The need for boundaries
This topic is an opinion, and is not meant to be an educational treatise nor is it a research paper. I qualified as a Doctor in 1962 and worked as a psychiatrist for 35yrs.
I write about the need for clear boundaries for children and teenagers so that they learn at an early stage what they can and cannot do. I want them to grow up into healthy adults, to fulfil their promise and ability and to contribute in a positive way to the society in which they live.
The boundaries inevitably change – hopefully with discussion and understanding on both sides, but they do not disappear during any of those important years. The guiding factors for parents should be love, mutual respect and safety. Love, hopefully, is inborn and strong, but respect and safety do not appear magically ‘out of the blue’ – respect has to be earned and safety learned.
It seems to me that these essentials for the development and future wellbeing of a person are in danger of being overlooked or missed out by and for many - in childhood and adolescence - at the present time.
Go anywhere – you meet young children, let alone teenagers, dictating what they are going to do. You see children racing around supermarkets, while parents watch, apparently helpless to control their children. What is more disturbing is that many don’t seem to try to stop or even notice what their children are doing and, if they do, their only response is to shout. Should anyone comment – they often get verbal abuse from the parents.
Obedience seems to be a word that is gradually disappearing from the English language.
Please do not think that I think that most parents are bad – not at all. Parenting is not easy and to make and keep firm boundaries, that are fair and not too strict or too lenient, is very hard work. A child needs understanding of reasons and a consistency of response – that ‘no’ means ‘no’. Boundaries linked with knowledge of effects are needed i.e. a child has to be informed of possible consequences of behaviour, know how far it can go and where the limits are. In that way it can explore and develop, safely, in its environment.
But, here seems to be the problem – it takes time, consistency, awareness and much effort.
There have been extremes and ‘fads’ in child rearing – from the Victorians who had too many boundaries and were too strict, too dominating, too controlling and agreed with corporal punishment, to ‘the child must express him/herself as they wish’ attitude and no one must say ‘no’ to anything the child wants to do – irrespective of the effect on other people. Around the 1950s for years, there was the ‘let the child cry at night – don’t pick it up and cuddle it as that will spoil it’ regime. Many children would cry themselves to sleep – whatever the reason. Yes, they stop in time - but with what emotional impact? Now they are often allowed to ‘rule the roost’ – yet, they have neither the knowledge nor the experience to be given free rein to choose what is right for them. Many children go to bed far too late, playing on their gadgets or watching unsuitable TV, but getting far too little sleep. They may know what they want – that is different. Fair and reasonable boundaries give a child confidence to explore its environment and to feel cared for.
I totally abhor ‘hitting’ and fortunately that aspect of child rearing has been stopped by government dictate – as much as is possible. But repeated verbal bullying and instilling fear by shouting or threats is still allowed.
There are two opposite forces, seemingly getting more diverse in the present climate and gradually the fabric of society is being pulled apart.
There is the ‘force’ which develops strong core beliefs in a child i.e. love, comfort when necessary, guidance, and time freely given. There are fortunately still many parents who give time and effort to children as their number one priority.
Then there is the ‘force’ that is the pursuit of money and material possessions. Provision is made for other people to care for young children and teenagers. The very young are put in nurseries. Wealthy households send teenagers – or even younger children - away from home to boarding school. ‘After school classes’ are common - how long a day must a child have away from home? There is nothing wrong with material possessions in themselves – I do not proscribe to ‘the eye of the needle and the camel’ viewpoint. But as a means in itself – then it is not a healthy prescription for happiness in society.
But, the practice of very early and all day nursery care is encouraged by the government, and appears to be accepted as ‘the way forward’ - then mothers and fathers can pursue their careers, with little interruption. In my opinion, it is a backward step going in the direction of an uncaring materialistic society with emotionally ‘switched off’ children. Often the children are now being given possessions that many of their parents didn’t have, but are missing out on something much more important – dedicated time, effort and caring. The same needs of young children remain whatever the financial or marital situation. The early years are but few and pass very quickly – but, in those years, are the makings of that child’s future.
Put another way - on the one hand is apparent ‘total concern’ for children - but it is becoming the schools who have to be ‘all things to all children’. On the other is the relinquishing, by many, of the most important aspect of a child’s life – the building up of a secure and positive belief system within the individual. Being cared for with as much time as is needed (or possible) by one or other parent or other consistent loving individuals – through the childhood years but also through that most crucial time, the teenage years - is being relinquished. And this, at a time when grandparents and extended family members, who could give continuity of love and care, may live a long way away and contact is inevitably infrequent.
No wonder the children look on the TV, and in magazines for role models - the football players who drink, gamble, some visit prostitutes, and earn vast amounts of money; stick thin models wearing skimpy clothes which the teenagers feel obliged, nay forced, to copy; and ‘celebrities’ who go on reality programmes with revelations that often only show their shallow beliefs. Their way forward is into superficial delight but can end in deep sadness.
However, unless the ground rules and mutual respect between parents and children are established very young, any boundaries for teenagers seem like uncaring restrictions rather than caring concern. It is incongruous to ask a teenager to start understanding his/her parents’ beliefs or obeying instructions if the core values and belief in their own worth, respect for their parents and the importance of health are not infused at an early age by those parents by example. Only love and continuing care, respect and boundaries over the developing years instil these core beliefs. They cannot be ‘added or sewn on’ later. The psyche is not like a garment to have extra pockets sewn on or press studs added as/when necessary.
Our core beliefs come from our homes, our parent’s behaviour and their care of us. School teachers are very important, but parents are the ones whose task it is to instil a feeling of being loved and worthy – the keys to happiness. Money will never buy that. So many things can happen to make people unhappy and traumatised. Children need protection and safe boundaries for the years they are dependent. That includes the teenage years.
One phrase I hate to hear is ‘we are going to spend quality time with the children’ - the odd hour reserved for meaningful contact with the child. Better than nothing, but a pitiful indictment of much modern parenting.
Having children is not compulsory nor is a child a ‘social status’ symbol.
Once you have a child, it is your responsibility to care for and guide them to a healthy and happy adult life. Renege on this at any stage and their future, as well as your own, will suffer in one way or another. In parenting, as well as in other aspects of life - you reap what you sow.
A newspaper article told how some teenagers had been rampaging around drunk and fighting late in the evening and about 60 were picked up by the police. Many of the parents could not be contacted and of those who were, only a handful - under 5 - bothered to collect their children. Why?
How many teenagers are out there at this present time skating on proverbial ‘thin ice’ – frequently drinking to excess, taking drugs and having unprotected sex ?
Do parents feel they cannot put restrictions on their teenager’s behaviour? Or do very many not care?
Why do so many not enjoy doing activities with their teenagers in these years? Many activities cost little money, give great fun and togetherness.
Do you spend much time with your teenager? Do you know where he/she is? Do you know what he/she is doing and who he/she is with?
If not, then I suggest you should – for their sake, for yours and for society.
My poetry books, 'Poems for 3-7 years' and 'Growing Up' and 'Choice for teenagers' extol such values as kindness, caring, sharing, endeavour. Using rhyming and metaphorical verse each poem gives a 'none lecturing' message to the reader