FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Building Boundaries

with Glenn Williams | October 27, 2010
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A fence keeps your kids safe while they play outdoors. Author Glenn Williams tells how appropriate boundaries help keep your kids safe by steering them toward better choices.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • A fence keeps your kids safe while they play outdoors. Author Glenn Williams tells how appropriate boundaries help keep your kids safe by steering them toward better choices.

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

A fence keeps your kids safe while they play outdoors.

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Building Boundaries

With Glenn Williams
October 27, 2010
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Bob:  Drugs and alcohol are a part of the adolescent culture, which is not to say that your son or daughter is using but they may be. As a parent should you snoop in their room?  Here’s counsel from Glenn Williams.

Glenn:  I would have a reason to snoop first.  For example if there are indicators or signs and symptoms that I have seen maybe my son is getting more moody, maybe it’s become apparent that his grades at school are dropping, maybe behaviorally he is getting more aggressive at home, maybe more withdrawn, maybe he is getting late night phone calls.  Money has gone missing in the house.  There are other things that are indicating that there is a bit of an issue here.

Right now if my child is at risk, if my child’s life is at risk and he is going on a path that I know is destructive you know what?  I have got every right to intervene.

Bob:  This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, October 27th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey.  And I'm Bob Lepine.  We are going to talk today about what you do as a parent if you find out that your son or daughter has experimented with or is using drugs or alcohol. 

And welcome to FamilyLife Today.  Thanks for joining us.  You know, what we have been talking about this week the subject of getting your kids educated on the issue of drugs and alcohol and the abuse of these substances this seems like it was almost a new issue when it emerged in our culture in the 60s.  I guess it wasn’t.  I mean I guess drugs were around in the 30s and the 40s and the 50s right.

Dennis:  I assume that certainly alcohol was, but compared to how it used to be it was kid’s play, back when you and I were teenagers.

Bob:  But then it seems like after it emerged in the 60s and 70s and was kind of out in the open and everybody was talking about it and some people were doing it then it seemed like it kind of ebbed and flowed, died off a little bit.  I don’t hear parents today talking about this issue the way I remember my parents talking about it with other parents back in the 60s and the 70s.

Dennis:  You have mentioned a key point about parents needing to talk to parents, let me introduce your guest and we will get to the subject here.  We have the author of Talking Smack Glenn Williams with us again on FamilyLife Today.  Glenn welcome back.

Glenn:  Thank you.

Dennis:  Glenn worked at Focus on the Family for a number of years, has 3 children that are about to embark upon adolescents.  So this is a very real subject for him as a father.  You have written a book to really educate and equip parents to know how to engage.  In this discussion what’s Bob talking about parents talking to parents that’s something you really feel strongly about.

Glenn:  Absolutely.  If there is a subject where a lot of parents feel ill equipped, they feel ignorant about, they perhaps feel somewhat isolated, it’s the issue of drugs and alcohol.  How do I talk to my children about this?  What age do I start?  What do I say?  How do I model this and so on?

Again the importance of parents being a resource for each other is absolutely critical.  Often what you will find is there is a stigma attached to some subjects and drugs are one of those subjects where there is a bit of a stigma.  So if there is a program being run or a workshop or a seminar some parents won’t go because of what other parents might think about them.  Oh so they have got a problem with their kids or one of their kids have got a problem or they are struggling with this parenting issue. 

The more that we can take away that stigma and where parents can be a resource to each other entirely comfortable with the subject material and just say, hey listen what did you do?  How did you talk about this with your daughter?  At what age did you find it to be most appropriate to engage in that conversation?

The more parents can talk about this with each other than the greater the resource that parents have got to draw on.

Dennis:  And as I hope to talk about later in the broadcast you maybe fearful that your child is using drugs.  It maybe a conversation with another parent that gives you some tips of what to look for to determine if your child is on drugs or not but take us back to your home in Australia, you had a white picket fence…

Glenn:  I did.

Dennis:  Around your home that provided an illustration of what you see kids needing today to get from their parents.

Glenn:  Yes.  I described this white picket fence, there was a great project.  My father and I both worked on this together.  Some people laugh at me when I tell them it took four months but that was kind of like we were doing you know part time on weekends.   At that time I had three really young children.  My youngest was probably about 12 months old.  Otherwise it was a front yard, it was backing on to a busy road but there were some advantages to putting this picket fence in place.  It was to protect my kids. 

It was to prevent them from crawling or running out onto the road when a car was you know hurdling down the road. 

It was also to define my property.  It defined what I was responsible for looking after.  And then thirdly, it was to stop a whole of rubbish from blowing into the yard.  My wife created this beautiful English garden and it was majestic.  But you know what?  Nothing messes up a garden more than having no fence and having a wind blowing every bit of trash you can think of into that yard and then needing to clean it up. 

So I began to see this picket fence, this illustration, as being an example of what parenting is all about and the need to introduce boundaries into the life of their children, to protect them, to help them define their identity within that context.  Cause and effect—why do we do this?  Because we want to teach our kids that there are certain consequences of decisions that they make.

Bob:  But you know as kids get into Junior High and High School years and they start, get the car keys and they are our with their friends I mean those picket fences get uprooted pretty quickly and you can’t follow your kids around all the time and say what’s going on here.

Glenn:  And that’s true but at the same time Bob I challenge that by saying at that point if you have done your job as a parent kids are making more informed decisions.  They know that there is a consequence.  For some that’s going to be a negative consequence and for others there will be a positive result. 

You can’t control the lives of your kids.  You can give them skills and the ability to make good choices.  And that’s hard.  I think it’s one of the most difficult things as a parent is to be able to let go and let our kids make choices that would be different to the ones that we would make.

Bob:  And the reality is we can do our best as parents, we can talk with our kids, have the conversations, educate them, and some of them are still going to make bad choices, aren’t they?

Glenn:  Yes.  Again it’s important that even in that context your child knows that you are going to be there for them even if they make a bad choice.

Dennis:  Okay, let’s talk about the practical boundaries of the picket fence around your little home.  I am talking about the boundaries around drug and alcohol use.  What are some age appropriate boundaries that you and Natalie, your wife, established for your children?

Glenn:  Well again introduced a concept of boundaries in a very practical way to begin with.  For example, with my children they know that they are not allowed to use certain words around the house, well actually at all for that matter. 

They are not allowed to put somebody down.  They are not allowed to call their brother or sister an idiot.  They are not allowed to call them stupid.  They are not allowed to express demeaning terms when they are referencing their siblings.  We communicate that because we say this is all about respect.  Right now you may not like your brother all that much but you will show respect by not using a derogatory term. 

And so we call that communication boundaries.  We have made it very clear that if you are upset about something it’s hard for me to understand what you are upset about if all you are doing is screaming and yelling and getting angry at each other.  It’s a lot easier for me to sit down and address the situation if you talk to me properly.

Dennis:  So, a part of your family are boundaries around all kinds of issues?

Glenn:  Yes.

Dennis:  When it came to the subject of drugs and alcohol what were some of the boundaries there?

Glenn:  One of the boundaries that we set right now and again in the context of drugs and alcohol, we have a place a medicine cabinet where we keep tablets and things.  Chloe, my daughter, has asthma and she understands that this is something that she takes to combat the asthma that she has. She also realizes that that is something that is not healthy for her brothers to have and her brothers realize that this is probably not healthy for me to take this because I am not sick.  I don’t have asthma or this is something that could be negative or detrimental to my health.  I only take something when I am sick. 

And again we have talked about that in the context of you know their dad, me.  I have hereditary or genetic high blood pressure and I have made it very clear that this tablet is something that regulates my blood pressure on a day-to-day basis.  It’s incredibly dangerous for somebody to take that particularly for a child to take that, because it’s not a condition that you have. 

We talk about what some of those consequences might be.  So you don’t take a tablet, you don’t go to the medicine cabinet to take something of anything without mom and dad knowing and making sure that’s appropriate.

Bob:  Most kids aren’t looking at asthma medicine and saying hey there is something we can get high using asthma medicine or high blood pressure medicine.  The prescription drugs that are being abused by children today, are there a handful that are the big culprits in terms of abuse?

Glenn:  Certainly pain killers are something that have become a huge issue.

Bob:  Things like OxyContin and drugs like that?

Glenn:  Yes.

Bob:  So if mom and dad have pain killers that have been prescribed for some reason that is something you don’t just keep laying around the house.

Glenn:  Not at all and particularly some of the stronger ones—codeine and so on.  Again taking in large doses particularly for a child it can be incredibly dangerous.

Dennis:  How are you preparing Ben, who is now 11 or 12, for adolescence?  What boundaries are you helping him establish in advance of the issues he is going to face?

Glenn:  Well, it’s interesting.  We have established a bit of an informal family charter.  There are a few principles, 3 or 4 that we often reinforce for Ben and for Ryan and Chloe for that matter.  We haven’t written them down anywhere but they are in a book I think. 

First of all trust. You have got to be trustworthy, Ben.  Make your word your word.  Your words need to be reliable.  When you say you are going to do something then you go ahead and do that.  When you say you are not going to do something well then don’t do that.  The more that you are trustworthy the more people can count to depend and rely on you and people will appreciate that you are a trustworthy person. 

The second one is that of respect.  You have got to respect who you are.  You respect that God has gifted you incredibly uniquely.  Ben, you are very special boy.  You have got a great heart.  You care deeply about people.  That’s a gift the Lord has given you, cultivate that. There is that whole thing of respecting yourself and respecting others. Respecting others in authority over you and just respecting people in general. 

The third one we often communicate to our kids is look out for the little guy.  Ben, there is typically going to be somebody in your class or maybe somebody you bump into at lunch time at school and they don’t have a lot of friends and they are out there on their own. They are very isolated.  They feel like nobody likes them and nobody wants to play with them. 

Well, then you know what, Ben?  Make sure you can bring them and get them involved with your friends.  They don’t want to play with your friends, fine.  Or your friends don’t want to play with that person you can play with them. 

And again the fourth one was never give up.  The whole spirit of perseverance.  There are sometimes when people are going to put you under pressure to do things that you don’t want to do but you know what, son, stick to your principles and have that spirit of perseverance and commitment.

Dennis:  Okay, Glenn most of the folks are listening to you right now expected you to spell out some dos and don’ts around boundaries, around drug and alcohol use.  You didn’t go there.

Glenn:  I didn’t.

Dennis:  You went to more of the standards of how we as human beings relate to other people, being trustworthy, speaking with respect, etc.  You didn’t go to the other, is there a reason why?

Glenn:  Yes absolutely.  I think in our culture what you see is that typically when we think about boundaries we tend to think of constraints.  We tend to think of rules.  Let’s be honest.  Some of us don’t like rules particularly and we don’t like being constrained by these rules and told that we have to behave a certain way.

But if you can communicate boundaries in the context of releasing somebody, releasing them to experience life as God intended for them.  Release them in the context of what gifts has God given you that you can use to benefit others and benefit your family and your friends and so on.  What do people like about you? 

I have found that if you can take the concept of boundaries and communicate that more as a releasing people into the potential that they have rather than constraining and restricting.  Kids tend to be a lot more receptive to that particularly in their teens.

Dennis:  Okay, Ben’s almost 12 years old right now.  I am going to take you out 7 years.  He is a senior in high school.  He is starting to demonstrate some erratic behavior that makes you suspicious.  Something is going on in his life.  What would you do?

Glenn:  Well, let me just say the tendency is to want to overreact and jump in straightaway.  Having seen that occur many, many times in working with families and it’s not actually helpful. 

The first thing I would do is just to settle down and then just pull back and say okay this is the situation.  I realize that Ben more than likely is using or at least I suspect that he is using.  I need to think very, very carefully. 

One, think of some reasons why he might be using and again there maybe some indicators there of why.  He is not doing terribly well at school.  He doesn’t feel like anybody likes him so he maybe feeling some pressure just to be part or to belong to a group.  But it’s good for me to sit back and reflect on why I think he might be using. 

Two, I would be talking to a friend.  I would be talking to another parent.  We talked about earlier about the importance of using parents as a resource.  So seek out a parent who may have walked a very similar road that I know of and ask how did you deal with this? 

Then I think there comes a point then you sit down obviously with Ben.  Again choose the right moment, the right opportunity, and the right place.  Deciding to broach the subject when you are at public restaurant is probably not the best way to do that. Broaching the subject just before he is about to leave for school the next morning is not the right time to do that.

Dennis:  Yes.

Glenn:  So find the right place and the right moment to have that discussion.  Then say hey listen, Ben can I just share with you some concerns that I have?  I realize you probably don’t want to talk about it, but, son, this is a safe place to talk about this. 

And I guess what I am really concerned about right now is how much this is hurting you.  I would be very honest and very transparent in having that discussion and putting on the table exactly what you suspect and ask him to just respond to that.

Bob:  And in that situation if a child lies to you and you don’t know you want to believe the best you want to show him I will trust you, but you don’t know.  They say no I am not using anything.

Glenn:  Yes.

Bob:  And you still wonder well then what explains the behavior?

Dennis:  Yes, and some parents are really going to blanch at this word, but you really feel like you need to snoop.  How do you feel about parents snooping?

Glenn:  You know what?  It’s a great question and every parent has a different value that they would attach to that.  Some would say it’s fine.  Some would say it’s not.  I guess that’s a personal decision for parents to make. 

Personally for me I would have a reason to snoop first.  For example, if there are indicators or signs and symptoms that I have seen.  As you said maybe my son is getting more moody, maybe it’s become apparent that his grades at school are dropping, maybe behaviorally he is getting more aggressive at home, maybe more withdrawn, maybe he is getting late night phone calls, and money has gone missing in the house things like that. There are other things that are indicating that there is a bit of an issue here. 

I think that then gives me an opportunity to say listen I need to make sure or see whether or not other things are going on his life that I am not aware of.  I think to snoop without being aware of any signs or symptoms I think personally I would have a different issue with that.

Dennis:  If you see these symptoms and you are not snooping you are not trying to find out what’s going on, what parent would allow their child to march off into a battlefield where they are not going to comeback alive.

Glenn:  Yes and honestly there are some people who would say well you can’t do that because you are infringing on the rights of the child and so on.  My thing is yes, but right now if my child is at risk, if my child’s life is at risk and he is going down a path that I know is destructive.  I have got every right to intervene because I love my child.

Dennis:  And there is one other thing I just want to add to your list of how you would approach it.  Make sure you and your spouse are singing off the same song sheet.  You can’t go into this divided.  As a couple your game plan needs to be agreed upon in advance of how you are going to do it, who is going to be the person who is the spokesperson and it maybe the spouse who has the best relationship with that child.

Glenn:  I was going to raise exactly the same point.  I think you need to understand who has the closest relationship, who is your child more likely to listen to.  Sometimes it maybe okay for dad or mom to not so much be heavy but to be more confronting. 

Here’s what we found and everything else and then for the other parent to come in and say hey son, you know this is what we are really concerned about.  We love you and so on.  Kind of like a good cop and bad cop but I don’t mean that quite in the wrong sense.

Dennis:  Your book ends with a very simple term, a word that’s a powerful word if you have to confront someone who has failed.

Glenn:  Yes it’s simply the word “grace.”  For me it’s one of the most important words in this journey as parents with their children.  First of all there is often the need for parent to just receive the grace that the Lord offers to them.  It’s often as a parent you feel like you have messed up, you have failed.  I could have done things better.  You are forever beating up on yourself and that’s not walking in grace.  The Lord makes it really clear, look I have forgiven you. 

So first of all receiving God’s grace for yourself is vital.  Secondly, extending grace to your child or for that matter to a spouse who might be having a drug issue.  You need to extend grace to the child knowing that they are going to fail.  Your child needs to know that they can come back to you and that this is a safe place.  Even if they fail, in the midst of that crisis this is a safe place for them to come back to and that you love them dearly as a parent.

Bob:  And let’s be clear here, grace doesn’t necessarily mean that consequences are going to go away if something goes wrong.

Dennis:  Yes.

Bob:  Grace doesn’t mean you just turn and look the other way and say oh well.  Grace is active, intervening, consequences may come to bear but it’s also an acknowledgement that the relationship has not been permanently damaged because you messed up.

Glenn:  That’s right.  And in closing, for some kids it’s also a matter of extending grace to their parent.  Mom and dad you didn’t tell me this or you didn’t share enough with me or you didn’t talk to me about this subject when I was younger.  Or mom and dad you never took time to understand how I feel.  Mom and dad you never engaged me in conversation.  You never do anything with me.  So and so always got the attention. Sometimes it is a matter of even for teens just saying I need to extend grace to my parents as well.

Dennis:  Yes and I am glad you started with the parent being the recipient of grace because I think the person who takes this the hardest at least initially is the parent who has really worked hard at trying to raise their son or daughter to adulthood without being damaged by this culture.  You can understand how parent would be angry, would be self condemning, and it would be easy to turn that anger and the condemnation on the child.  But the parent who receives the grace of God in his or her life has a better understanding of how they can grant forgiveness, love, and compassion. 

It all goes back to really a theology of the Bible which is we are broken.  Every one of us as human beings is broken.  Not just our children and not just us all are broken but we have a redeemer in Jesus Christ. 

Glenn, I appreciate your faithfulness on behalf of families and your work on this in helping our listeners here on FamilyLife Today raise sons and daughters who are mature and know how to go through life and make right choices.  Thanks for all you do.

Glenn:  You are welcome.  Thank you.

Bob:  I think there are a lot of parents who are grateful for the fact that you took time to write the book Talking Smack and to take some of what we have talked about and give parents a tool that they can read through, go back to and use to engage with their sons and daughters around this subject. 

In fact, this week we are making Glenn’s book which is called Talking Smack available to any listener who will give a donation to support FamilyLife Today.  We are listener supported so we are asking listeners to help with the production and syndication costs for this program to help us keep it on this station and on our network of stations all across the country.  

If you make a donation this week we want you to feel free to ask for a copy of Glenn’s book which is called Talking Smack.  If you make your donation online at as you fill out the online donation form you will see a keycode box just type the word “TALK” in there and we will know to send you a copy of Glenn’s book or call 1800-FL-TODAY, make your donation over the phone and just mention that you would like a copy of the book on drugs or the book Talking Smack and we will send it out to you. 

Let me just say we are grateful for whatever you are able to do in terms of a donation to support the ministry.  We appreciate your partnership with us and thanks for helping us keep the program on the air by making a donation. 

Now tomorrow we are going to be joined by Dr. Wayne Grudem.  We are going to have a conversation about the upcoming elections and about the political process and how do we engage as Christians?  How do we take what the Bible teaches us and apply it when we head off to vote or when we decide to work for and promote a particular candidate or a particular issue.

Dr. Wayne Grudem:  There are I think five wrong positions on this.  One is what I call compel religion that is the government should compel people to go to certain churches or support certain belief systems.  That is wrong because it violates the fact that genuine religious faith has to be voluntary it can’t be compelled by force. 

And number two, is the opposite view and that is exclude religion from the public square.  Exclude religion from any influence on government.  That is wrong because the Bible teaches about moral standards and the responsibilities of government. 

There is another view.  It’s kind of a minority view that says government is evil and it’s the area of a Satan’s control and influence and Christians shouldn’t be involved in it and shouldn’t serve in government.  That view is incorrect because Romans 13 says the civil authority is God’s servant for your good, not Satan’s servant, God’s servant. 

The fourth view is do evangelism not politics. 

And the last view isn't very common among Evangelicals and that is do politics not evangelism.  Just transform society and that will bring heaven on earth or that’s all God causes to do.  And so those are five wrong views. 

The right view I think is the sixth one and that is significant Christian influence on government.  That would say the just as Daniel was an advisor to the most powerful government ruler on earth at that time, just as John the Baptist spoke to Herod and rebuked him for all the other evil things that he had done, just as Paul spoke to the Roman Governor Felix about righteousness and self control and the common judgment.  I think we should follow those patterns and bring significant Christian influence to bear on government where there are issues on which the Bible speaks clearly.

Bob:  We will talk with Dr. Grudem about that tomorrow, hope you can be here for that.

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team on behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey.  I'm Bob Lepine.  We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

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