I hear this all the time from young people…"I want to make decisions for myself.  I want to be in control of my own life."  My first thought is, "Hallelujah! Your parents want the same thing - but like everything else in life, it must be within certain boundaries."

Boundaries aren't handcuffs; they free teenagers to make decisions since they know how far they can go.  For instance, I've always thought that a teen wearing one fashion or another should be their own choice.  They can dress how they want, but as soon as that clothing becomes immodest, they are stepping over a boundary, the modesty boundary.  Or, if what they wear breaks the school's dress code, they are stepping over the school's boundaries.  Likewise, when a teen is allowed to drive the car, perhaps they are told they must be home by dark, not have any other teens in the car, and they mustn't drive any further than a certain distance away from home.  Those qualifications for the use of the car are boundaries.  How and where the teen drives within those boundaries is up to them, as long as they follow other imposed boundaries, like traffic laws.

Fact is, we all have boundaries in our lives, so teens need to get accustomed to them.  As adults, we can't just haul off and whack someone over the head if we don't like them.  We can't take a week off from work without asking our boss.  And we can't spend our mortgage payment money on new sporting gear instead.  Well, we can, but should we do so, we too will face consequences.

Boundaries are only effective if they are known in advance.  Responsibility and a feeling of self-control begin with a child knowing and understanding the breadth of their choices within those boundaries.  The kids I've met with the lowest self-esteem and the least self-control are those who either have never experienced boundaries, or whose parents use punishment as the only means of communicating boundaries.  Such parents tend to shift their punishment (and the boundaries) based on how their own day is going, or how frustrated they are with life, their spouse, or their children.  So, the kids in those families don't really know where the boundaries are any given day.  Like landing in a mine field, they don't know what step to take for fear it will set off their parents.  So here's what happens: they either get totally frustrated and decide to go ahead and set off as many "mines" as they can, or they hide, keep their distance and try not to upset the apple cart.  They stay away from home as much as possible, become strangers, and turn into prolific liars.

Fact is, boundaries don't encumber your child; they free them and they boost confidence and self-control. It's like the difference between keeping a horse on a lead rope or letting him run freely in a fenced pasture.  Within the safety of the fences, the horse has the freedom to roam and even push up against the fences.  What they choose to do is in their control.  Thank goodness teens are learning how to reason, so establishing boundaries and consequences will help them make better choices, versus the need for parental hovering, hand-holding, or physical barriers.

Setting Up a System for Behaviors in Your Family

As you develop boundaries, I encourage you to make it a family project.  First, outline what you believe the behavior in your home should be like — your "beliefs."  Then, determine what rules are needed to support those beliefs.  You can develop behavioral beliefs and rules for any number of things, but I prefer to major on the majors, not the minors, so select categories like: modesty, honesty, respect, family contribution, curfew, use of the car, dating, substance abuse, church activities, abiding by the law, and education.  Within each category you may have several related rules, but keeping it simple will help your children remember them better.