Prepare Children Early About Family Boundaries

Gwen Randall-Young – Psychology for living

If you have a child just going into junior or senior high school, you may have some concerns about the effects of peer pressure. There is no question that children begin, as they grow older, to identify with their peers, and that can become a stronger influence than family. However, not all peer pressure is negative.

Feeling as though you are part of a group creates a greater sense of security and confidence, especially when you go into a larger school, where there are many people that you don’t know. Most parents accept that their children might want to dress differently than before and may no longer want to share every detail of their lives.

What they fear, though, is that their children may be influenced to use alcohol or drugs, to skip classes or otherwise violate the rules of home, school or society. This is a realistic fear given the climate in which we are living, and the freedom that some young people seem to have in their lives. It becomes very important then, to communicate early on with your children, about the boundaries that exist in your family.

Long before they are going out in the evening with friends, you can begin to talk about what it will be like when they are teenagers. Begin to prepare them for the fact that they will want a little more freedom, and you realize that over the years that is something that you will be willing to work out with them. But if you are not prepared to allow them to go out on school nights, let them know early on that this is a non-negotiable item. If you are not comfortable with dating before the age of, say, sixteen, let them know that when they are twelve. It’s a lot easier to accept and get used to rules when they don’t yet apply to you, than it is to assume certain freedoms, and to be shocked by your parent’s “unreasonableness”. 

Talk about how you would feel, and what you would do if your child began to exhibit unacceptable behavior. Let them know this ahead of time, so that they can take the consequences into account when they are contemplating their actions. It’s really all right to say that you will not support them in getting a learner’s permit if other aspects of their behavior are irresponsible. 

Growing up is a two-way street, a delicate balance between freedom and responsibility. The important thing is to discuss these issues with your teens in an open and respectful way, rather than laying out the rules as dictates. If you can co-create an agreement with them, they are much more likely to abide by it. Let them know too, that as they demonstrate responsibility, you will grow to trust them, and to gradually grant more freedom. This way they have something to work towards, and can learn to work with the system to fulfill their needs. Then there’s no need to drop out, and they can have the best of both worlds: theirs and ours.

Gwen Randall-Young is an author and award-winning psychologist. For permission to reprint this article, or to obtain books, CDs or MP3s, visit Follow Gwen on Facebook for daily inspiration.