In my family, boundaries are the name of the game when it comes to guiding my kids along the right path. My parents set them for me as a teenager, and I definitely set them for my own kids. I find that as my kids get older, I have to be more creative in how I discipline them and love them. Teenagers don't like it when you set limits for them, but as parents, we have to do it because we love them.
I know my kids would agree with me that I'm a tough mom, because they've told me so. Though I don't think I'm the toughest out there, I hope I balance that toughness with plenty of love and affection. The rules and boundaries that my husband, Val, and I have put into place are there for our kids' best interests. I see them as a sign of love, even though teenagers — and even some parents — might not view them that way at all.
If I want my kids to learn to live balanced lives, I need to set limits to help them. If kids didn't have rules, most of them would undoubtedly live out-of-control lives — subsisting on junk food, spending their days sitting on the couch playing video games or staring at the computer, and having no respect for authority figures. In my mind, boundaries are the foundation for love and balance.
So in which areas of our kids' lives do Val and I set boundaries? All of them! Sure, the lines move, as the kids get older. Their needs, desires, and propensities evolve over the years, and our parenting techniques and the rules we set must change with them, though that's not always easy. Plus, having kids with three different personalities makes it even more difficult because there's no one formula that works for all of them. Different approaches work for each child, so we have to find the right methods to which each of them will respond. That's definitely challenging, but as parents we must always be up for a challenge. If you go into parenting prepared, knowing that certain stages will be especially taxing, then you won't be surprised when they arise. You'll have on your armor and will be ready.
Strive for Balance
One of the areas in which 21st-century parents nearly always have trouble with setting parameters is with technology and social media. Since we didn't have much more than a portable CD player, Super Mario Bros., MTV, great family shows like The Cosby Show and reruns of Happy Days, and possibly a personal phone line in our bedrooms, we can't really look at our parents' example to try to figure out how to deal with our own kids when it comes to smartphones, tablet computers, computer use, the Internet, risqué TV shows on 800 channels, and much more. In our house, we seem to be constantly modifying our boundaries concerning these issues, as the kids get older and the technology changes.
I don't have any secret info to share that addresses or solves all of these issues in an instant, but like any mom, I read up on the latest books, talk with other like-minded parents to hear their views, and sit in on parenting conferences at my children's schools about technology use, drug use, and sexual integrity. I also look for trusted family resources and conferences in my area geared toward teens on these subjects.
In our family, the kids can get a cell phone — not a smartphone — at 13 and can sign up for social media profiles on sites like Facebook and Instagram. Our son, Lev, did get an account a few months before turning 13, which I allowed because his maturity level was different than our daughter, Natasha's at the time.
Also, I limit the amount of profiles they have on social networking sites, and Twitter isn't an option. That's not because it's bad, but because I don't see the point for a child. I monitor their pages and have full access to them. If there's inappropriate content or language after three warnings, or I discover they're keeping secrets from me, the account gets deleted. Natasha's photo rules include no puckered lips or posed bathing suit pictures. We live at the beach, which means this is a constant concern as so many of her friends post photos with one another in their bikinis, even though most of them are playful, not intentionally sexy.
I'm also an online "friend" with as many of my kids' friends as will accept me. This helps me form a better opinion of the people my kids want to hang out with and what those kids are like outside of parental supervision. This is one of those areas where balance is guided by boundaries, which is all informed by knowledge. We have to understand the temptations as well as what our kids' friends are like in order to set appropriate boundaries and balance.
I also monitor the kids' music (no explicit versions allowed) and have privacy settings on all our TVs. Only Val and I have the passcode for any shows rated PG-13 and over. We want to instill positive and godly values in our kids at a young age, so that they'll be able to make good decisions as they grow and mature. That means we need to have a balance between rules and trust. As the kids get older the balance will tip more toward the trust side ... that's the goal, anyway.
Val and I also have boundaries when it comes to our kids' health. We've been teaching them how to treat their bodies well by eating wholesome and nutritious foods and exercising. We expect them to be physically active either by participating in sports or by jogging or working out. We know that the healthier our kids are, the more opportunities they'll have to do the things they want to do as they get older. It's also another way to teach commitment and discipline within us. Val and I do our best to model that for them in our lives, too.
We have more rules when it comes to friends and sleepovers, the clothes they wear, and their hygiene. They need to learn to fulfill their roles as students with homework and studies. They also must fulfill home obligations with chores such as keeping their rooms and bathrooms clean, doing laundry, helping cook meals, taking out the trash, doing dishes, and walking and feeding the dog. Val and I have also put boundaries in place regarding attitudes, talking or acting disrespectfully, and lying.
What do we do when one of the kids challenges a boundary or steps over the line? In a nutshell, we discipline them. When they were young, we would give them a spank on the bottom with instruction in love and prayer. As they've gotten older, we take away items or privileges like phones, TV time, computer time, or hangout time with friends. Recently, we couldn't seem to find anything that was effective for Natasha, so I did what any mother of a 15-year-old girl would do. I took away all her clothes, shoes, and accessories and left her with one pair of tennis shoes, one pair of jeans, one pair of workout shorts, two T-shirts, underwear, socks, and one set of pajamas. I dropped off three extra-large garbage bags full of clothes, shoes, and jewelry at my neighbor's house so she could store them until Natasha earned her stuff back. It took a few months, but she did. There are plenty of books out there to help you find creative ways to discipline your children, so do a little research if you're struggling.
Val and I strike a good balance in discipline. There's no good cop/bad cop in our home. Both of us are disciplinarians, but we're also loving and gentle. If the kids disobey me when Val's not home, I don't wait for him to come home to discipline them. The same goes for Val. Though I'm slightly more lenient than he is, we're on the same page. Since we operate in this way, the kids know they can't manipulate us, although they don't stop trying. We're a united front.
Though we aren't perfect, we can encourage each other and hold each other accountable for our actions (or inaction). And when we mess up, we need to ask God and our families for forgiveness, brush ourselves off, get back up, and try again. Parenting is forever, after all, so giving up isn't an option.
In Ephesians 6:4, the Bible says to "bring [children] up in the training and instruction of the Lord." And in Deuteronomy 6:6-7 we read, "These words that I am giving you today are to be in your heart. Repeat them to your children. Talk about them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up." This is my goal — to teach my kids God's laws and biblical principles at all times so they will know how to live godly, balanced lives.
If you aren't sure what to teach your kids or what kinds of rules and boundaries to set, I encourage you to dig into God's Word. I've found that I can't go wrong when I look to the Bible for advice on any topic, including parenting. I believe boundaries are the foundation for balance, and you really can't do any better than God's boundaries — for yourself or for your kids.
This article is an excerpt from Balancing It All by Candace Cameron Bure (B&H Publishing, 2014).