Jewish World Review Sept. 26, 2003 / 29 Elul, 5763

Lori Borgman

Lori Borgman
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Consumer Reports

Boundaries disappear, society pays the price | They're not being deprived of food, shelter and clothing. Nor are they being deprived of toys, computer games and television. Kids are being deprived of boundaries.

One of the joys of coming of age used to be pushing against the boundaries. The delight of inching toward adulthood was nudging your toe right up against the big black lines that bellowed, "No, not yet, wait just a few years longer." Now, for many, the lines have faded, and the boundaries have fallen.

Boundaries are an integral part of the paradox of freedom and form. Freedom and form continually jockey for power. That balance of power effects everything we do. As a nation, we have a multitude of laws (and manage to add to them every day) that give us form as a republic. As individuals, we have a multitude of freedoms we may exercise within that form. Should our freedom lead us beyond the form, we are likely to get a speeding ticket, a call from an IRS agent, or an invitation to do time in the local lock-up.

The form to a marriage is outlined by faithfulness, respect and monogamy. When excessive freedom causes a husband or wife to crash through that form, the results are predictably painful.

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There is also a balance of freedom and form to parenting. Ideally, parents outline the form, delineate the boundaries of right and wrong, acceptable and unacceptable, and allow children the freedom to play, create, imagine and mature within that form.

An example of freedom and form out of sync would be the child with minimal parental supervision, unrestricted access to television, movies and music, a penchant for disrespect and a rancid vocabulary that is laughed at instead of purged.

An example of freedom and form tied in knots would be the mother on a talk show boasting that she encourages her 15-year-old daughter to have her boyfriend for overnight visits rather than go to a sleazy motel. The mother prattles on, proud of her permissiveness, while the girl sits there looking hard, hurt and trance-like. A vivid picture of freedom without form.

Perhaps the most poignant example of what happens when we practice all-freedom-all-the-time would be the three, four, seven statistic. Today, nearly three out of 10 white babies are born to single mothers; four out of 10 Hispanic babies are born to single mothers; and seven out of 10 black babies are born to single mothers. Three, four and seven children will deprived of any form resembling a father. This lack of form puts those three, four and seven at greater risk for . . well, you know the risks. We've all heard them so many times, we can recite them in unison.

If this were a boxing match between freedom and form, a ringside announcer would be screaming that form is flat on the floor with both eyes swollen shut, a cauliflower ear and a bloody nose. Freedom, the announcer would shout, is dancing circles, ready to thrust a gloved fist in the air and declare victory.

But freedom and form aren't opponents. They are more like allies constantly striving for a delicate and diplomatic balance.

Freedom without the restraint of form is costly. It costs us as a country, as a culture, as a community, as couples and as families. Resurrecting form begins with creating boundaries.

Boundaries start with simple things like bedtimes, curfews, expectations for behavior, standards for entertainment and a few hot button issues parents are willing to take a stand on.

If we continue erasing all the boundaries, kids won't be the only ones deprived.

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JWR contributor Lori Borgman is the author of I Was a Better Mother Before I Had Kids. To comment, please click here. To visit her website click here.

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© 2001, Lori Borgman