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Teenagers Hate Boundaries ... But They Desperately Need Them

By Dennis Rainey

I once received a wonderful letter from a grandmother who was a colleague at work for more than 10 years. She remembered some boundaries her mother drew for her many years ago:

I remember my mother drawing the line for me when I began to date. She instructed me about how a guy should and should not touch me with his hands. For example, she said to never let a guy place his hand on my knee. I see so many dating couples with their hands on each other’s knees or with his hand in her back pocket and I always remember Mother’s words.

Because that line was drawn, my husband and I remained pure in our four-year dating relationship before we were married. I can remember 40 years ago the pleasure we both experienced when my husband put his hand on my knee as we drove off on our honeymoon—he laughed and said he had been waiting four years to do that! I am thankful to my mother for helping me draw the line for purity.

What a fresh reminder of the power of a parent who sets boundaries. It takes courage—you certainly won’t win any popularity contests with your children. Teenagers want to be independent, especially from you, and they usually hate boundaries!

What kids need

Your children don’t need you to be one of their buddies—they need parents who are moral and spiritual leaders. They need parents who love them enough to occasionally cramp their style. Otherwise they can easily end up like King David’s son Adonijah, who we meet in 1 Kings 1:5-6. He is spoiled, arrogant, and rebellious, and verse six shows why: His father never disciplined him. He’d never pushed back against his foolishness. Basically, King David spoiled his son by giving him whatever he wanted.

So how do you set boundaries? I would begin by prayerfully talking with your spouse and answer questions like these: What are we going to drink? What magazines and books are we going to read? What movies and television shows will we view? What music will we listen to? Are we going to swear?

At this point I can hear you saying, “Hold it … why do you keep saying ‘we’? I thought you were going to help me with my children?”

I just did.

One problem in Christian families today is that many parents fail to establish limits in their own lives. You need to set standards for your kids that you will keep yourself. Otherwise your children will ask, “Why should I live by a standard that you ignore?”

I’m grateful to God for His gift to me in my wife, Barbara. Back when the kids were little, Barbara starting pressing me about some movies and television shows I watched. In fact, she bugged me about it, and I didn’t like it one bit! But I’m glad she bugged me, because her persistence caused me to think about the model I was setting for the kids.

In addition to limits you set in music, internet, social media, movies, and television, here are some questions to help you determine limits in other areas:

Dating: At what age will they begin dating, and with whom? What role will you play in approving dates? What coaching will you give your son about respecting the young lady he is asking out on a date? What counsel will you have for your daughter before she leaves your home to spend 2-4 hours with a guy on their date?

Clothing: Will you allow them to wear clothes that are trendy, even if they are questionable? Sexy clothes? What is allowable in prom dresses? And yes, bathing suits—better deal with that one before they turn 13!

Bedtime: What type of curfew will you set for your teenagers? One friend who is a doctor told us that teens need plenty of sleep, but most parents aren’t helping their children get their rest. One more thing on this one: At bedtime you should banish screens and media from the bedroom and turn the lights off. A friend who leads one of the top Christian prep schools in America shared with us that bullies come out after midnight and seek to punish and destroy other teens with their online rants.

Physical affection: Will you let your teenagers decide—without any input from you—how far to go with the opposite sex, or will you challenge them with tough boundaries that reflect holiness and protect their innocence and purity?

Friends: Will you play a role in determining whom your kids spend time with, especially when they are 11 or 12 years old? If you don’t, then don’t expect to have a say in the friends they choose as teenagers. Remember the Apostle Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15:33. “Do not be deceived: Bad company ruins good morals.”

The sagging jeans

Let’s look more closely at how we handled boundaries in just one of these areas—appearance. I remember the day I came home from work and noticed something was precariously wrong with my son’s jeans. From my vantage point they were ready to slide off his behind at any time.

I kept my mouth shut. Later I learned that my son was being fashionable by “sagging” his britches. After I thought it through, I went to him and chatted about the sagging fad. We talked about the pressure to conform and discussed what he ought to do. Over the next few weeks, with additional conversations, his jeans crawled back up to a more decent elevation.