Featured on the Hong Kong Economic Journal (January 25, 2014)
“Out!” shouts the umpire as my tennis ball lands outside the court
I was playing a tiring set against my opponent and as soon as my ball went out, I knew he had won the game. I had no argument because I knew exactly why he won the point and subsequently won the game. I had gone beyond the boundaries of the court. Boundaries helped us enjoy the game and determine who had won. Imagine if the tennis court had not been drawn and we were trying to play a game of tennis. It would have been difficult, if not impossible, to determine who got a ball that was out and who won. Every sport and game has boundaries and rules to make it work.
In every day life, we have boundaries to abide by. We should stop a car when the light turns red, we should line up at the supermarket to pay and not cut in line, hand in a proposal for work on time, cover our mouths when we sneeze etc. These boundaries help us and the people around us. Boundaries help people work with others, keep businesses running, societies function properly.
Boundaries are equally as important for children. I once heard a clinical psychologist share an analogy illustrating the need for boundaries with children. She said if you put a child in a room and blindfold him and don’t tell him where the walls of the room are, he will feel unsafe. He won’t know when he’s going to bump into something or fall off a step. But if this same child is shown where the walls of the room are, where the objects are in the room, he will feel less scared and more secure in his surroundings.
Boundaries are needed to help a child feel safe and to learn how to behave but sometimes the boundaries for them are unclear – to parents and to the children themselves. Is it okay for a 3-year-old child to not say ‘please’ when wanting something? Is it okay for an 8-year-old to play on his iPad at the dinner table? How about the teenage girl who uses her phone past bedtime? Every family establishes different boundaries for their children and what is allowed in one family may not be tolerated in another. But the important thing is to establish boundaries for the family you’re in.