The Battles of Raising Today’s Teens Day 3: Battling Boundaries
The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance. I bless the LORD who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me. I have set the LORD always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. (Psalm 16:5-8, ESV)
I wasn’t the first child in my family—the one who had to fight for freedoms and argue out a lot of the battles. And has not every parent heard that it “isn’t fair” when younger siblings get certain freedoms earlier than the older ones did? I learned a lot about what I could do, or should not do, from watching my older sister navigate her teen years. Only two years behind her, I naturally began wanting the things she pushed for much earlier than the two years I should have had to wait if I had to meet the same requirements. But at some point we need to make certain boundaries very, very clear for our kids. This clears up any confusion over our expectations of them and the resulting punishment when they fail to stay within our set boundaries.
It seems that freedoms are granted earlier and earlier as generations pass. But the truth is that freedoms need to be earned based on the responsibility of each child. Reasonable age limits for freedoms are meant to protect our children, not punish them. This is perhaps the most important “pre-talk” you should have with your own children as you begin to lay the groundwork for your expectations for them as teenagers. They need to understand that your rules are for their own good. Much like we would make a rule for our young child to cross a road only with a supervising adult for their safety, we make parameters regarding internet access, attending high school parties, dating, and other social choices with the same thought in mind. Our boundaries prohibit certain things, yes, but their purpose is to protect out of love.
Many parents feel that saying “no” to certain social activities that may propose choices they aren’t mature enough to make will result in a sulking child that is angry at them—they fear the child will not like them. While it’s true that your child may sulk and be upset with you, research shows that children with firm boundaries in place feel more loved and cared for than those who are given too much freedom. What’s key to remember is that our children are our heritage from the Lord. They need boundaries because we love them enough to protect them.
The best example of this is found in the life of a believing Christian. Our own heavenly Father has set boundaries in place for His followers for a very specific reason—to protect us. We are told that sex outside of marriage, worshiping idols, substance abuse, stealing, taking the Lord’s name in vain, and many other sins are prohibited. Why? Because these are actions that bring us into harmful situations and bring dishonor to our testimony as a Christ-follower. Jesus set the example for the pattern we are to follow in life, and it’s important that we set a good example for our own children by keeping true to the boundaries set for us in Scripture.
We don’t want to place our children in situations where they are bound to fail; that’s often what we do when we allow things earlier than they are able to handle them. Can your kids sneak out and disobey your carefully set parameters? Yes (been there!). You will have to handle those issues as they arise, and together as parents decide the consequences for disobeying. Kids are kids, that is true, but kids also are just that—kids; they may try to buck the rules and rebel. There isn’t a perfect formula, but having them understand your expectations and your united efforts to see them carried out is essential to parenting teens.
Many days and nights were spent in serious prayer when my kids were in their teen years. There were humbling experiences, and I’m so thankful for the Christian friends and family members I had to talk me through that stage of life. You’ll make mistakes and wonder if you’re messing up your child forever. You’ll wonder if you’re doing it right and doubt your strategies at times. But if you make boundaries clear and hold the kids to reasonable expectations, giving consequences when they refuse to honor your parameters, you’re on the right track. As we look at Scripture and see the pattern for godly living found in its pages, we are reminded that we not without instruction from our heavenly Father. Don’t be too proud or too afraid to talk to other Christians about your struggles with parenting. The Body of Christ—His Church—is a tremendous resource for support, so take advantage of the blessing that it is!