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Articles by Mark Merrill


Mark Merrill

Mark Merrill is the founder and president of Family First, a widely respected national non-profit organization dedicated to strengthening the family. read bio

How to Create Boundaries for your Children

By Mark W. Merrill

Mom or buddy?   You’ve seen it…a mom dressed like her teenage daughter, another mom who offers her son a beer while he watches the game, mothers who can’t bear their child not liking them… so they say yes when they should say no.  But when mom becomes a buddy, the child loses out on a more important relationship… that of mom and child.

Can you imagine a basketball, football, soccer, volleyball, or baseball game without boundaries?  It would be pure chaos, wouldn’t it?  But it would probably be fun to watch as a spectator for a little while! Some parents think boundaries just happen. In reality, you have to spend a lot of time to be intentional about drawing healthy boundaries for your children.

Why Children Need Boundaries

Think of it this way, when our children are toddlers, the boundaries might be small, like in the game of four-square.  As a parent, you pretty much should decide what they will eat, when they will eat, when they will go to the bathroom, when they will bathe, where they will go and with whom they will play.  As they climb into the elementary years, those boundaries might expand to the size of a volleyball court.  You give your child the choice of the pink shirt or the yellow shirt, to watch a cartoon or a family movie, to play with Jimmy or David.  You even allow your child to choose to read from a selection of books you’ve approved.

Expanding the Boundaries

If your kids have done a good job staying in bounds, they get a bigger playing field. As a result, when they enter the tweens, the boundaries should grow even more, like those on a football field, where they have more room to run and start tackling more decisions. Because you’ve taught them boundaries growing up, they should be more inclined to follow them.  As a result, they earn the privileges of making more choices for themselves, but you still have the whistle to call a foul if her blouse is cut too low, if his pants are hanging way down, if the music is off base or if the movie rating is unacceptable.

Boundaries in the Teenager Years

Now comes the soccer field during the teen years, where the boundaries are much larger.  On this field, there is more room to roam and run.  Still, they can only go so far. On this field, if your child has been good about staying in bounds, he earns more privileges.  At the right age, things can happen like getting a cell phone, laptop, Facebook, a car, or even starting a healthy relationship with a young man or young woman.

Having said all that, remember that boundaries shouldn’t expand based on a child’s veteran status; how old they are. Boundaries should expand based on maturity, responsibility and a child’s track record of playing by the rules.  In our home, not all our children got their driver’s license at 16; not all of our children got to watch the same movies at the same time, and not all got a cell phone or on Facebook at the same age.


Related Resource: 5 Ways to Show Your Kids You Love and Validate Them


Pillow Talk: End your day talking with your child.

What do you think children need most of all from their moms?



©2011, Mark Merrill. All rights reserved. Originally published at

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