When it comes to parenting our rangatahi, boundaries are the swiss army knife of parenting tools. They need to be visible and available instantly. And like a swiss army knife, you will find they have something to meet every parenting scenario you and your rangatahi find yourselves in.
In real life, boundaries can be seen. They’re highly visible. It might be a fence. Or a speed limit sign. Or a locked door. All of these things are physical representations of boundaries. We have them in our lives because they are useful. We don’t argue with a fence, a speed limit sign, or a locked door. We accept them for what they represent and we adjust our lives accordingly. We understand that tangling with these things means there will be consequences.
When we open a bank account, we expect to set a boundary. It’s called a password. It protects the contents on the inside of the bank account from being accessed by people on the outside of the bank account. Imagine if you opened a bank account, and the bank said, “You don’t need a password. We operate on a high trust model here.” Would you put your hard-earned savings into that bank? No! It simply wouldn’t feel safe.
Boundaries exist to keep the things we value safe and to keep the things we don’t value out.
When our kids are little, boundaries are easy to set. We have them in car seats. That’s a boundary. We put them to bed early because they need lots of sleep. That’s another boundary. We teach them to check before they cross the road. There’s another boundary. The examples are endless. We use boundaries to parent our children because boundaries keep our children safe.
And they work beautifully for a while. And then our children grow up and become adolescents. And part of the work of adolescence is to push against boundaries. Our rangatahi want to see what they can get away with, so they challenge the limits of their boundaries. And that’s excellent. It means our child is being normal. By pushing the boundaries, our rangatahi is forging their own identity. They are learning about the things that work for them, and developing their own opinions about what they think is ok and what they don’t think is ok. It’s called growing up and it comes with lots of learning.
The learning is for our rangatahi, and it is for us.
Suddenly we find ourselves having to remind and reinforce boundaries that were never a problem before. Our boundaries need to be adjusted, they too are in a growth phase.
Like the Swiss army knife, it’s easier to do this when you can find them. So many of our boundaries are invisible, and our rangatahi may not even realise they have crossed them until we’re suddenly mad about it. So first step, check that your boundaries are clear. Are you, as the parent, telling your rangatahi about the things you find acceptable and not acceptable? Or do you parent by lashing out, or with silence, when your rangatahi are doing things you don’t agree with?
The boundaries you set in your home need to be visible. Yes, they will be pushed against. And that’s ok. When you know what they are it’s so much easier to say, “That’s not acceptable.” Taking a stand creates the perfect place to jump into a discussion about why the boundary is where it is. Your rangatahi may not/probably won’t agree with you. That’s ok too. Consequences are a fact of life no matter where you go. Parenting them with consequences for boundary infringements does them a big favor as they figure out how to become themselves while working within boundaries.
Parenting rangatahi is tough at times. It’s all good learning for everyone. The best advice is to be clear with your boundaries, to make them visible, and to keep talking about them with your rangatahi. You may not be winning any parent-of-the-year awards in the heat of the moment, but you will have a rangatahi who is safe. Which is the point of boundaries – they keep the good things safe.
For powerful parenting support make a time to kōrero with Melanie. All strong boundaries need support.