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Setting Boundaries With Your Teen

I really like homemade waffles—especially when they’re topped with real butter, Canadian maple syrup, fruit, a pile of nuts… and more waffles. I’m serious as a heart attack about that. But while I love waffles, I hate waffling. And I’m pretty sure God is not big on that either. In James 1:8, we learn that a “double-minded man is unstable in all his ways.” And in Matthew 5:37, we read: “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.”

This holds true for how we parent our children as well. That’s why when you set boundaries for your kids and teens, you had better make sure that you stick to your guns on whatever boundaries and rules that you’ve set for your family. This includes implementing pre-determined consequences for breaking those rules.

Rules Rule!

No one likes the word “rules.” It sounds—well restrictive. Yet who would argue the need for rules in a court of law, a school classroom, or just about any sport? Without rules, it would be an “anything goes” free-for-all! I’ve got to tell you… I hate stop signs and traffic lights… but I wouldn’t want to live without them.

Raising a family requires rules, too. Children need and want boundaries. The world makes more sense when they know what’s accepted and what’s not. Children feel safer when boundaries are explained and defined. And they find comfort in the consistency of parents who stick to their game plan.

If You Don’t Make the Rules, Someone Else Will

Make no mistake; you absolutely, unequivocally need a parenting game plan. Because if you don’t have rules in place, the world will. And without your rules to follow, they will follow the culture or a peer group that could lead to life-shattering issues. The culture is constantly telling our children they aren’t enough, trying to get them to eat, drink, party and even spend their way into acceptance. Kids often lose their true selves due to social pressures, opting to morph into whatever is popular or acceptable to their peer group. Many teens end up in a personal identity crisis in high school or even middle school, medicating with alcohol, drugs, sex, and other addictions.

So, how do you as parents keep your children from falling prey to these challenges to their true identity? It takes lots of prayer, unconditional love and clearly defined rules. Rules with relationship—because rules without relationship cause rebellion. And the most important relationship your child can ever have on this earth is with you. You—not their peers—need to be their most important role model. They need to have your love and acceptance, and home has to be a safe place for them to land each day after school. They need to know that your rules are designed for their best and that as their parent they can trust and rely on you at all times. And they need to see you living out your life and your faith in an authentic way. You can model being true to yourself, giving them the courage and permission to be real and true to themselves. Your home will then become a place that builds intimacy through love, humility and honesty. With this model, you’ll have a lot less need to exert external controls. Why? Because they’ll want what you have.

Rules for Cyber City

But until they are adults, your children need you to keep external controls in place. As I already stated, kids needs boundaries to feel secure. Take the area of setting boundaries for social media use—a big concern for parents today, and rightly so.

How many times have we heard news stories about pre-teens and teens getting into trouble on the Internet via some form of social media? Increasingly, this trouble is turning deadly. It did for Amanda Todd. At age 15, Amanda committed suicide after years of cyber bullying. She was just eleven-years old when it all began. First, she became a victim of a Facebook predator/blackmailer, and then fellow classmates bullied her—both verbally and physically. Inappropriate photos of herself— that she posted in an impulsive moment —followed her everywhere. No matter how many times she changed schools, she could not escape the torment.

In a televised interview with Amanda’s mother, it was clear that she had no clue as to what her daughter was up to all those years. There Amanda was, alone in her room with unlimited, unrestricted, 24/7 Internet access. She would stare into the video cam with endless fascination and at all hours of the night. When her mother told her that she couldn’t have the video cam, she whined and pouted to the point where her mother finally waffled and gave in. “I lost that fight” she later lamented with deep regret in her voice.

When I was Seventeen, I “Unfriended” My Parents

Honestly, it is all so preventable—if as parents you set boundaries and rules early on for your teens. And then stick to those rules. Drawing lines in the sand, and re-drawing them, and re-drawing them again is pointless as your teen will use your weakened resolve against you. Whatever respect you might have had from them, can be lost completely.

The following is just one example of how an increasing level of earned trust, in the form of setting boundaries, might go down in the area of social media use. (You can read more examples in my book, Tough Guys and Drama Queens.)

  • When you’re 12 years old, you won’t be able to have a social media page—be it Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or whatever.
  • When you’re 13 and 14, you can have an account, but you can only check it once a day for 30 minutes (not 30 minutes for each one). We’ll have full access to all your posts, tweets, etc. You must “friend’ us on your Facebook so we’ll know what your posting.
  • When you’re 15, you can spend one hour a day on social media as long as it doesn’t take away from family time, completing your homework, or keeping you up so late that you can’t get up on your own in the morning. Oh … and we’re still watching!
  • When you’re 16, no more than two hours on social media and make sure that your language is appropriate.
  • When you’re 17, it’s all yours. We’re no longer watching. You can “unfriend” us.
  • When you’re 18, I hope that you’ll accept my “friend” request.

My purpose here in giving you this example is not to turn you into a clone of myself and my own parenting style—rather to give you an idea, or model of what it might look like. I can only tell you that these boundaries have worked well for myself as a parent.

Well Behaved Kids or Healthy Adults?

But again, you need to first have a well-defined worldview. Only then can you add clear boundaries and subtract strictness. In other words, your goal is not to have well-behaved kids, but well-adjusted and spiritually mature adults who have learned how to flesh out their faith in a rapidly changing society. You want them to shine as lights in a dark world. And the only way they can do this, is if you (1) allow your children to be exposed to opposing worldviews while they are still under your influence, (2) to lovingly speak truth to them when they’re exposed to error and (3) to be a strong voice of reason and wisdom.

In short, if you do your “God job” as a parent right, you’ll make that “forbidden fruit” (worldly enticements) as appealing to your teen as a rotten banana—because, after all, home and hearth is where the homemade waffles are!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a residential counseling center for struggling teens located in Longview, Texas.  He has been married to his wife, Jan, for 40 years, has two kids, and four grandkids.  He lives in Longview, Texas, with the Heartlight staff, 60 high school kids, 25 horses, his dog, Stitch, two llamas, and a prized donkey named Toy.

His past involvement as a youth pastor, Young Life area director, and living with more than 2,800 teens has prepared Mark to share his insights and wisdom about parenting pre-teens and adolescents. You can find out more about Heartlight at HeartlightMinistries.orgYou can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.

Mark is also the host of the radio program Parenting Today’s Teen; heard on over 1,600 radio outlets nationwide. Visit ParentingTodaysTeens.org where you’ll find more parenting resources and find a station near you that carries the daily 60-second features or the 30-minute weekend program.  Download the Parenting Today’s Teens App for Apple or Android, it’s a great way to listen on your schedule.


Boundaries for Teenagers

When a teenager doesn’t have boundaries, he does what seems right in his own eyes.

Contrary to what most moms and dads think, teens really do want rules. Rules help keep them headed in the right direction and prevent them from ending up in a place that they don’t want to be. When coupled with consequences, they help the teen more easily resist temptation and the inappropriate scheming of their peers. Having a good reason to say “No” comes as a relief to a teen raised to know basic moral values. Deep down, teens understand this, no matter how much they push against the rules, bend them, break them, and balk at them.

To be effective, rules need to be based on the boundaries you establish in your home, which are even more important and foundational for a child to learn. Boundaries aren’t the rules; they are the fence posts placed around behavior. They are the delineation of how a family’s beliefs are to be lived out; the “I will” and “I will not” statements that are the basis of our daily living and interaction with others. They help everyone in the family take responsibility for their own behavior, improve their choices, and know if they are headed into dangerous territory.

Boundaries define what you will and won’t accept, and should come from what you believe is right for your teen at this stage in his life and for your family.

An example of a boundary might be: “We will treat each other with mutual respect.”  If you believe that respect for one another has merit (I certainly do), then your boundary will include showing respect to those you live with, and teaching family members to respect authority and those outside the family as well. Being respectful means: not taking things without asking, not talking badly about another, not leaving a mess, not calling names or mouthing off. On the positive side, being respectful means: celebrating one another’s successes, helping each other out when it’s needed, asking permission before using something that is not yours, or standing up for other family members. You fill in what you consider to be respectful and disrespectful practices.

Did you notice in this example that boundaries are about every member of the family, not just the kids? They are more about setting an accepted lifestyle and mode of interaction for everyone in the home, versus specific do’s and don’ts. If the boundaries are completely understood, then rules almost become redundant. For instance, “respect” would also cover issues like theft, honesty, caring for others, taking care of one’s belongings, etc.

Boundaries ensure each family member takes responsibility for themselves and their own actions.

Boundaries include what your child already knows, what you’ve taught them all their life. But sometimes teens get confused by “childhood” rules within those boundaries and rules that are lifelong.  For instance, the boundary, “We will avoid unnecessary risks and dangers,” would include holding mom’s hand as you walk across the street as a child. This would of course not be appropriate in the teen years. Rather, it would shift more toward wearing a car seatbelt, a bike helmet, and not taking medications without a parent’s permission or doctor’s prescription in the teen years.  But another typical boundary, “We will avoid illegal activities,” is a lifelong boundary. It never changes, other than according to changes in the current laws. The goal, then, is to make it clear to your teen which boundaries and related rules are now appropriate for him, according to the values you hold dear and just common sense (you may have noticed that teens don’t always have a lot of common sense).

Boundaries aren’t just to corral behavior, but they are also for protecting teens from their peers on the other side of the fence. For instance, a teen girl should establish her own personal boundaries in regard to her body and not allow others to cross those boundaries with her.  Talk to her about those boundaries, so she solidifies them in her mind before the situation arises.

How to Establish Boundaries

Parents can begin to establish boundaries by picking their top ten or fifteen deeply held beliefs and then identifying boundaries for each. Think about and write down different real-life situations and how far things can go before your family boundaries will be violated.  Having too many boundaries can confuse the whole family and make it impossible to grow and adapt, so keep it simple.

Here are some examples of boundaries (yours may be different):

  • We believe our home is a refuge, where there should be mutual respect for one another and for each other’s belongings, time and personal space.
  • We believe in truth and honesty, so we will tell the truth (including the whole story). We will not bend the truth, gossip untruths or exaggerate.
  • We believe that having positive and uplifting communications is important, so will not use inappropriate language, cussing, swearing, off-color stories, or yelling in anger.
  • We believe that there is nothing good that can happen after midnight, so everyone should be home.
  • We believe that excellence is important, so we expect everyone to do their best in what they do, including work, chores and school.
  • We believe that faith is an important part of life, so we will participate in the activities and the fellowship of others in our church.

Boundaries Demand Rules and Consequences

If you wonder why teenagers behave irresponsibly, well, it’s because they are irresponsible.  And, they will not become responsible or mature, or wise, until they engage in the process of dealing 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, the next job is to create specific rules and then consequences for breaking those rules. That’s a job best developed by the whole family, so they feel as though they have contributed. You’ll be surprised how harsh your teen will make their own consequences, so it will be your job to make those more reasonable. And don’t forget to make the consequences escalate for each continued breach of the rules and match consequences with the severity of the infraction.

“Every one, though born of God in an instant, yet undoubtedly grows by slow degrees.” – John Wesley

The point is this: your teen needs to learn how to make good choices. When they know in advance what the boundaries are, what the specific rules are, and what the consequences will be, they’ll more likely be able to make a better choice. At the very least, they’ll not be shocked and feel “ganged up” on when consequences are applied. “Mom might ground me for this” simply isn’t a concrete deterrent. Instead, “I’ll lose my cell phone for a month” is a clearer and more direct deterrent that will stick in the teen’s mind.

Keep In Touch

Boundaries are important. But teens are still prone to test them in every possible way.  So, as you develop and enforce healthy boundaries it is important to spend time with your child on a regularly scheduled basis to discuss them. This makes it clear to them that no matter what decisions they make; your relationship will not be affected. Set up a weekly breakfast or dinner where you can talk, one to one. Avoid rehashing past mistakes but talk about better choices that can be made in the future and how those will positively impact your teen’s life. Help them begin to set goals and think about their purpose in life.  And be sure to begin and end your discussion with making sure your child understands that there is nothing they can do to make you love them more, and there’s nothing they can do to make you love them less.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a residential counseling center for struggling teens located in Longview, Texas.  He has been married to his wife, Jan, for 40 years, has two kids, and four grandkids.  He lives in Longview, Texas, with the Heartlight staff, 60 high school kids, 25 horses, his dog, Stitch, two llamas, and a prized donkey named Toy.

His past involvement as a youth pastor, Young Life area director, and living with more than 2,800 teens has prepared Mark to share his insights and wisdom about parenting pre-teens and adolescents. You can find out more about Heartlight at HeartlightMinistries.orgYou can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.

Mark is also the host of the radio program Parenting Today’s Teen; heard on over 1,600 radio outlets nationwide. Visit ParentingTodaysTeens.org where you’ll find more parenting resources and find a station near you that carries the daily 60-second features or the 30-minute weekend program. Download the Parenting Today’s Teens App for Apple or Android, it’s a great way to listen on your schedule.


Managing Conflict With Your Teen

When having conflict and struggle with your teen, it’s easy to feel as if the entire family is falling apart.  I’ve found that a better view of handling conflict is to see it as an opportunity to pull your family together, like never before!

Conflict Can Be the Precursor to Positive Change

I believe that relationships that stick together through conflict and hardship become closer relationships. In fact, the teens in our Heartlight program that I remember the most fondly are the ones that caused me to want to pull my hair out when dealing with their constant arguing and bad behavior.

Parents tend to put a lot of time and effort into peace-keeping or preventing conflict in the home, but it may be better for them to engage in it. Why?  Because if you never engage in conflict, things in your home may never change, or take longer to change than they need to. Could it be that by avoiding conflict you’re stifling an issue that God wants to use to bring about His plans for your life and the life of your teen?

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV)

Most of us prefer to avoid conflict. It is tough to pull a family together when your teen is on one side of an issue and you are on the other. That’s why parents need to better understand conflict, and how to engage in it in a way that is positive.  Conflict can actually build a bridge between your differences and most kids simply need to know that you’ve heard them out, even if you don’t agree with them.

Managing Conflict with Your Teen Means…

…Learning to Argue Well

It’s okay to have disagreements with your teen as he matures. Did you think there would never be conflict in your discussions or that your teen’s growing independence wouldn’t cause him to question your values? Could your teen actually think a bit differently about things than you do? You bet he does.

Sure, conflict will happen. And since it is inevitable that you will argue about some issues, why not use those times as an opportunity to honor your teen’s independent thinking and also allow them time to process your side of the argument.  They’ll never listen to your side unless you honor their need to explain their side.

My point is this… don’t allow conflicts to create a roadblock to future growth in your relationship. It’s okay to feel anger in discussions at times.  But scripture reminds us to “Be angry, but don’t sin.”  So, never allow an argument to get physical, disrespectful, or demeaning.  Know when to take a break, and when to stop until emotions can calm down and the discussion can continue on more respectful terms.

My goal for every difficult and sometimes heated discussion with a teen is this:  At the end of the argument, I want there to be an opportunity for us to hug one another, even if I didn’t change my mind at all. That’s the goal. Even if we can’t agree, I still remain in charge, and we can at least agree to disagree because it was all talked out.

The stance that you take in the heat of the battle is a reflection of who you are in real life. How you communicate during conflict teaches something very important to your teen. The messages that you will want to convey include:

It’s okay to not agree with everyone.

It’s okay to not follow what everyone else is thinking.

There are times that we have to stand up and fight.

We can have conflict, and still remain friends.

And sometimes… I’ve heard your side of the argument, but for your own good, you simply need to follow the rules.

…Engaging in Order to Pull Together

Parents often make the avoidance mistake when conflict shows itself.  In other words, they break away.  They stop spending time with their child and avoid the conflict at all costs.  That may be a reasonable tactic for a short time, until everyone has a chance to cool off and respect is restored. However, ongoing avoidance will only serve to build walls between you and your child.  Instead, by engaging in discussion you will let your child know you’ll continue to love them and spend time together even though you are at odds.

Fathers especially need to spend time with their teens. In group counseling at Heartlight, the most often wished-for thing by teen girls is, “I want more time with my Dad.” They want time together, even if they act like they don’t.  For instance, when you make the effort to take your child out for a weekly breakfast, coffee, or dinner, she knows she is worth spending time with, even when she is at her worst. She also comes to understand that the conflict between you can be resolved, and it doesn’t mean your relationship has to stop when you have problems or disagree.

…Parents Are to Model Appropriate Action

Teens are somewhat limited in their ability to solve problems. They often don’t have the maturity to unravel life’s bigger issues, and they don’t understand how to change their behavior in order to help themselves. That’s where a parent comes in. Demonstrating your own resources for managing frustration is one good way to teach your teen how to handle their own frustration. Tell them how you go about solving problems at work, or with your spouse. Let them know you need and daily seek God’s help, and that you don’t have all the answers. Help them learn how to use different behavior as a way to solve their own problems or to change their situation for the better.

…Establishing Firm Boundaries and Clear Consequences to Maintain Respectful Discussion

When conflict emerges, it’s time to make sure that everyone knows the rules for the “fight” by setting up some basic boundaries.  For instance,  “We’re not going to be disrespectful or dishonest with each other.” Put it into words, and back it up with consequences. Words without backbone mean very little. Let the consequences for crossing boundaries of respect speak louder than your words. And for consistency, make sure those on both sides of the conflict embrace the idea of respect, 100% of the time.

…Taking Care to Not Heat Up the Fire

As you discuss your problems or conflicts, choose your words wisely. Stop saying things like, “No, I will never support that.” You’re setting yourself up for failure, and you may have to eat your words when you say that.  Avoid words like “you” or “always” and speak in broader, less offensive terms.   Be more open to what you will or won’t support, and pick your battles carefully. A wise parent will use the eternal perspective as a barometer for choosing which stances are worthy to fight for, and which ones may not be as important or are just a personal preference on your part.

By the way, be clear on your limits. Don’t say, “It’s your choice,” or “What do you think?”  It is better to say, “Here are my limits… what I will and won’t allow in this situation.  Then, explore their needs and ideas and try to find a way to meet each other halfway, listening more and talking less.

…Loving Them – Regardless

Teens need to know they have a relationship with their parents who love them through the conflicts, while at the same time a relationship that shows them the true character of God.

When I said earlier that the teens that I’m closest to are the ones that I have fought with the most, I meant it sincerely. Conflict, when handled properly, can improve relationships rather than tear them down.   Just as you can rely on the fact that you will have conflict with your teen, rest assured that your teen will have conflict with their future college room-mate, their future spouse, a future employer, and even their future children (turnabout is fair play- Ha!).  So, engaging with your teen in conflict now is more about teaching them how to manage conflict in the future, and less about who wins today’s argument.

Now, get in there and fight!!!!

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a residential counseling center for struggling teens located in Longview, Texas.  He has been married to his wife, Jan, for 40 years, has two kids, and four grandkids.  He lives in Longview, Texas, with the Heartlight staff, 60 high school kids, 25 horses, his dog, Stitch, two llamas, and a prized donkey named Toy.

His past involvement as a youth pastor, Young Life area director, and living with more than 2,800 teens has prepared Mark to share his insights and wisdom about parenting pre-teens and adolescents. You can find out more about Heartlight at HeartlightMinistries.orgYou can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.

Mark is also the host of the radio program Parenting Today’s Teen; heard on over 1,600 radio outlets nationwide. Visit ParentingTodaysTeens.org where you’ll find more parenting resources and find a station near you that carries the daily 60-second features or the 30-minute weekend program.  Download the Parenting Today’s Teens App for Apple or Android, it’s a great way to listen on your schedule.