What I learned from parenting workshops #4 — Adaptive Mechanism 2 — Setting boundaries

black metal fence

Okay what?! Setting boundaries as a parenting strategy with a teen? I must be joking right?

Alright my apologies. Who fires off three questions in rapid salvo to kick off a parenting mini-series that’s looking less ‘mini’ by the week? (Oops not another question!)

The truth is as I pen this series, I have to say I’m probably feeling increasingly mortified at the myriad of stuff to master in this nebulous world of teen-dom parenting.

After all, I literally started this series with the backdrop of having attended three weekly two-hour webinars in a row. So using simple arithmetic, I figured three blog posts would do right?

But here I am again, with post #4! And it looks like I’ve barely skimmed the surface.

Parenting a teen is hard work!

man carrying gray pipe
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The more I started to review and unpack what I learned, the more I realise that each of those webinars packed a wallop! For each had enough material for several blog posts! A happy problem for any blogger eager for his next inspiring write.

But a problem nevertheless.

If someone had told me this sooner, I might have reconsidered my options. Maybe just refer readers to a one-stop book or manual on how to raise a teen. Everything in one neatly-typed package with life hack tips to deal with anything and everything to do with raising a teenager.

Except of course, there is no such thing!

How can there be when you realise that every child, and by extension every teen and adult, is unique?

Which makes raising one a Herculean task that each parent must shoulder as best as he or she can. Even on days when a parent would rather throw in the towel than engage the wilful teen!

And that was how I felt when the facilitator in the webinar talked about setting boundaries for teens.

Parenting involves…ready for it? Setting boundaries!

young couple holding hands while waiting for funicular
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A show of hands who enjoys boundaries and OB markers please?

Yep I guessed as much. No one! I didn’t think so.

I mean how many of us liked to be told daily “do this, don’t do that”. And blah blah blah…

Even pre-schoolers resent being told what to do, how long they can play or who they can play with. Although of course given their size and place in the family pecking order, their voices of protests rarely make a dent in the steely resolves of their caregivers.

But getting a teen to follow set boundaries? That’s a whole other ball game!

Surely the webinar facilitator was kidding right? Which teen wouldn’t fight tooth and nail to be granted more freedom rather than more fences?

As though guessing my reaction, the facilitator was quick to point out that though it might seem counter-intuitive, setting boundaries actually achieves more freedom!

How so?

4 reasons for setting boundaries

black and white boys children curiosity
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According to the webinar facilitator, there are four reasons why setting boundaries are important when parenting a teen.

  1. Life is more predictable
  2. It’s a way to instil family values
  3. It strengthens rules-following
  4. Family members can get along better

Let’s unpack each, starting with how setting boundaries…

1…makes life more predictable

In a Harvard Business Review piece dated 1995 on the power of predictability, writers Howard H Stevenson and Mihnea Moldoveanu asserted the importance of predictability of employment guidelines that offer staff security and peace of mind. Something even more critical when times are uncertain (sounds familiar?).

And if corporations understand this, then surely families and parents should too.

In a world that’s so “VUCA (volatile / uncertain / complex / ambiguous)” now, each day outside the safe haven of home can feel like that first time we got onto a set of training wheels — wobbly, with every twist and turn an invitation to fall flat! So the last thing we want is to replicate VUCA at home.

Maintaining a regular and predictable routine at home when the teen is back from a long day of school builds a rhythm that helps anchor his/her hormonal tendencies from daydreaming or languishing aimlessly in front of the now-ubiquitous digital screen

2…instils family values

I really dig this one. Especially when it comes to family devotion and meal times which we try to carve out daily.

At such times, my wife and I can speak ‘life’ into our boys and in doing so, download into their consciousness the values that we embrace, be it integrity, prudence or kindness. Through daily experiences shared or anecdotes narrated, we try to instil in our sons things we hold dear.

And though it’s not obvious at first, over time and with perseverance, I’ve seen certain behaviours that tell me it’s working. Like when my teen automatically helps daddy or mommy carry grocery bags without being asked to. Or being careful to spend his pocket money wisely instead of splurging on the latest Lego toy collectible.

So these ‘invisible’ boundaries that are family values help build up our son to be a sensible and responsible human being.

Hard not to be sold on that one right?

3…strengthens rules-following

Together with the previous reason, this one trains our son to accept that boundaries exist in the greater society outside of home too. And keeping a habit of adhering to boundaries removes the need for guilt-tripping and looking over one’s shoulders each time for fear of being caught with our proverbial hands in the cookie jar!

In order for any society to not sink into chaos and anarchy, it’s important to accept that keeping the law and toeing the line, at the expense of individual freedom and rights, can help ensure we all live peacefully and harmoniously.

Having lived through the Covid pandemic, and seen opposing outcomes between countries where citizens cooperate with their leaders to vaccinate and social distance with masks, and those that don’t, our young ones can see for themselves the benefits of following rules. For globally, the lower instances of Covid fatalities clearly favour the rule-compliant societies.

So the sooner we set boundaries, the earlier our kids learn to follow rules that allow their lives to flow smoothly and predictably.

4…helps family members bond

And finally, setting boundaries and family rules just gives us stuff to connect relationally with one another.

As odd as it may sound, discussing about what family rules we should have in the household can be a way to connect us closer. It gives the kids a voice and a say, something I dare say every teen wishes to have more of.

So the process of setting boundaries then becomes a shared one across the family.

A process for which, if you’re convinced of, I will share more about in my next instalment of this now long-running series!

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