It always fascinates me to observe family dynamics, especially as young children transform into teenagers and ultimately young adults. The natural tendency of a teenager to desire freedom and a greater sense of responsibility, conflicts with his or her equal enjoyment of the comforts offered by the protection and provision of parents. In a similar way, a school reflects this same natural tension as we watch and encourage adolescents to shed their child-like ways and comfort in a safe, familiar environment, whilst simultaneously allowing them to take on greater responsibilities, guided by nurturing adults.
Ultimately this tension can result in conflict, which we need to accept is a natural process. In order to facilitate this development with minimal fallout, it is essential to understand and define boundaries. According to Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend, co-authors of the book Boundaries, “Boundaries define us. They define what is me and what is not me. A boundary shows me where I end and someone else begins, leading me to a sense of ownership.” They go on to state that when parents greet their children’s disagreement – disobedience with simple hostility – the children are denied the benefit of being trained. They don’t learn that delaying gratification and being responsible have benefits. They only learn how to avoid someone’s wrath.
Teenagers (and younger children) not only need boundaries, but thrive in environments in which they have increasing levels of freedom and responsibility within clearly defined parameters. The rules (regarding homework, cellphone time or etiquette, tidiness of bedrooms, etc.) need to be negotiated with certain compromises on both sides regarding non-essential rules (such as lights out times), but not regarding the non-negotiables (such as use of drugs or those which violate family values). This negotiation must be conducted calmly, yet firmly, as an aggressive or demeaning approach will result in a teenager reacting with resentment or anger.
Once boundaries have been defined, it is equally important to enforce these regularly. Without follow-up, they will be easily forgotten. Pastor Andy Stanley emphasizes the importance of teaching his children responsibility in his DVD’s on Responsibility. He points out that a child who neglects responsibility is actually demanding that someone else (usually a parent) picks up the chores, such as tidying a room or feeding the pets.
Similarly, as adults we need to clearly understand our individual responsibilities and boundaries in order to avoid stress in our relationships and work environments. Stress results from a lack or violation of boundaries. Some people are too compliant, and cannot say no. Others are aggressive, manipulative or controlling, and don’t respect the boundaries of others. According to motivational speaker, Tony Gaskins, “you teach people how to treat you by what you allow, what you stop, and what you reinforce.” If we cannot get this right as adults, we don’t set a good example for our children.
So it is clear, then, that people who do not set and respect clear boundaries create stress for themselves, or those around them. A clear understanding of what is and is not our responsibility, and what we can and cannot change, allows us to be careful and selective in choosing how we deal with others, which ultimately reduces conflict and the resulting stress. According to The Guardian May newsletter, controlled age appropriate stress is definitely a positive as it teaches problem solving techniques to deal with that stress (www.theguardian.co.za). If as an adult you do too much for your child in order to protect her, you rob her of the opportunity to develop into a healthy, responsible adult. This is like doing yourchild’s homework for her – ultimately she will not learn from this. Painful as it may appear, we need to love and trust our children enough to allow them to make mistakes and feel pain while still in our care, rather than when they encounter the real world.
I therefore encourage you to engage in regular meaningful discussions with your families during the winter break, and agree on responsibilities and boundaries for each family member, and ways in which to adhere to these, and then to sit back and enjoy the benefits.
- I would like to thank the following staff for their contributions to St John’s as they leave us:
- Mr Kyle Nipper, sports coach and administrator, who leaves us to take up a full time contract with Inland Cricket. We will miss his expertise and pleasant, calm nature.
- Mr Brent Dodd, locum Visual Arts teacher, who impacted tremendously on the girls and shared his flair, talent and warmth with the school.
Rev. Diane Pickford is on Long Leave next term and we wish her a wonderful, relaxing time and safe travels.
I would also like to wish our driver, Nkanyiso Mbonambi, all the best as he gets married on Sunday.
Our condolences go to the family of Mduduzi Ndlovu, one of our estates staff, who passed away last week after a very short illness.
Prof. Volker Wedekind, as Chairman of the Board, will communicate further regarding the progress of the Strategic planning and the processes being put in place. I look forward to working with the Board in implementing the initiatives outlined.
Thank you to all staff and girls for contributing so much towards another successful term filled with hard work, sport, musical and other cultural performances, including the School Production.
We all look forward to a well-deserved rest with families as we hopefully enjoy the winter sunshine in between the cold nights.