Set healthy boundaries without compromising freedom

Written by Monica Swanson
Published on August 09, 2021

​​​​Okay, now I get to talk about something that I love to talk about. Anytime I talk about raising boys, and it’s as relevant today as ever, it has two parts to it. You’ll see why I want to talk about how our sons need boundaries and freedoms. 

Now we got to talk about boundaries first. So I’ll start there. Our sons need boundaries, they need limits, they need to hear the word “no.” 

And while this may seem like the most obvious thing, the truth is, especially in everything we’re going through, a lot of parents are having trouble setting limits. Maybe we’re feeling a little sorry for our kids and all that they’re missing out on. But it’s hard for a lot of parents to set limits and to say no to their kids. 

We want to be our kids’ friends—we want them to like us. We don’t want that day to come where they push us away. But here’s something I’ve learned along the way. The truth is, our kids like limits. Kids appreciate boundaries, whether they’re toddlers or teenagers. They actually appreciate boundaries. 

Again, they’re getting their cues from us. And when we can show them that we know what’s okay and what is absolutely not okay, it makes them feel more secure. They’re still figuring things out. They don’t know what’s okay. So when we do that gives them a sense of security. 

There’s something I talked about in Boy Mom—I call it the unexpected power of No. And this is just referring to times where your son might come to you and ask your permission, maybe to go to a party or stay over at a friend’s or see a certain movie. 

And deep down he may not feel ready. And so when you say no, it actually is a relief to him. Now, he may not tell you at the time, but someday he will, I promise you. But I encourage you, mom and dad, as much as you can be on the same page and decide what is okay and what is not okay. 

And this applies to all of the influences in your kids’ lives, their friendships, what they do online, how they spend their time. I encourage you to not be afraid to say no, say no with a smile and all the love in your heart. But don’t be afraid to say no.

Now the fun flip side to that is that boys need freedoms, they need adventures, they need healthy adventures. Boys need to play hard. They need to be challenged. They need to climb a mountain or at least a big hill. They need to fall down and skin their knees and get up and do it again. They need to face their fears and find courage to keep going. 

John Eldridge, in his best selling book “Wild at Heart,” says this adventure with all its requisite danger and wildness is a deeply spiritual longing written into the soul of man. 

Well, I’ve seen this played out in my boys from the time they were really young. In fact, I remember a time when my first three sons were young, and I decided to take them on a hike. It was probably foolish, because I went in that afternoon to a place I’d never been before. Well, we were probably three miles in when all of a sudden I started to realize I wasn’t sure where I was. 

I thought I might have gotten off our trail. And I started to worry as I saw the sun beginning to set. Well, I gathered my sons and prayed and said we need some help finding our way back to the car because mommy’s feeling a little lost right now. 

This was before we had GPS on our phones, of course. Well, while I prayed and asked God for help, I started to hear some chatter among my boys as they were getting excited planning how they would survive in the forest overnight. 

Well, just a moment later, a couple of hikers came by and they enlightened me on the fact that we were just maybe a quarter mile from the parking lot. I stopped and thanked God, and then I looked over to see my boys all fighting back tears because they were so disappointed that they wouldn’t be surviving in the forest overnight. 

There is no doubt boys love an adventure. They love a thrill. But here’s something important to note. And science backs this up. The more healthy adventures and thrills you can give your son, the less likely he is to go looking for them in unhealthy places. I want to say that again, the more healthy adventures you can give your son, the less likely he is to go looking for them in unhealthy places. 

When you think of most of the trouble teenagers get into, things like drug and alcohol use, pornography, gaming, addiction, sexual promiscuity. What do these all have in common? They’re always boys looking for a thrill—that’s their God given bent is to find a thrill and an adventure. 

So moms and dads give them as many adventures as you can. And sometimes it’s not going to be easy for you to find. Of course, my favorite kinds are the outdoor fresh air kind. But if you’re stuck inside, there’s plenty of hard things you can give those boys to do. 

A good book can take them to a distant land and let them live out an adventure. You can give them a great Lego set or a project to build. You can put them under the hood of the car. 

But there’s plenty of ways to give boys healthy adventures. So yes, we do need to set limits for our kids. But within those limits, we need to give our boys healthy freedoms and adventures. Let them stretch their wings and let them try hard things, and I think you’ll be glad you do.


Looking for other resources on healthy boundaries?

Helping your son navigate the digital age

Podcast: Boundaries that Free Kids to Grow with Valarie Kaur

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Monica Swanson

Monica and her husband Dave raise boys and tropical fruit on the North Shore of Oahu.  Monica has homeschooled their four sons (two who are currently in college in Southern California.)  Monica is the author of Boy Mom: What Your Son Needs Most from You, and host of the Boy Mom Podcast. Monica has been blogging for over 10 years and has encouraged over 10 million visitors to her website with articles on parenting and family, healthy living, and (mostly) healthy recipes. The Swanson boys are all surfers, (Luke, who is 17,  surfs professionally) which keeps Monica on her knees. Monica loves good coffee, running trails with her husband and dog, Thor, the Word of God, and connecting with women all over the world through the crazy gift of the internet. 

Read more about Monica

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