Life with teenagers can get tricky. Their fit-pitching is really just a more sophisticated form of temper tantrums than toddlers. I found that out the hard way when I was pregnant with Punkin. Munchkin was 2 and Bug had just turned 13. Poor Mr. B and Bubba. I think they threatened many times that they were going to go play golf and leave us to be a bunch of grumps together. But we still fight the fit-pitching and temper tantrums because setting boundaries doesn’t just keep order in the house. It allows our kids the opportunity to practice being responsible for their choices. We aren’t raising kids here. We are raising the next generation of adults. Hopefully, productive citizens.
We’re praying hard and crossing our fingers for it anyway!
Boundaries Get Pushed, Rules Get Broken
That was a few years ago. Not much has changed though. Currently, we have two teens, a 2-year-old, a big-emotion-feeling 5-year-old and a one-year-old, who only recently stopped squealing like a banshee as his only form of communication.
Needless to say, in our house the word ‘no’ is the small spark that’s needed for a catastrophic explosion.
Setting boundaries starts at an early age.
And so does pushing boundaries.
Baby Mac is barely a year old and he’s already been testing the waters. Trying to eat the dog’s food and smiling wily when I call his name and tell him ‘no.’ That gumless smile is so hard to resist but I know that if I don’t set limits and stay consistent, I’m going to be raising the next Veruca Salt. You do remember her from Willy Wonka, don’t you? “I want one! I want a golden goose!”
Oh, what a terrifyingly terrible little brat.
The good news about pushing boundaries (or crashing right through them) when it comes to the big kids is that I can sit down and try to reason with them. With their latest blunder, I decided to sit them down and explain to them why we have boundaries. I don’t really like the word rules. It seems permanent. Rules are hard and fast and take away whatever hope you have of freedom (well, I may be going a little too far there but not in my children’s eyes). Plus no one ever said “Boundaries are for suckers” so I figured I have a better chance at making the big kids feel like they have some room to grow and gain more freedom.
The Bridge: An Analogy About Setting Boundaries
We have a bridge nearby that is a good 50 feet or so up from a rocky bottom. I asked them if they would let the littles (Munchkin, Punkin, and baby Mac) just roam and run across that bridge. They said, “Yeah.”
I asked them if I took the side rails off if they would feel the same way.
They answered unequivocally, “No.” (Whew. That’s a win.)
I then asked them, “If there were no rails, would you walk across the bridge?”
They agreed that they would.
“And what part of the bridge would you walk?” They also agreed that they would walk toward the middle of the bridge to make sure they were kept far away from the edge.
Hmm… They walked right into my setup. (Insert evil laugh.)
“So, the presence of the boundaries allowed you to have more freedom on the bridge?”
As the kids would say, “Got ‘eem!” (Or is that so last year?)
Either way, the point was made.
Children Need (And Want) Boundaries
Our children need boundaries (in fact they actually want boundaries despite what they say, more on that toward the end of the post).
Proverbs 25:28 AMP says, “Like a city that is broken down and without walls [leaving it unprotected] Is a man who has no self-control over his spirit [and sets himself up for trouble].”
Removing the boundaries leaves them open to [insert terrible circumstance here].
Part of our job as parents is to raise them up in the way they should go and when they grow older they will not depart from it. (Proverbs 22:6). It starts at such a young age. Typically around the age of two (you’ve heard of Terrible Twos and Threenager, right?), our kids discover that they have a free will, can say “no,” and even stand their ground and refuse to move. There is a reason why getting dragged “kicking and screaming” is a thing and the “Limp Noodle” is another favorite tactic of theirs. You may also know it as “The Boneless Baby Becomes Deadweight.”
Setting Boundaries by Giving Choices
Sounds like an oxymoron, right? Stay with me here.
From the time they are toddlers (especially with strong-willed children like we have), we start offering our kids choices. If you’ve heard of Danny Silk, then you’ve probably already heard of his book, Loving Our Kids on Purpose: Making a Heart-to-Heart Connection. One of the things Mr. B and I learned from the book is to give our kids choices.
Two main things we remember when making choices part of setting boundaries:
(1) Set a goal for what we want to happen (getting buckled in the car seat is always a favorite conflict with my littles) and
(2) Decide two ways that I am totally okay with them making that happen
It usually goes something like this:
“Time to get buckled, Punkin.”
She gives an emphatic “I don’t want to!”
“I understand that. You can do it or I can do it.”
Most of the time she answers with “You do it.”
Not a problem. My goal wasn’t to get her to buckle. I just wanted her buckled. Mission accomplished!
Now, with Munchkin, the conversation usually goes a little differently. Once I give the choices, she usually comes up with a third choice, “I want Daddy to do it.”
“Sorry, kiddo, that wasn’t one of the options so you can choose or I can choose.”
Now, this is not a magic pill that works every time. We have had many very difficult situations with this. Munchkin is the most passionate kid I’ve ever met. She loves hard and fights hard.
The most recent thing we encountered was about cleaning her room but we won’t get into that. I’ll just say that she wasn’t very happy after she chose (several times) for mommy to clean her mess knowing that mommy always cleans with a trash bag.
The Importance of Giving Kids (of All Ages) Choices
The point is that from a young age it is important for kids to start learning how to make choices for themselves. So when they are on their own, they have had a number of opportunities to make good and bad choices and see the consequences from them. And if when they fail, we are there to help them navigate the consequences. We don’t keep them from falling.
It is the pain of the fall that helps them make a better choice next time because they don’t want that pain again.
With the teenagers, we usually have to set boundaries around activities and technology. We have discussions to try to prepare them as well. At 14 and 16 years old, they think they are adults already.
“Mom, can I have so-and-so over?”
“Sure, as soon as your room is clean? Also, you told me you were going to mow the lawn. It doesn’t matter when except it needs to be done before your baseball game.”
Bubba is definitely getting better about mowing the lawn since we fired him. (But that’s another blog post)
They need to know that “A happens before B happens.”
Setting Boundaries on Undone Chores and Bickering
In addition to making sure that A happens before B, we also offer our own services.
“You don’t have to clean your bathroom. Here are the choices again. You can clean your bathroom or I’m happy to offer my services.” I really don’t want to clean their bathroom (have you seen a teenager’s bathroom before?) but I’m happy to let them pay me to clean it. Mama hasn’t had a pedicure or a good book in awhile. I set a rate that I think is worth my time. They’ve only taken me up on it once.
Speaking of services offered, when the big kids argue I love offering my referee services. “Do you need a referee?” At one point, the kid who was causing the issue said no and the other said yes, thinking that only the one who said yes would have to pay. (Nice try, kiddo.)
I told them if either kid asked for a referee, then BOTH of them had to pay. My rate for managing a fight is actually very high and unfortunately, they have yet to use those services. Disappointing, I know.
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Setting Boundaries with Friends and Electronics
We are pretty particular about who we let our kids spend time with and spend the night with. It is a bit of a vetting process. Our kids are the most important people in our lives. I am not just going to hand them over to whomever.
When Bubba got his first phone, we gave him boundaries we thought were reasonable. Social media had a 13-year-old age limit and we stuck to it because the only policy or law we break is the whole you-can’t-bring-outside-candy-in-the-movie-theater policy. Don’t judge! It’s not every time.
We have used an app on Bubba’s phone called ScreenTime but there are many that can block certain apps or set up time blocks. We wouldn’t give a suped up sports car to our 5-year-old to drive around.
Why would we unleash that kind of power when our kids have not had practice in handling a Big Wheel. This is true for all things.
We Set Boundaries Because the Road is Narrow
As I sat with Bubba and Bug, I told them that it feels like we give them such small boundaries compared to what their friends get.
We told them that we only give them a little at a time so they can practice working with the boundaries we’ve set before broadening the boundaries. And ultimately, we are not going to be like most people because we firmly believe what Matthew said in verses 7:13 – 14:
13 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.
Making a Point about Setting Boundaries
I thought I made a point about the boundaries with the bridge and when the conversation was over, I suggested we play a game together. They did a great job obliging. They understand how much their mother loves games and they are willing to play from time-to-time.
At one point, Mr. B turned to Bubba and asked him, “Hey Bud, you want to play a game?” Bubba looked at him. So confused! After all, we were already playing a game. Bubba said, “Yeah.” Mr. B responded with, “Okay, Bud. You first.” Another blank stare. They repeated this cycle a few times because Bubba was just thoroughly confused. He finally said, “What do you want to play?”
Mr. B looked at me and said, “Look at that. I gave him all the freedom in the world and he doesn’t know what to do with it. He wants to set up rules.”
They Want Freedom But Can’t Handle Responsibility
Our kids long for structure and boundaries. Without them, they don’t know how to handle the responsibility of the freedom they are given. Set boundaries that are appropriate for their ability. Not necessarily for their age. As they are capable of one responsibility, provide more freedom for them.
I know they long for the opportunity to have all the freedom in the world but I can only trust the “Good Choice Picker” so much of a kid who would crumble up Oreo cookies in a bowl of milk and try to call it breakfast cereal.
So how can they get self-control to see through their responsibilities?
First, it’s not easy. And even all the things you put in place are not going to keep a determined kid from making poor choices. Encouraging, isn’t it?
The point of boundaries is not to control your children. It is to give them the skills they need to practice controlling themselves. All you can do is train them, pray for them, and teach them to pray for themselves.
Related Post: Why I’m Raising Dependent Kids
After all Galatians 5:19 (NIV) says the acts of the flesh are obvious (and goes on to mention what they are). And here’s an awesome but-wait moment:
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance [patience], kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.
I just love when we hit but-wait moments, don’t you?
Recommended Post: When Trouble Comes and God Feels Far Away
Our children (yours and mine) are going to continue to make mistakes. I know we like to think that we don’t but we still make mistakes even with all our life experience, don’t we?
This is not a tried-and-true method for turning your kid into a Stepford-Wife type of kid. Danny Silk even said in Loving Our Kids on Purpose that if we don’t do these things in love, they just become another tool that can be used for manipulation.
But it is a good guide. A 3-part plan, if you will.
Pray for them.
And teach them to stay in the vine. Apart from Jesus they can do nothing. (John 15:5)
But with him, all things are possible. (Matthew 19:26)