Standing outside the box

I was chatting to my sister about disciplining teens and the old chestnut came up about giving them barriers to kick against. “Yes” my sister said, “but what if those barriers don’t work?”

It came to me that there are different types of barriers and then this analogy popped into my head. Imagine your teen in a cardboard box. Firstly, imagine that they are screwed up into a ball. They have no leg space to unravel themselves and they are struggling for air. It’s uncomfortable and oppressive and they can’t talk because their face is pushed downwards onto their chest, with their knees digging into it. They are getting hotter and more frustrated as they literally cannot move. It’s dark in there. Their parents are sitting on the box, preventing them from opening the flaps. 

Now imagine the scenario of the same teenager, but they are in a bigger box. There is room in there for them to stretch out their legs. They can breathe freely and when they want to talk to someone, they can open the flap. Their parents are standing just outside the box. When the teen stretches out their legs, their feet touch the sides. They feel secure in their box, as the cardboard walls make them feel safe. 

One thing I’ve learnt over the past few years, is how important it is to parent outside that big box, rather than sitting on it. Teenagers want to know you are there, but not too close. They need to feel trusted, but they also need to know what the parameters are. They need rules so that they can argue against them, whilst knowing you care and have certain expectations of them. In short, they need a box, but they need space in that box to move. If we don’t give our teens space to explore, to make mistakes then they will never learn what to do when they fuck up. If we are always on them, rescuing them when they fail, they will never learn resilience. If we don’t give them the space to be able to kick the sides of the box, they will most probably eventually explode out of it, catapulting us far away and abusing their new found freedom, because, like a kid in a toy shop, they want all the toys they were never allowed. 

So back to my sister’s point: what if those barriers don’t work? Well, if the big box isn’t strong enough, and this could be for a multitude of reasons: poor friendships, incident-induced anxiety, perhaps some nature and a little nurture, then we will watch them fuck up. That’s ok. We did and we survived. But we will be there, standing right outside that box, to help them get back on track. 

6 thoughts on “Standing outside the box”

  1. What a great analogy Alison. We shall start saving our boxes forthwith! Interesting as I’ve had a couple of similar conversations this weeks with friends with older teens. It’s getting that balance right, more of a hovering and an open channel of communication and knowing when to back off seeming to be the way. It’s a whole new type of parenting again. We will all be ready for anything when our work here is done. Thanks for coming back to #TweensTeensBeyond. Nicky

    1. It really is a ‘whole new type of parenting’ and letting go and giving space is terrifying! However, it’s essential. Deep breaths…!

  2. Based on the number of “fuck ups” my eldest teen in particular has made I am guessing his box is big enough but maybe I need to reduce it in size a bit, just to remind him that whilst I will always be there I am in still in charge. Tough love sometimes is the only way forward. Great analogy – love it. #TweensTeensBeyond

    1. You make a really interesting point: when the barriers aren’t working, do we just make that box smaller? I guess it depends a little on the nature of the fuck-ups.

  3. This is very true but something that does not come naturally to me! I want to be inside the box! I am, however, learning to control myself. I am also learning to resist turning every mistake into a life lesson. Now, there’s something that doesn’t go down very well at all! Thanks so much for linking up with us at #TweensTeensBeyond again this week.

    1. Every mistake IS a life lesson though…isn’t it?! Mind you, we can preach away, but all they’ll hear is, “bla, bla, bla…”!

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