I feel like the way people talk about boundaries is the same way they talk about structure: as if both are these external things that are very important in creating "Disciplined," "Educated," and otherwise useful (aka "Productive") human beings. Things that the good and responsible adults (parents, teachers, etc.) are supposed to construct and enforce.
But, the same way that structure, when it comes to unschooling, is a mix of the natural rhythms found in the home and community and whatever the unschooler themselves chooses to consciously build in their life, I think boundaries are often similar. There are boundaries, both natural and constructed, in all aspects of life. I feel like everything from physical space limitations and physical abilities to laws, rules, and money could all be considered "boundaries" of a sort. Many of these boundaries should be challenged and pushed, in my opinion, but currently they all do exist, to some extent, for everyone.
Yet when I most often see and hear people talking about boundaries, it's very specifically the rules parents construct and enforce on their children. It's most often in the context of "I can really tell your parents never properly enforced any boundaries for you!" Once, on the aforementioned Offbeat Mama publishing of my rebellion article, someone even said that "Kids need, and deep down WANT, limits and boundaries," which is one of those things that, when writing about it, I need to first take a deep breath before I can go on to calmly discuss and dispute it, since my first instinct is just to say "fuck you," which isn't very helpful. But the incredible superiority and condescension contained in such statements takes my breath away, and brings home to me in a very profound way how terribly teenagers are looked at and treated in this culture.
Every pro-enforced-boundaries discussion comes back to the idea that teens are not full and complete human beings capable of making their own decisions and living their own lives. They're irresponsible, "unfinished," untrustworthy, and otherwise faulty. I have very little patience for the condescension, rigid attemtps at control, and outright disgust and mockery that teens regularly have to deal with, because ultimately, all of this is sending some very harmful messages: there's something wrong with you. You're not good enough. Because of your age, you don't deserve to be treated well and fairly.
There are plenty of rationalizations made for the treatment teens receive, of course. From the scientific there's-something-wrong-with-their-brains (instead of celebrating the difference as just another stage of life), to "they secretly like being controlled", also known as control as a sign of love. There was recently a discussion on Facebook about teens and access to the internet, with much discussion by some parents in the thread about spying on their children (literally going into their email and Facebook accounts, and looking at their web history), and informing their children they were spying because they love them. Now, I can respect that those parents really do love their children, and that their actions are driven by fear which is driven by love, but I don't think these parents realize just how differently their teens most likely see things. What I posted on that thread was:
Snooping on a teen's internet activities is every bit as bad as reading their diary, as far as I'm concerned. Both are WRONG and a major violation of trust. It's horrifying for me to even think of the betrayal I would have felt had my parents hacked into any of my online accounts, checked history on my computer, or anything else. Good relationships and open communication are what's needed to help keep teens safe, NOT creepy things like reading their email (and Facebook messages, etc.)!The idea that control shows love makes sense if you're used to there only being two options when it comes to parenting teens: pay lots of attention to your kids by placing lots of rules and restrictions on them, or ignore them entirely and neglect their needs. But once you realize that there are more options than that, you can see that control as love is far from the best way things can be. And in a very personal way, if control equaled teens feeling loved, and a lack of control equaled teens feeling unloved, I, and all my unschooling friends whose parents didn't/don't parent in a controlling and authoritarian way, should feel resentful and unloved. Which is very, very far from the case, as most of the unschoolers I know have really wonderful relationships with their parents. If you have a relationship that includes good communication, which is pretty essential for good relationships of any sort, then the love will be obvious. The idea that control equals love is really just a botched version of attention equals love, and parents can be and are attentive, caring, and loving without being controlling.
People seem to envision a state of utter chaos if teens are allowed freedom in the choices they make and the lives they lead, and while I find that an unlikely outcome to say the least, I do think there's some kernel of truth to the fear. Teens are more likely to be risk-takers. Teens are change-makers. And I imagine an entire population of trusted, respected, empowered teenagers participating actively in the communities around them would really shake things up. There's a lot of adults who really wouldn't like that! But I think it would do the world a great deal of good to embrace the strengths and unique viewpoint that teens bring to the table. Teenagers are important. And their voices and experiences need to be acknowledged as such.
What are or were your experiences, as a teen or as the parent of a teen, with discussions around "boundaries," control, privacy, and similar things? How did the way your parents parented effect you, and what things do you consider positive or negative about the decisions they made? Leave a comment and join the discussion!