Ask AF: Introducing Boundaries

It's important to talk about boundaries — both personal and cultural — with teenagers, taking care to ensure the conversation remains casual and friendly.

Q: Our 14-year-old daughter (adopted at age eight) snuggles up to her dad a lot while watching TV, gives him bear hugs around the house, and so on. She’s obviously kinesthetic and demonstrative (cuddles a lot with our dogs), and she has always preferred him to me (he’s easier-going). I’m just not sure what’s appropriate, and I wonder if it’s time to put on the cultural-personal boundary brakes.


A: I would take your daughter’s social and emotional development as a guide to determining the meaning of her snuggling. It would be expected that a child adopted at age eight would have some developmental delays. If she is socially immature, her snuggling may well be within typical limits.

Most adults recognize touch that feels sexual in any way, so your husband may be the best source of insight. You might ask him if he’s comfortable with her hanging on him so much. You should also begin a dialogue about this with your daughter. Use the same casual language and tone: “I notice that you seem to be hanging on Dad a lot.” If the boundaries in your family are clear, your daughter will feel comforted by them, and, as she matures, her neediness should diminish. If you’re nervous about having this conversation with your daughter, you might meet with a therapist for some ideas.

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