Do you have a fence on your boundary?

I’m not talking about physical land based fences and boundaries here, but for the purposes of this blog they are what I want you to keep in mind as you read.

Just like a physical, surveyed boundary may have a fence on it, teens also need a fence on their boundaries.

In our family we have rules to keep everyone safe and to keep our life flowing smoothly and predictably. These rules have been developed over the years of children and have been subjected to a bit of give and take as the years have rolled by but essentially their message has remained untouched, becoming core rules within our family. They really haven’t changed much since the kids were little. These rules are value based. They’re higher in priority than other rules in the family. And everyone knows them. These are our boundary rules.

In our family our boundary rules are 1. Be honest 2. Do the right thing even if its hard & 3. Talk, talk and talk some more. There are other rules, but these three are our core rules. Discussed, agreed with, challenged over the years more times than I’d care to remember but they are there. Firmly marking the line between behaviours and decisions that are ok and ones that are not.

On top of our boundary lines are other rules: important for the smooth running of day to day family life but allowed to be twanged from time to time. Rules like “If its not yours don’t touch it” and “Take your phone with you when you leave the house”. These rules are our fence line rules that are built on our boundary. Subject to revision and usually more stage & age appropriate for all family members. They are built on the boundary of the family values but are a little more disposable. When these rules are broken by teenagers doing what teenagers do best there’s an awesome opportunity for talk, talk and talk some more as consequences are negotiated and agreed to in the framework of the boundary rules (see above).

Fences are the markers on our boundaries. With some teens you have to put the fences up and really mark the boundaries firmly. I may have to say “No. You’re not staying at so and so’s tonight because I know their parents are away.” Or I may be saying “I expect you home by such and such a time” and ringing them when they’re late, being prepared to go and collect them if necessary.

It’s one thing to have rules and as a parent it’s my job to enforce them. Sometimes that’s really hard. And inconvenient. But it’s only for a short time, the teen stage will pass. What I’m aiming for is for my teens to be able to make their own choices without being influenced by their peers and to know when it’s time to stop. To be able to recognise if things are getting out of hand and to know how to get themselves out of a scenario if they’re not feeling comfortable. To be able to recognise the boundary.

How do I do that? By discussion and dialogue. By constantly reinforcing a consistent message and being prepared to revisit it and talk about it. And by talk, I mean say my point of view and reasons for that point of view and at the same time be able to listen to their point of view and their reasons for it. When I feel railroaded by them (and lets face it, who hasn’t been there?) I can also tell them I need some time to think about it and I’ll get back to them. If they’re trying to force a quick answer from me then I stand firm. “I see your point of view but I”m not comfortable with this. Let me think about it for a while, for now the answer is no.” That’s a reasonable reply and my teens (who are desperately trying to be adults) may not be happy but will be accepting with an answer like that. Then I’ll make time to discuss things further. “Tomorrow over breakfast?” And follow through on that.

Recently I read a blog by Ruth Soukup, from the website Living Well Spending Less. In it she quotes Jill Churchill who once said “There’s no way to be a perfect mother and a million ways to be a good one.” As times are changing I’m amending that quote slightly by saying “There’s no way to be a perfect parent and a million ways to be a good one.” Sometimes my teen will get away with something they shouldn’t be doing and other times I’ll be there to prevent them even trying. Teens are always going to push back against rules, that’s what they do.

But ultimately, once I know they can respect the boundary then I will trust them to use the gate.