other tips, can help make living with your parents a little less difficult.
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