Setting boundaries helps teens form good habits

info@islandpacket.comMarch 26, 2012 

The birds are singing, the flowers are blooming, and the snow is melting from the ground (well, maybe not so much in the Lowcountry, but spring is certainly here). This means extra hours of daylight, spring break, proms, summer camps and college.

I don't know if it's the extra hours of daylight or the sight of kids in caps and gowns, but it seems that as the days get longer parents are supervising their teens less. When I hear what happens during these lulls in the afternoons and evenings, I lament because much of the risk-taking behavior that occurs is preventable. Not necessarily pleasant to enforce, but preventable.

While rules are no fun, my friends and I recently reflected on the rules that helped us get through our high school and college years relatively unscathed. What seemed prudish and old-fashioned when we were teenagers, we now recognize as important boundaries.

Many of the rules people remembered were about dating. I was surprised to learn how many well-adjusted, happily married friends were not allowed to date at all in high school. Others recounted that they were only allowed to go out in groups. Another friend shared that it was a house rule that any boy who took her to a dance had to have dinner with her whole family first.

Typical house rules included things like not having members of the opposite sex in bedrooms and not having friends over if adults were not present. Many also recalled not being allowed to watch certain programs on television. This was a tremendous relief to me, because I promise you that in 1995 I swore I was the only kid in the world not allowed to watch "The Simpsons."

Other rules included proper attire: no short skirts, no spaghetti straps and, my personal favorite, shared by my friend Ann Marie, "No high-heeled shoes until you can walk like a lady in them. No one wants to see a parade of newborn giraffes at Confirmation."

A parental policy I always appreciated was, "Call us if you need us. We'll come get you -- no matter how late it is -- and we promise not to ask questions." They also explained how to make a collect call (a skill that I think should still be taught, because you never know when your cell phone battery will fail) and gave us a "code word" to use if we needed to be picked up but didn't want to look dumb.

I share this not as a crusade for stricter rules for the youth of the Lowcountry, but to affirm all you parents wondering if you're the only ones setting high standards for children who, in the midst of their teen years, may be less than grateful. Reflecting with friends, we realized that the very rules we thought were ruining our lives allowed for good choices and habits to form, before we completely understood what it meant to be an adult.

Columnist Alison Griswold is the director of youth ministry at St. Francis By the Sea Catholic Church. Follow her at twitter.com/alisongriz. Read her blog at www.teamcatholic.blogspot.com.

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