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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.

Little did I know that my son’s jeans would prove to be only the first of many discussions we had to have with our teenagers about peer pressure and their appearance over the years. This is not an easy process. Like so many other issues we encounter as parents, it demands that you hammer out what you really believe is important.

Here are four convictions we embraced regarding our teenagers and appearance issues:

1. Our appearance will model the right blend of biblical values to our children. Some couples underestimate how their outward appearance influences their children. Our kids watch us closely regarding what we wear, how we act, and how we present our body. Does our clothing adequately reflect our masculinity or femininity? Are we cultivating the inner person so that our daughters and our sons will see what’s really important in our lives? Do our actions back up our words or contradict them?

2. We will focus on the heart of our child, not just exterior appearance. These words written by the apostle Peter are on target: “Let not your adornment be merely external—braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God” (1 Peter 3:3-4).

Both moms and dads need to do a self-check on some attitudes that can be subtly dangerous. Is your child extremely attractive? If so, are you deriving some unhealthy satisfaction and pride by catering to this natural beauty and indulging him or her in a closet bulging with the latest styles? Are you allowing your daughter to wear body-emphasizing outfits, thinking to yourself, “She’s only 12, but she looks so cute in that outfit.” These are all value-driven statements that come from the heart about what is ultimately important.

Or perhaps you have a child who is not particularly attractive or is overweight. How do you feel about your child’s appearance? Are you disappointed? Are you wondering if you should put your child on a program of diet and exercise? If so, what attitudes are you conveying? Are you showing a lack of acceptance and love based on this child’s outward appearance?

Since the next two convictions are so similar, we will present and comment on them as a unit:

3. Our daughter must emphasize her femininity while being modest and tasteful.

4. Our son must emphasize his masculinity while being modest and tasteful.

Verbally affirm masculine dress and appearance in your sons and feminine dress and appearance in your daughters.

One thing we fear is being lost in this culture is distinctive male and female dress. Encourage your son or your daughter to cultivate unique gender qualities by rejecting unisex clothing; affirm them verbally for their wisdom and attractiveness. We complimented our sons when they dressed up and wore a tie. And we raved about our daughters when they wore a dress.

Formal teaching opportunities can be used to build these values into a child’s life. In a Bible study I had with one of our daughters, I pointed out how the book of Proverbs paints a picture of the harlot who used her sexual powers to trap, seduce, and ultimately destroy a young man. I shared honestly with my daughter how every woman has been given the potential of a unique, God-given power over men—a mystical intrigue and a sexual power. For a young lady, that sexual power needs to be saved and appropriately hidden until she is married.

In this culture today, young men and young women are hungry for affirming words as their sexual identities emerge. Use these struggles around clothing and appearance to challenge them to become God’s man and God’s woman.

The power to change things

It’s not easy to set boundaries in an area like appearance when we live in a culture that continually encourages us to ignore them. I often sense a feeling of hopelessness in the Christian community as we look at the evil and worldliness in our culture. It’s easy to feel you have no power to change things.

But that is a lie. You do have the power to change things by influencing the most important group in our country—your family. And you start by determining what you believe and what standards you want to establish for your everyday lives.

And remember: The boundaries begin with you. With your choices. Your limits.

Copyright © by FamilyLife. Used with permission.

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