Imagine a ranch with no fences: its cattle wandering all over other ranches, being hit by passing trains, calves lost from their mothers. This is what a family with no boundaries is like. Then there is the ranch with the fences right up next to the house: no room to breathe, no room to graze, no room to run. Somewhere in between is the healthy family – allowing kids room for expression and personal preference without permissiveness or lack of oversight.
How do you decide what boundaries are important? Where do you start?
- Safety – Safety from danger (like traffic in front of the house) is a basic necessity. Safety from potentially emotionally or physically dangerous situations (like allowing a child to visit a neighbor’s home you’ve not been in) is also a basic issue. For little ones, playing in the backyard that is fenced is better than the front yard without a fence. When friends come over, playroom doors remain open. For teens, parents should meet the kids they hang out with. They should get acquainted with those they date. (Hey, if they’re good enough to date, they're good enough for us to meet them, right?) Don’t be afraid to limit time with friends who don’t seem to be good for them.
- Healthy eating – We required our kids to try everything we put before them. They developed a taste for all kinds of interesting things. We allowed some sweets, but not an unlimited amount. Their friends who were allowed NO sweets seemed to go crazy when their moms were not watching. Our kids learned to like all kinds of veggies and fruits. They learned to listen to their bodies when they were full. They tried amazing ethnic foods. They also learned to cook and prepare a variety of things. This is a GOOD LIFE!
- Curfews – Teens definitely need curfews. Bars close at 2 AM, so kids should not be out on the streets when those folks are driving. The later they are out, the more opportunity there is for bad things to happen. We encouraged them to have their friends over to our house and provided playing cards and food to make that happen easily. Have trouble getting them to come home on time? I offered to make the curfew even earlier if they couldn’t manage the one they were given. (11 PM on nights with school the next day, 12 AM on weekends.) Of course this was open for adjustment if there was a special event. And calling to say they were on the way when they should be home didn’t count.
- Responsibilities – Shared chores are just a part of being in a family. Everyone has a part to play in what it takes to have a clean and healthy atmosphere. We paid the kids for doing extra chores, but not for the everyday ones that were just their turn. Then as they grew to be more and more responsible, they were given more authority and more freedom. Expectations for a 5-year old and for a 15-year old are vastly different.
- Words and attitudes – We all have to take responsibility for our tone and for our words. In correcting one that was out of line, the child was given the opportunity to say it again in a better way. ‘Nuff said – no lecture. Hard things must sometimes be communicated, but it can be done with kind words.
- TV and video game time – It is very easy for this to get stretched all out of proportion to real life. We found 1 ½ hours a day was plenty for TV and video game time. To enforce this, we gave the kids 21 poker chips at the beginning of each week. Each chip represented 30 minutes of TV or movies. If they wanted to watch a two-hour movie, it took 4 tokens. A three-hour football game took six. When they were out of tokens that was it for the rest of the week. (Family time was exempt from the tokens requirement.) Our children learned to use their time and resources wisely.
- Awareness of priorities – children will not use their time wisely without guidance. They will seldom do their homework before they go play. They will not practice their musical instrument before playing that video game. If you train this into them, you will be doing them a BIG favor for life!