Creating Boundaries for Your Kids

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In yesterday’s blog, I touched on why your teen may be rebelling. Today, I’ll address what you can do about it.

Okay, imagine you’re at a basketball game. But this is no ordinary basketball game.  In this arena, there are no rules and no boundaries. The only goal for the player is to get the ball into the basket. But he can do it any way he can. After the whistle blows, the players fight for the ball, fall to the floor and start wrestling. One guy punches the other, grabs the ball and runs into the stands. A fan gets hurt when the player falls on him, but the player keeps going toward the hoop…it is pure chaos.

I know that illustration is ludicrous, but it illustrates the importance of having rules and boundaries in the game and what happens when those rules and boundaries aren’t present.  Rules and boundaries are present in just about every arena of life, including school and work.  And they are there for a reason, so that there is clarity in who is responsible for what, what someone can and cannot do, where someone can go and not go, and so on.  The rules and boundaries are there to protect the person and other people, keep them accountable, and to give them a framework where they can be productive and do what they need to do.

Just as the boundaries on the basketball court establish the area within which each player must play, the boundaries in parenting establish the area within which your child must play in daily life.  Let’s talk about each of those boundaries that we must establish to effectively raise our children, especially our rebellious children.

1. Sideline of Rules.

Clear rules must be established to address attitude and behavior.  Rules may include showing respect, telling the truth, curfews, grades, chores, driving, computers, television, movies, and immoral behavior, including drinking, drugs and sexual activity.  In order to clarify expectations and to ensure that your teen knows the rules, writing down the rules and consequences for breaking those rules is important.

2. Sideline of Consequences.

In his very good book, Boundaries with Teens, Dr. John Townsend states that, “Teens need consequences, because that’s how they experience a fundamental law of life: good behavior brings good results and bad behavior brings uncomfortable results.”  Townsend goes on to say that a consequence “can be either removing the desirable or adding the undesirable to your teen’s life as a result of a rule violation.”  Additionally, the consequence should match the offense as closely as possible. For example, if your teen is not respectfully talking to you, they lose the privilege of talking to their friends on their cell phone.

The sidelines of rules and consequences change based on age, trust, maturity and responsibility.  As our children demonstrate responsibility by staying within the boundaries consistently, grow in age and maturity, and earn our trust, the rules and consequences will become fewer and our children will have more freedom as the gap between the sidelines of rules and consequences expands. In other words, their “playing court” will become larger and larger.

It’s important to note that, as parents, we are not only the “referees” who establish the rules of the game and blow the whistle when our kids go out of bounds, we are also their “coach.” And it is absolutely critical that we coach our kids with truth and love. If we do not always speak the truth and show love to our children, the sidelines of rules and consequences will be disregarded by our children and the rebellion may even worsen.

Truth is vitally important when dealing with a strong-willed child who is over-stepping the boundaries or behaving like there are no boundaries. I can only have credibility with my children if they know that I always tell them the truth and that I am a man of my word.  So when I tell my children that I am creating these boundaries and rules because it really is what’s best for them, they can believe it without any doubt. Then, I can tell them that I expect them to always speak the truth as well.

Love is vitally important also. Love is all about serving and giving selflessly and sacrificially to your child. It’s doing what’s best for your child no matter what it costs you personally. Love says, “I want what’s best for you! That is why I’m talking to you about this, that is why I’m doing this, and that is why I’m making this decision.” And when we genuinely love our children, when they know we want what’s best for them, they’ll follow us. They’ll say to themselves: “You’ve loved me. You’ve earned the right to lead me. I’ll follow you. I’ll live by the rules and take the consequences when I break them.”

So, as you establish those boundaries for your kids, please make sure that that you coach them with both truth and love.

I’d love to hear suggestions on how you have created boundaries for your kids. Please share them with me below.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • guest

    My kids are not teens, but I want to have rules and consequences for them.  The ages are 3, 8, and 12.  What are the best boundaries and consequences that would be appropriate for them?  One of the major issues we are having is having respect for each other and other people as well.  They pick on each other, call each other names, and it is getting irritating.  Right now, I make them apologize when they are mean to each other, and I will remind them not to be mean because it hurts peoples feelings.  Should I tell them each time or should they automatically get a consequence for it???  Parenting is the hardest job I have ever had.  I am trying to be the best parent I can be.  

  • guest

    I say follow your natural instict. And if they get out of line, put them back in line and show them who is boss (that’s you).

  • guest

    with LOVE of course

  • Wade Davis

    Thanks for the help. I will print them out and we will discus them over dinner tonight. Keep the advice coming.  I agree parenting is harder than I thought when I was growing up  with my parents.

  • Mark Merrill

    Will do, Wade. Thanks for your kind words.

  • Alaina Roy

    I feel that kids need boundaries because they create a space, a time and expectations. My son is now a teenager and I give him the time he needs to be home. He rides his bike often with his friends and he says “I will be home at 5:00″. My response is I am the parent and you are the son. Then I give him the time he is to be at home. I feel that kids can grow in independence but that sometimes we give them too much too soon. It is better to do things in stages. As they can handle some independence and make good choices, then they can earn more privileges.
    This resource has been inspiring to me. I get strength and good ideas from this group.

  • anonymous

    Mark, somewhat relating to this article…I would like your opinion on our family’s present situation. Our oldest son who is 20 years old smokes weed and we keep telling him (the truth in love) that he’s making a poor choice not only towards his body but dishonoring us as parents and also God.  We are devoted Christians who love God and serving others and are going through the process of fostering, but the fact of our son’s present activity may stop us from being able to fulfill this desire we have. Our younger children are totally different than our oldest son; they actually confront and rebuke their brother about his choices and his need to follow and obey God. They are also looking forward to fostering, but at this moment we don’t know what’s going to happen. Our oldest son still lives with us, looking for a job and re-starting college in the fall. We asked that if he wants to live with us, since he’s almost 21, he should get a job, go to school, and contribute to his tuition and possible some rent. Would you have any thoughts, suggestions, recommendations about what would be our best choices in regards to our son and to fostering?

  • sec2013

    I have an 8 year old and a 4 year old and I have a hard time to come up with consequences. I am the first born and growing up I was asked to do something by my parents and I would just do it. Never argued or rebelled even in my teenage years. So really never had consequences. Fast forward life and I am like I don’t believe what I am hearing or did they just say this to me. There are days when I am really but patience is a good thing :) I would appreciate it if you could share some consequences :) Thanks S