Spotlight On: Setting Boundaries

10 April 2018

This article was first published in the Queenwood weekly newsletter on 6 April 2018.

Good parents must balance high expectations with great love. Getting the balance right is tricky, but the wellbeing of our girls demands that we set boundaries of all kinds: around sleep and household chores and homework and technology and parties and alcohol and a million other things.

One way in which schools can assist parents is by acting as a point of reference for what to expect. Every parent knows that two siblings can be radically different but as parents our personal experience of the range of child and adolescent behaviours is necessarily limited to a few children within our own family. Dealing with hundreds of children and teenagers at a time, schools can help parents assess what is normal and what needs attention.

When parents do set boundaries, one of the most unnerving responses from their daughter is: ‘But everybody else is doing it.’ This can pose a real dilemma. If you have taken the view that she is too young for Instagram but every other girl in her year group is active there, are you condemning her to social exclusion? Are your puritanical curfews making her a social leper? It’s a reasonable question. So, for what it’s worth, here are some observations about what ‘everybody else’ is doing:
  • Many of our parents are, very sensibly, regulating the use of technology. It is normal to limit screen time. It is normal to insist that technology is removed from bedrooms, and many girls right up to Year 12 put their phones and devices elsewhere at night. Your daughter would not be the only one doing so. You are not unreasonable to insist on this.
  • Parents feel more comfortable imposing bedtimes on primary students but chronic sleep deprivation – with all its impacts – is an issue as they get older. Sleep needs vary, so it is impossible to set a rule but we know 30% of primary and 70% of secondary students suffer from sleep deprivation. In families that are actively monitoring sleep, a 9pm bedtime for a Year 7 is normal. For Year 10 and even higher, 10pm is normal. Those times may not be right for your daughter, but you would not be unreasonable to insist on this if she needs it.
  • Many of our girls do not have smartphones until Year 7, and sometimes later. If you feel this is right for your daughter, she will not be the only one. In fact, we encourage you not to give her a smartphone at least until Senior School. She will certainly love it but she doesn’t need it.
  • It is perfectly normal for girls not to have social media accounts. By middle to late teenage years most girls would have some accounts (though not necessarily on every medium) but your daughter will not be socially isolated in primary and early secondary if she does not.
  • The age at which girls start going to parties is highly variable. Some Year 8s (especially if they have older, partying siblings) are already champing at the bit, while others are perfectly comfortable being kids for many more years. They may not have any interest in parties until the Year 12 Formal. Not every girl is itching to dress up in heels and party frocks, and not all girls go to parties as soon as they want to. If your daughter does not go, she won’t be the only one.
  • Many of our parents are very comfortable in their role of ensuring safe partying. It is normal to ring the parents of the party host and ask about arrangements: location, timing, contact numbers, supervision, alcohol, security, transport. You will not fatally embarrass your daughter by doing so. It is also perfectly normal to have alcohol-free parties.
As parents and teachers, we need to respect the capacity of our children to develop independence and make their own decisions, and we must also be unapologetic in setting appropriate boundaries. In doing so, we sometimes need a sounding board or sanity check – someone who knows our girls individually, understands childhood and adolescent development and can help assess whether our expectations are appropriately pitched.

If you are working through these kinds of issues, our class teachers, tutors and Year Coordinators are a valuable resource. They know that the girls will flourish when we get these boundaries right, they care for your girls and they are well positioned to help you. If you would like another perspective, I strongly encourage you to be in touch and talk through any issues through with them.

Ms Elizabeth Stone