The build­ing blocks of bound­aries

And why you’ll need a Q-TIP

Richmond Hill Post - - KIDS - JOANNE KATES Par­ent­ing colum­nist Joanne Kates is an ex­pert ed­u­ca­tor in the ar­eas of con­flict me­di­a­tion, self-es­teem and anti-bul­ly­ing, and she is the di­rec­tor of Camp Arowhon in Al­go­nquin Park.

When we think of say­ing no to kids, our minds most of­ten turn to the ter­ri­ble twos and how we, as par­ents, strug­gled to nav­i­gate those rock-strewn waters. I re­mem­ber my then two-year-old, 29 years ago, ig­nor­ing me when I said it was time to leave the toys­trewn wait­ing room at our GP’s of­fice.

These are the mem­o­ries that sur­face. Not the teen ones. There’s a rea­son for that. As tough as it was to par­ent tod­dlers, it was rel­a­tively sim­ple. We’re still sleep-de­prived, they’ve just dis­cov­ered the word NO, and our job is to fig­ure out how to get them to do stuff they don’t want to do. With­out hav­ing a tantrum. Us or them.

It sounds hard. And it was. But the ter­ri­ble twos are easy street com­pared to the storms of ado­les­cence — for one sim­ple rea­son: Power. It all turns on power. Tod­dlers need us for lit­er­ally ev­ery­thing in their lives. And they pretty much know it. Thus nat­u­ral con­se­quences work re­ally well to mo­ti­vate them to do what we want. Ex­am­ple: I turned in a panic to the work of Ru­dolf Dreikurs re tod­dler in­tran­si­gence ( Chil­dren: The Chal­lenge, A New Ap­proach to Dis­ci­pline: Log­i­cal Con­se­quences and The Par­ent’s Hand­book — in­spired by Dreikurs, writ­ten by Don C. Dinkmeyer). It be­came easy to deal with re­fusals like get­ting mov­ing from the fun doc­tor’s of­fice (and other cool places): “Oh, you don’t want to come? That’s OK, but I’m go­ing. Bye.” And of course they come run­ning along promptly, be­cause the tod­dler knows they can’t get home (or in­deed any­where else) with­out us. Not so for the teenager. Which is the first rea­son why set­ting bound­aries with teens is so chal­leng­ing. They don’t need us for much. Nice that we pay the mort­gage and pro­vide meals and drive them around, but they don’t see life that way.

Teens are hard-wired to dif­fer­en­ti­ate from their par­ents and to be­lieve in their in­de­pen­dence, how­ever il­lu­sory. They like to think they don’t need us, and that we have no power over them.

This de­light­ful (to them) il­lu­sion causes them to push back hard against the bound­aries we set.

And then we shoot our­selves in the foot by buy­ing into their agenda when they push back. This is where our emo­tional com­pli­ca­tions muddy the waters of par­ent­ing. When teens en­act their in-built de­vel­op­men­tal man­date of dif­fer­en­ti­at­ing and sep­a­rat­ing from us, it hurts. We can’t help but feel re­jected when they take dis­tance. Es­pe­cially be­cause they don’t usu­ally do it very nicely.

So we feel sad. We want them back. They’re pro­grammed to sep­a­rate, but we’re not. We’re ha­bit­u­ated by 15 years of par­ent­ing to keep them close.

What hap­pens when we set a limit? They push back. They (both overtly and covertly) threaten to re­ject us more. We want them back. This is the first rea­son why we go soft on the bound­aries. We feel sad. We feel re­jected. We want them to like us. We cave. The sec­ond rea­son is our fears

for them. When they use emo­tional black­mail to push back, we get scared. What if my kid re­ally is the only one not al­lowed to go to the party? What if my daugh­ter suf­fers (more) on the cut­throat girl so­cial lad­der? And our re­solve weak­ens.

To these two sources of flabby bound­aries, at camp we say: Get a Q-TIP. Quit Tak­ing It Per­son­ally. That’s what I teach the coun­sel­lors of ado­les­cents at camp.

When you set bound­aries, teens will get hos­tile and hurt your feel­ings. This is a given. Don’t give in, be­cause when you do that, they feel un­safe. Teens need walls to push against just like blind peo­ple need to feel the walls of a room to know where they are in space. Same for teens.

Push­ing against bound­aries makes them both sullen and safe. Teens with­out firm bound­aries floun­der. We’ve all seen this. So get a Q-TIP.

Kates’ son Max and his dog Swift

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