Boundaries and Consequences: The Reason We Believe in Them and the Impact They are Having on Today’s Kids
(Part 1 of 2 blogs)
OK I know the title already has you frustrated with me! I understand I was once in your shoes, but all my time doing research and coaching adolescent’s means I cannot duck this sensitive topic even if I desire to….smile!
As parents we have relied upon boundaries and consequences to raise children for more than a hundred years centuries. As a result this thought process is deeply ingrained in us from birth. Given this, even the mention that boundaries and consequences may not work as intended, can lead to internal discomfort and push back. If you keep reading I believe you will be glad you took the time.
Boundaries and Consequences are based upon teaching our kids right from wrong by inflicting some cost or pain for bad behavior, attitudes or decisions. This in turn associates negative outcomes with poor conduct. The belief is that this results in our kids learning to behave well and make good decisions. This approach is so ingrained in is that the mere mention that there may be a different way can be met with strong mental resistance. The same strong resistance Deedee and I had when I began looking for answers into the growing distance and friction I was running into with my first child while leveraging boundaries and consequences routinely in our home.
As I dug into the source of the issues I saw in my daughter’s life, I interacted with thousands of kids. They forced me to consider deeper questions related to the effectiveness of the boundaries and consequences system we believed in strongly.
These unsettling questions included
- How do boundaries and consequences affect our kids?
- What are kids learning from boundaries and consequences?
As I talked with hundreds of kids, I have found that often they are not having the effect we desire. Here are some of the top responses I get from kids when I talk with them regarding the affect their parents boundaries and consequences has on them and their relationship with their parents.
- I fear being honest with my parents
- Consequences make me want to do the opposite
- I do not remember what I did to receive the consequence
- I am angry, hurt and furious regarding the unfairness of the situation
1) I fear being honest with my parents
Think back with me for a minute. When we were growing up how many of us feared being honest with our parents? Maybe you still do, even though you are now an adult. Why? Thoughts like; they will not listen, understand, will judge or be disappointed likely come to mind.
If we were still kids and feared our parents response and consequences we would likely add things to the list like, they’ll get mad, ground me, take away my screen time or worse still my phone. To this we may think good that will keep them on track. But does it?
AS I talk with kids across the country I find that the fear and frustration leads many kids to begin hiding small things from their parents around age 5, 6 or 7. When their parents discover these things they are in trouble and can be labeled as liars. Then as things get more serious as they get older the begin to hide more and more of their lives from their parents resulting in a large percentage of kids leading dual lives that they keep from their parents. When I talk with kids about their dual lives I always offer to go with them so they can be honest with their parents and begin to escape their dual lives that re taking them down negative paths. How many do you think take me up on it. Unless I am in a family coaching relationship with their parents they virtually always say no. Here are the common responses when I offer to go moderate the conversation with their parents:
“They will kill me”
“They will get angry and not listen”
“I do not want to hurt my parents.”
“I want to have a social life beyond tomorrow”
“They will take away my phone forever.”
“I will lose the car”
No matter how much I reassure them I cannot get them to go with me to be honest with their parents. Recently I received a call from a father who said my son has disappeared with the car and will not respond to my texts. He was convinced his son was out partying or doing drugs. He went on and on about how he took the car without permission this morning and how he came back after curfew the night before.
When I reached his son on his phone a totally different story spilled out. The day before he had been on a highway in LA in early afternoon. He was in the carpool lane with several friends in the car and came around a bend to find cars rapidly breaking in the carpool lane. As he hit the brakes he realized he would not stop in time so he changed lanes exiting the carpool lane and lightly bumped a car also diving for the other lane. The damage was minor but his fear given past interactions with his parents was through the roof. So he stayed out late that night until they were asleep went home and got up early the next morning something he never did and left with he car leading his dad to all they horrible conclusion about what he was up to. If I had not been working with this family as a coach I can only imagine the fireworks that would have ensued when he showed up at home and finally had to be honest about the car given how worked up his dad. the conclusions his dad had come to in his son’s absence were so negative that I do not think his son could have escaped those conclusions no matter what he said without my serving as an intermediary before they saw each other. Thankfully after talking with them both a couple of times they met and had a very productively conversation and their relationship began to grow given the learning that occurred on both sides.
While we believe fear of the consequences and our wrath will keep our kids from messing up I am finding it has the opposite effect motivating them to sneak around and hide things from their parents. This often leads to significant mistakes that they need help to process and learn from so they do not become trapped by the mistake Unfortunately their fear of their parents virtually forces them to cover it up and they are trapped.
2) Consequences make me want to do the opposite.
I hear this far to often. Given scientific evidence that has proven that the adolescent brain is oppositional in nature this comment should not surprise us. Kids when pushed, lectured, and punished are actually more likely to think about and or actually do the opposite of the pressure being exerted upon them. While we may believe our consequences are helping kids age 8 to 18 to make better decisions and to follow our rules and expectations I find from talking with them that it is actually having the opposite effect!
3) I do not remember what I did to receive the consequence
When coaching families I often have the opportunity to be involved in behavior or other conflict situations. What saddens me is the impact I see the traditional approach having upon far more homes than we might think.
Whether age 7 or age 17 I have similar conversations with parents and kids all the time. Parents are upset by their kid’s bad behavior and issue consequences. Kids get angry and fight back about the consequences. Parents see this as disrespect and push harder for better behavior and decisions and a downhill spiral has begun.
When I talk with kids of all ages after a fight where consequence are issued here is what I find.
1: The kid is hurt by the fight, does not feel heard, understood or loved.
2: The parent is hurt by the disrespect and does not feel listened to and believes there is something going on or wrong with their kid. (Often the fight was over the consequence not the behavior)
3: The kid is not reflecting upon what they did wrong. They frequently do not even remember what started the fight and what they did wrong. Instead they are focused on the fact that their phone was taken away and how unfair it is. “My parents yelled at me to and no one is taking their phone away”
4: The parents are fearful of losing their kid but believe the consequences are the only thing keeping their kid from going off the deep end even further
5: The kid hides in their room for fear of more negative interactions and resulting consequences. They also seek to be out of the house with friends all the time as a buffer and to feel better about themselves. This actually makes kids more vulnerable to poor decisions online as they hide in their rooms or in real life with their friends, as they are hurt, frustrated with and distant from their parents.
6: The parents believe they need to address the social media and hiding in their rooms with more pressure and or consequences. they also try to curb their kids social interactions often with fairly transparent excuses kids see through and push back against. Parents also begin to monitor the types of friends more closely leading to more flash points as kids feel not trusted resulting in more consequences.
7: The kids want nothing to do with their parents. The parents are hurt and thinking there is something wrong with their kid because they would have figured it out by now. As result, parents cling to the safety net of boundaries and consequences to keep their kids from going further off the deep end.
4) I am hurt and furious regarding the unfairness of the situation
Interacting with kids around boundaries and consequences I find that they are often hurt by the interactions with their parents around their behavior issues and the consequences they receive. It leaves them feeling bad about themselves and like they are not loved. This is the case with this generation of kids because they are community, authenticity and fairness minded much more than previous generations. This is the reason they focus on the inequity of how people are treated in the family and are troubled by and argue against the consequences they receive.
While we believe boundaries and consequences are teaching our kids and preventing them from making bad decisions and getting into trouble I have been forced to reconsider my long-held belief in this method of raising kids is effective.
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