Tuesday, March 20 , 2018, 11:02 am | Overcast 60º


Tim Durnin: Know Where Your Kids Are and Who They’re With

These two key boundaries will serve children well for a lifetime

Several years ago I was sitting in my office with a student and her mother. She was a nice kid, perhaps a little edgy. We were there to discuss the student’s progress, which had been waning over the last several months. At one point the mother was explaining why she thought her daughter was having difficulty and described some innocuous distraction at home.

Without hesitation, the daughter turned to her mother and said in a voice much too angry for a child speaking to a parent, “Will you just shut up, Mom?” The mother leaned back and sighed. I quietly said, “It is not OK for you to speak to your mother that way in this office.” For the rest of the meeting the daughter was in control.

My point is, it’s easy to know who is in charge in almost any family dynamic. In the course of my 20 years in education, a tremendous shift occurred. The kids are running the playground and most parents sit on the benches watching with a look of stunned disbelief and sadness. Parenting isn’t at all what they had expected.

In an effort to maintain a sense of peace and sanity, boundaries are abandoned and, in my opinion, the child is lost for all practical purposes. Boundaries are a good thing. They take time and discipline and are often painful to maintain. But take it from this educator: It is the lazy and absent parents who relinquish control and let the child define the rules of the relationship.

I believe there are two key boundaries that will serve a child for a lifetime.

Know Where Your Kids Are

With the exception of a few anxious moments in a grocery store when one of them slipped away, we have always known exactly where our children are. They are not free to wander the neighborhood, and we do not drop them off at the mall or beach to roam on their own. We do not let them go to a friend’s house unless we know the parents well and know they share our values. They do not spend the night.

This is perhaps our most painful and controversial rule: No sleepovers or slumber parties. I will admit that this particular rule has been one of contention between my wife and me. My wife is skilled at imagining the worst possible scenario for any given situation, and this has certainly played a role in her adamancy in this regard. I have unsuccessfully argued for sleepovers for the past five years.

Ultimately, I know it may be a bit over the top, but I yield to her authority in this matter.

This brings me to the second element, a corollary to the first really.

Your Children’s Friends Matter — As a Parent, Choose Them Wisely

At some point your ability to choose your children’s friends will wane, but it certainly shouldn’t until they are well into high school. We have very strict rules with regard to our children’s friends with whom they spend time outside of school.

Most of their friends come from their activities and involvements. They hang out with a lot of soccer players and ballerinas. They also have quite a few friends from our church. That’s a good place to start, but observation is the key. It is critical to observe the interaction of your children with their friends. It is there that potential bullies will emerge as well as mentors — kids you want your children to emulate.

Good parents can change the direction of their own potential bully as well as steer their children away from those kids who bully. But the greatest gift of sustained observation is that it gives the parent the ability to coach their child in the nuances of appropriate social engagement — a skill severely lacking in many children today.

Our rules are simple and straightforward: No bullies, no profanity, no dishonesty or deceptiveness, no disrespect directed at an adult and finally, parents we know and trust — no exceptions.

Parenting isn’t easy, but when it’s working there isn’t anything in the world I would rather be doing.

— Tim Durnin is a father and husband. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) for comments, discussion, criticism, suggestions and story ideas.

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