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Boundaries for Teens

May 9, 2009 | by Emuna Braverman

Disagree with principal? Don't undermine your child's respect for authority.

A school superintendent in Argyle, Texas wants to ban provocative dancing from school-sponsored events. And while many parents are supportive, a large contingent of them is up in arms. Be forewarned. This is not your mother's provocative dancing. Descriptions of this type of movement are unsuitable for a family-friendly publication.

So why would parents complain about the ban? Shouldn't they be happy that the school has some standards, and that the school is fighting their battles for them? (I usually think it's a win-win situation when the school says no so I don't have to be the bad guy!)

While I certainly believe that we should think carefully about where and when to take a stand with our teenagers, we do need to take one. These parents, who no doubt mean well and are proud to be sticking up for their children's rights, are actually harming them. Here are two (of the many) reasons why.

1. Destroying the authority of the school administration -- teachers, principals, superintendents -- has the unfortunate side effect of destroying all respect for authority. We should think carefully about where to enroll our children in school because, like it or not, these will be our children's authority figures. If our young ones and our teens learn (through our example) that they are not obligated to obey and respect their teachers, the lesson will not be limited to that particular, possibly inept or ill-advised, individual. It will be extrapolated and generalized. It will affect their ability to respect us, to respect future professors and employers, and ultimately to respect the Almighty.

We are not our children's friends. We are their role models.

Our children need tools for coping with and continuing to show respect to difficult teachers, frustrating employers and ‘arbitrary' rules. This is a much better and more crucial life lesson than encouraging protesting every unlooked for restriction. It may be briefly exciting but it's ultimately unproductive. We impede our children's character development and since the ultimate authority figure is God, we damage that relationship as well.

2. Children of all ages need boundaries. While obviously these boundaries need to be age-appropriate and change with the maturity level of the children, there is still a need for structure. There is always a need for standards and principles.

In the sixties, there were many parents who thought it was "cool" to smoke pot with their kids. Talk to their kids today and you will hear not only how humiliated they were (maybe we can discount that since all adolescents are embarrassed by their parents, whatever they do!), but how confusing it was. Talk to rowdy, partying teenagers and they'll tell you how upsetting it is for them to see their parents or teachers drunk (Purim revelers take note!). They want their parents to provide stability. They want their parents to set standards. They want their parents to provide a secure place to return to when they come home.

We are not our children's friends. We are their role models. Not all protests are equally noble (or ennobling) and righteous. Sometimes a parent's job is to say no. Frequently if we don't set the boundaries, no one will.

I think the parents in Argyle should be grateful they have a school superintendent who cares, who dares to risk offense in order to set some ground rules, in order to actually help these teenagers. He's trying to teach these kids to behave with a little more dignity, a little more respect -- for themselves and for each other. Just a little more like a soul than a body. I would think he deserves the parents' applause and gratitude. I'm confident that if he is successful, when those teens grow up and become parents themselves, they will thank him.

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