Building Secure Fences

Building Secure FencesOn our sprawling Heartlight Texas campus, we have a number of beautiful horses.  It’s amazing to see the teens in our program connect with these animals in meaningful ways.  Even a so-called “bad” kid will gladly ride, care for and love the horses.  In the course of working with teens and horses, I have come to realize that both have at least one thing in common: a desperate need for fences.

A corral makes a timid horse feel safe and secure.  It lets them know they are protected and cared for.  It keeps wild animals from coming in and keeps a horse from wandering off into the Texas landscape and finding itself in critical danger.  In much the same way, kids need fences.  Loving boundaries let kids know where they are, who they are, and what they can do.  It may sound strange, but it’s only within the confines of boundaries that a child is actually free!

My horses aren’t able put up the fences they need by themselves, and neither can our teens.  They need Mom and Dad to set clear, defined and appropriate borders for them.  Let me share some ideas for how you can build these fences around your home and family.

Boundaries versus Rules

The first question parents ask is, “What is the difference between rules and boundaries?”  Practically, there is only a slight difference.  You could swap boundaries for rules almost interchangeably.  But here is where I make a distinction: Rules are about restriction.  Boundaries are about value.

When you take the time to set limitations for your child, you are demonstrating that they are valued.  If I didn’t care for my horses, I wouldn’t bother putting up a fence.  They could run away, get lost or attacked by wild animals—who cares?  But since I love and value my horses, I work to put up barriers to steer them away from what could hurt them.  If I would do that for a horse, how much more should I do that for a precious and treasured teen?  Proper boundaries make a child realize, “I am safe.  I am valued.  I am protected.”  When setting up new boundaries in your home or reinforcing old ones, share this with your teen.  Let them know that it’s not to keep them subservient.  You are employing these fences because you love them and want to keep them from harm.

Start with Yourself

Driving that first stake in your family’s fence begins with you.  First identify those areas where you feel disrespected or used.  And then, model for your child how to set up proper boundaries in your life.  We may feel that as parents, we need to answer every call and fly to every rescue.  But this shouldn’t be the case.  There is nothing selfish about putting up fences to protect your health, marriage and sanity.  You don’t have to say yes to every request.  You don’t have to do everything around the house.  You don’t have to act as your kid’s emotional punching bag.  Show them what it means to build healthy boundaries.

You could start by telling your teen, “I am not going to pick up your laundry and wash it for you anymore.  You are capable of bringing it down and washing it yourself.”  If privacy is an issue, you can say, “My bedroom is off limits.  You can come in when invited, but if the door is closed that means stay out!”  Maybe respect and courtesy is a boundary that needs to be strengthened.  Sit down with your child and explain, “I’m not going to let you dump on me when you get home from school anymore.  I enjoy talking with you, but you’re not allowed to say hurtful things, yell at me, or call me names anymore.

What’s that line from the movie Field of Dreams?  “If you build it, they will come.”  When it comes to boundaries, “If you build it, your teens will follow.”  Start putting up fences in your life, and your family will follow suit.

Respect Other Boundaries

This next step takes discernment, but it goes a long way in helping you and your teen establish good fences.  Just like you want your child to respect your boundaries, you in turn have to honor theirs as well.  Now, this doesn’t mean we stop being parents.  We reserve the right to check phones, look up web history and search backpacks if there is sufficient cause.  But Mom and Dad, toe the line between being a good parent and trespassing over fences.  Respect the privacy of your teen’s room or space.  Allow them to vent and be emotional if the conversation remains respectful.  As your teen proves they can be responsible, slowly back off snooping on them.  Reward their behavior with a growing level of space around their lives.  Widen the fence posts as your children mature.  Your teen will thank you for it.

Enforce the Consequences

When you set up fences around yourself and around your home, you have to keep teens accountable to stay within those parameters.  If they go outside those boundaries, be clear and follow through with the consequences.  In homes where mom and dad live apart, sometimes one parent will make up for turmoil by giving a child free rein.  Perhaps they feel guilty, so they make up for it by giving a child a free pass to do whatever they want.  But this kind of license is ultimately damaging to a teen’s wellbeing.

I was talking with a student the other day, a bright and fun girl, who came to Heartlight to work on some relational problems with her guardians.  Her uncle had raised some much-needed boundaries, and she rebelled against them.  But after talking and working through these issues, this girl told me, “I realize that by rebelling I was putting myself in danger.  I know now why those rules are so important.  They are there to protect me!

Hang in there, Mom and Dad.  Those boundaries you put up are needed.  Sometimes my horses kick against their corral and I have to spend some time fixing them up and calming the animals down.  But in time, the horses learn to appreciate the fence.  And when your son or daughter becomes a responsible adult, they will look back and thank you for the boundaries in their life.



Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, located in Hallsville, Texas.  For more information and helpful resources for moms and dads, check out our website.  It’s filled with ideas and tools to help you become a more effective parent.  Go to www.heartlightministries.org.  Or read other helpful articles by Mark, at www.markgregston.com.  You can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.  Hear the Parenting Today’s Teens broadcast on a radio station near you, or download the podcast at www.parentingtodaysteens.org.

Letting Consequences Teach Maturity

Facing Consequences“Everybody, sooner or later, sits down to a banquet of consequences.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

What’s that famous line parents, coaches, and teachers use ad naseum?  Practice makes perfect.  Though it borders on the cliché, the saying holds water.  When we hear a child practice an instrument for the first time, the sounds are anything but pleasant.  The notes screech out, and we’re tempted to cover our ears.  But we don’t let them stop playing the violin or flute just because they can’t hit the notes right off the bat.  As they learn, kids will make mistakes, which should make them practice more.  Eventually, with enough practice, they’ll play that song just right, and we will give a sigh of relief!

The same principle that applies to music, sports, academics, or anything worthwhile, holds true for decision-making, as well.  With enough practice, your child can learn to be more mature, responsible, trustworthy and accountable for their actions.  But that means handing over some of the control.  Unless we allow a child to take full responsibility for their behavior by facing consequences, our teenagers will remain perpetually immature.  If we don’t allow them to practice maturity, they will constantly be blaring that one, screeching note of irresponsibility.

Experience comes from a making mistakes and learning from them.  There lies the heart of maturity – consequences.  If you wonder why teenagers behave irresponsibly, it’s because, well, they are irresponsible.  And, they will not become responsible, or mature, until they deal with the consequences of their choices and behavior.  It is a cycle that needs to happen over and over before a teen comes to full maturity.

So how can mom and dad allow their teen to deal with consequences appropriately?

Don’t Wait – Start Early

I’ve had many parents say to me, “Wouldn’t it be best to wait until I trust my child before I give them more responsibility or control?  Then they won’t have to deal with such difficult consequences.”  My answer has always been, “If you wait until you trust your teen, you will never give them any responsibility.”  By delaying the process of handing over accountability to our kids, we’re throwing away valuable, real- world practice time.  Once they leave the home, all that adult- type responsibility will be on their shoulders, and the consequences they face will be much more serious.  Better to start early, and often, so that when they do face the realities of the world, they do so equipped with the decision- making tools they learned growing up.

Good decision- making is a learned process.  As the writer of Hebrews says, “But solid food is for the mature, who, because of practice (constant use) have their senses trained to discern good and evil” (Hebrews 5:14).

Gradually hand over the reins, and stop helping teenagers so much – the way you did when they were younger.  You help your teen best by letting them deal with the natural results of their decision, fall down a bit in the process, and then figure out how to get back up.  Don’t wait to develop this necessary skill in your child.  Start early, and often!

Avoid Over-Control

“Over-control” is when well-meaning parents protect their children from the consequences of their mistakes by enforcing strict rules or by trying to oversee all aspects of a child’s life.  There was a recent extreme case of “over-control” when a college student filed a restraining order against her parents, alleging that they required her to leave her computer’s web cam on all the time, so they could see what she was doing and who she was with day and night.  Now, that’s a severe example, but even to lesser degrees, “over-control” can be dangerous.

Overly protected children are more likely to have problems with peer dependence, relationship conflicts, and difficulty setting and keeping firm boundaries. They also run the risk of having problems taking risks and being creative.  Avoid that problem by handing your teenagers more degrees of control and allowing them to face the consequences of their decisions.

Let me give you a few examples:

  • Allow your older teen the freedom to regulate their homework.  Now, they may get an “F” on if they don’t turn it in.  And if they get enough F’s, they will flunk the class.  And if they flunk the class, they will have to make it up in summer school.
  • Buy your teen an alarm clock and give them the responsibility to get up in time for school. They may have to walk to school, pay for a cab, or miss an entire day when they don’t get up in time to make the bus.  If they miss school, they miss the fun after school or this weekend as well.  Don’t write the excuse note that gets them out of the consequences.
  • Your teen gets sent to detention, then let them miss the football game on Friday night, as well.
  • Every year, allow your child more privacy on the Internet.  But if they choose to use the Internet to post an inappropriate image or lifestyle, disconnect the computer for a period of time.
  • Should your teen be arrested, let them sit in jail for awhile.  Don’t bail them out right away. The consequence of spending a night in jail can have a sobering affect on their thinking and force them to reevaluate their life’s direction.
  • If your teenager is ticketed for speeding, not wearing their seat belt, being out past the local curfew, or other infractions of the law, let them figure out how to pay the fine, as well as how to get to work or school the next day, since you will not let them use their car, or yours either.
  • Give your teen the privilege of helping to pay for their insurance and gas when they are ready to start driving.  Don’t even get them their license until they can pay their portion of the first quarter of insurance.
  • Pay for your child’s college as long as they maintain their grades at a level you both agree on prior.  If their grades become unsatisfactory, then they have to pay for the next semester.
  • Give your pre-teen a checkbook, or a debit card with their monthly allowance on it.  If they spend their money foolishly, don’t buy them the things they need.  Let them figure out how to pay for those things.  Doing without teaches the importance of sticking to a budget.
  • Cancel your cable or the Internet service if viewing inappropriate content is a problem for your teen.  Loss of that media is an appropriate consequence that will help them in the long run.

Listen; you are not being a bad parent by allowing these appropriate consequences to follow your teen’s actions.  In fact, you are helping your child learn valuable life lessons, and grow into a mature adult.  That’s being a good parent!  Every culture on earth has a similar proverb like this one: If you rescue them once, you will just have to rescue them again.  Don’t swoop in and rescue your kid when they are face-to-face with the outcome of a bad decision.

Are you willing to start relinquishing control and helping your teenager find out who he is and who God desires for him to be?  This doesn’t mean you stop helping your child.  But it does mean that you guide them into a problem-solving process, even if you don’t solve problems for them.  You may have to repeat this process several times before your teen gets it right, so hang in there.  Eventually he or she will get it, learn how to make good decisions, and avoid unwanted consequences.  And that’s sweet music to any parent’s ears!



Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, located in Hallsville, Texas.  For more information and helpful resources for moms and dads, check out our website.  It’s filled with ideas and tools to help you become a more effective parent.  Go to www.heartlightministries.org.  Or read other helpful articles by Mark, at www.markgregston.com.  You can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.  Hear the Parenting Today’s Teens broadcast on a radio station near you, or download the podcast at www.parentingtodaysteens.org.

Clear Boundaries at Home


You may have heard that solid boundaries are key to a healthy home, but what does that look like for your family?  This week’s Parenting Today’s Teens with Mark Gregston features a lesson in what boundaries are and how to implement them in your home for growth and peace in relationships.