Do good kids still need rules and boundaries? I know the first thing you’re probably thinking: What qualifies as a “good” kid? Well, I can only tell you how I define “good” when it comes to my daughter. I literally just look at her track record. How often has she lied, or more accurately, how often have I caught her in a lie? Does she get into trouble at school? How does she behave when she’s around her friends? And have I caught her doing something she knows she shouldn’t be doing?
Other than a couple of lies which she ‘fessed up to after some probing, I can say that my daughter has been “good” judging by my standards. She just turned 14 last month, so I expect the sky to start falling any day now. But I’d say so far, so good.
And you’d think that I’d be grateful for that, for having a well-behaved child. And trust me, I definitely am. But I’ve still had to figure out ways to gauge her behavior. Here’s the thing: Kids can’t break rules if you don’t set any. So how would I really know how well-behaved my child really is unless I give her boundaries and see how far she takes it?
So even though my daughter has been incredible, I always have, and still do, set parameters. Actually, they’re more like expectations. Literally, a way for me to qualify whether or not she has truly been good.
For example, time constraints. Last summer when she turned 13, I let her go to Wonderland by herself with just her friends (Wonderland is a big theme park just outside of Toronto). At first, I was super paranoid. I waited in line with her the entire time before finally watching her walk into the abyss of people entering the park.
But making this decision to let her go unsupervised came with some restrictions. The most serious of which was that she must meet me outside at 7 p.m. And she has a cell phone, which means she would know the time. So once 7 o’clock came, I expected to see her walking towards my car.
The first time went well, and I was patting myself on my back for my sound parental judgment (feel free to roll your eyes here). But the second time around, she had me waiting in the parking lot for 30 minutes. No text message, no phone call warning she’d be late. Just left me out there.
When she finally came out, I took a few breaths. I didn’t want to say much in front of her friends because I’m not down for embarrassing my kid. But once I dropped them all off, I told her she had lost a privilege. And I didn’t take away her going to Wonderland by herself. I’d already committed to that. But it turned out that one of her friends was having a party the next week that she had been dying to go to.
Guess who didn’t leave her room that entire day? Yup.
She hated me for a few days that week. She also tried crying, tried telling me how just how much she hated me, and she even tried negotiating. But I was firm. You break the boundaries, there will be consequences. And the consequences would be hard to swallow.
Looking back, it would’ve been easy to dismiss my daughter’s lateness. She actually had a pretty good excuse. But that wasn’t the point. Because she isn’t a troublemaker, I have limited opportunities to exercise any discipline. So when those opportunities do present themselves, I feel like I need to go overboard with the punishment so the message is loud and clear.
And it’s worked. I think — because to be honest, what do we parents really know? We try things, our kids react, and we can only hope we’ve made the right decision. Either way, I always think it’s best to express to my daughter what I expect from her. And at the end of the day, she gets to decide if she can handle those expectations. My hope is that when she’s mature enough, she will set her own expectations. And somewhere within her personal boundaries, my former words will find a place.
This post originally appeared on Fatherly.