When your children were toddlers, it was important to keep an eye on them and establish boundaries to keep them safe. Toddling into the street or playing with a knife were potentially harmful behaviors. Now that your children are teens, it's still important to set boundaries that will keep them safe.
Teens with clear expectations and rules are less likely to engage in risky behavior or make poor choices. Even "good kids" can get into trouble when they aren't required to live within reasonable boundaries and be held accountable for their choices. Boundaries let our teens know we care what they do and where they go. They set ground rules for knowing what's expected and the consequences if the expectations are not met.
Early teen (12-14)
Structure is still necessary in this age group. During the middle school years your child is becoming an individual with his own preferences about friends, activities, clubs and class schedule. Friends may seem more important than family to your child, and the push to go places with peers, not parents, increases.
It's important to have boundaries in place before situations arise to provide a sense of security and routine and give your child some control over his life. Some areas to establish boundaries are: chores, spending, electronic devices, homework, friends and extra-curricular activities. Pick what's important to you, but also be willing to negotiate within reason.
What household responsibilities will your child have? What happens if the job is not done?
Does your young teen need your approval before making a purchase? How much control will you have over his personal spending and saving?
Will your child own a cell phone? Borrow a parent's phone when away from home?
When is the child allowed to use the Internet? What rules are in place for use?
When and where is homework done? Will homework be checked by a parent each night?
Under what, if any, circumstances will your child be with friends not under your or their parents' supervision? (Youth group activities and school clubs run by adults are two possibilities.)
Will you meet the parents of your child's friends before they hang out together?
What extra curricular activities can your young teen take part in? How much adult supervision is necessary? What time should your child be home?
Since you are probably still paying for your child's clothing, how much say does he get about styles and cost?
Middle teen (15-17)
During these years your teen has a lot more control over his life as he chooses school classes, gets a part-time job and driver's license, and interacts more with the opposite sex. Even though he's more in control of his day-to-day life, he still needs boundaries. While some of the same boundaries still apply from the early teen years, some will change as he branches out. Set new boundaries with your child's age in mind. You may want to have a written contract so when a situation arises, boundaries are already in place. The contract would outline responsibilities and privileges and set consequences if rules are broken.
Can your teen get a part-time job? How many hours can he work? What is the latest he can come home on school nights? On weekends?
Is his money his own to spend however he likes or will you monitor it? Should a certain amount be saved? What things will he be responsible for buying?
Most teens carry electronic devices. Will there be unrestricted access to them? Will you do random checks to see what's on his phone and iPod?
What are your rules about clothing, piercings and other tattoos?
What rules do you have for unsupervised time with friends?
Will your teen individual date, group date or only be in supervised situations with the opposite sex?
Will your teen get his driver's license? Are there things he must do to prove he's responsible enough? Who pays for insurance and gas?
Older teen (18-20)
Having an older child in the house can be a wonderful blessing—or a challenge. On one hand, they are old enough to run errands or be in charge in your absence. On the other hand, some children of this age consider themselves grown up and beyond your rules. But your house rules should not change for your older child. It's not okay to hit a sibling, lie or skip your job when you're five--and it's still not okay when you're 19.
Teens in this age group may be finishing high school, attending college or working. Boundaries may vary depending on which is true of your child. And while it might seem your twenty-year-old doesn't need boundaries, he does. Children don't suddenly become mature at 18 or even 21. It's a growth process, and your goal as parents is to get your child to the point where he can live independently and responsibly. Of course you want your older teen to share your faith and values, but that is not a choice you can make for him. You've worked toward that all his life.
Discussions with children this age might concern:
Future plans—college, military, vocational training or a full-time job?
At what point will your child move out on his own?
Will he be required to attend church and family functions while living at home?
If he's not in college or vocational training full time, will he pay rent or share in the bills, including groceries?
What will you continue to pay for him? Doctor and dental bills? College tuition?
Is there a curfew? Under what circumstances can it be changed? If there is no curfew, will your child call home at certain times?
As your teen matures, he is capable of both greater responsibility and greater freedom. The important thing is to find a balance between being overprotective and not strict enough. The boundaries you set should reflect what is most important to you and what values you want your teen to embrace, while giving appropriate levels of freedom. Discuss the boundaries, and be willing to compromise, but stand your ground on the things that matter most.
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