Setting Boundaries

Earlier this school year, our eleven year old would come home every day and tell us he had so much school work to do. He’d eat a snack, do his chores and settle in with his lab top, notebook and pen. He’d work for hours, unless his self-assigned homework was cut short by sports practice or other family events. As I prepped dinner, I had come to expect the cheery “ping” in the background as he practiced and mastered math problems on Khan Academy, followed by an enthusiastic, “YES!” when he got a problem right. Often, I’d see him collaborating with peers via Google Chat or Video, reviewing each other’s work or working on challenges together. From my vantage point, he was definitely taking responsibility for his education.

At first I was impressed- my middle schooler is choosing to learn and do school work with zero prompting from me? Isn’t this every parent’s dream? Until one day, I realized we had a problem. His school work was cutting into our family time. Walks with the dog, family dinners, and leisure and play time with friends and neighbors were met with resistance or outbursts of overwhelm. Day to day, our family schedule was not reflecting our values of rest, fun, and connection and our son’s life seemed significantly out of balance. It was time to redraw the boundaries so we were making time for the things that were really important to us as a family.

So I set a limit on “home” work. He could do no more than one hour of work and all devices were powered down by 8:00pm. When I heard “but I won’t be able to get everything done!”, I was prepared.

“Hmm, tell me about that. Tell me about your school day and how you’re using your time,” I said.

We sat down and looked at Journey Tracker together. He walked me through his day. We clicked on the challenges, looking at the requirements and expectations together. We explored how much time different things were taking and after we did this, his panic subsided, and he said, “I guess I do have enough time to complete my work at school. I just need to use it better.”

After that, things changed. Knowing that he had a limit on the amount of time he could work at home, he started using his time more efficiently at school. Some things got done and some things did not. This is still the case. But he knows what the boundaries are and can make his choices inside those parameters.

In many ways, our son is stumbling his way towards prioritizing the things most important to him- not unlike the way many of us do as adults. There’s always more to do. There are a million different ways to fill a day. But how to fill it in a way that reflects your values? It’s a process and we’re learning together.

From my perspective, I see him learning all of the things I want him to- learning to learn, learning to do, learning to be and learning to live together.

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