Parental Limits: Why Saying No Is a Parent’s Superpower

Not a week goes by that someone doesn’t rave to me or Tony-Bear about how great our kids are. Honestly, I don’t think we can claim all the credit. Besides our efforts, I feel two additional factors were at play. 1) They’re really great kids, and 2) I believe our faith has a lot to do with it. And we did a good job setting parental limits.

With that said, I think Tony and I have done a lot of things right. Because I believe wisdom hoarded is wisdom wasted, I’m here today to reveal our four main parenting secrets. I’ll even throw in a bonus item at the end!

Limit Screen Time

  • Television(Please read this article!) To ensure our kids had plenty of time to play outside, read books, and create crafts, Tony and I limited our kids to 2 (30-minute) shows (PBS, Disney, or Nickelodeon) and one made-for-kids movie, a day.
  • Computer: When our kids were growing up, computer time meant a learning cd-rom or cd-rom-based games like “I Spy” and “Roller Coaster Tycoon.” The kids could each play on the computer one hour a day.
  • Video Games: I know we may get some pushback here, but we never had video games in our house: no Gameboys, Xboxes, or PlayStations. Remarkably, it was never a huge issue. I don’t even know if we verbalized the “rule.” We simply did not provide the devices. The kids were, however, allowed to play video games when at a friend’s house (as long as the ratings were age-appropriate). In time, all three kids said they were glad we didn’t have video games around.
  • Phones: I’m thankful our kids were all 13+ when they got phones. We provided them once they became involved in extracurricular activities and needed to coordinate transportation. More than once we confiscated a phone for being used past bedtime and there was a time or two we scanned through text threads to make sure nothing untoward was  communicated.

Spending Limits

  • Try not to use shopping as entertainment. Sandwich-Child was in fifth or sixth grade when she asked if we were poor. She thought that because many of her friends went to the mall every weekend and came home with a couple new outfits. I reminded her that we did other stuff for fun: hiking, biking, going to the movies.
  • Don’t confuse over-the-top gift-giving with love. Have you watched the scene in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone where Dudley Dursley gets a mountain of birthday presents? We didn’t do that here at Chez Tarantini. Toward that end, we established these boundaries:
  • Birthdays:  On birthdays, each person would get $100 worth of gifts. It could be a bunch of $5 and $10 items, or one $100 item. No one ever complained and it kept spending from getting out of hand.
  • Christmas: We utilized the $100/person rule at Christmas too. This practice, along with a Dave Ramsey*-esque “Christmas Club,” really, an envelope we tucked $20 a week into, greatly decreased our post-holiday debt burden.
  • Vacation: Our first trip to Disney prompted us to try a similar tactic. Each child received $50 to spend. It was fun to see how each child handled the responsibility. When there wasn’t an endless cashflow from the Bank of Mom and Dad, the kids’ I-Have-to-Have-It-Now button was instantly muted. Sandwich-Child kept trading $7.00 character pins at Disney and I’m pretty sure she came back with $43.00. As I remember, the other two eyeballed stuff all week then made their selections the day before we flew home. 

Dating Deferred

All along Tony Bear and I knew we didn’t want any of our kids to date until they were at least 16. First-Born didn’t care. Sandwich-Child counted the days. Junior-Man waited until he was 17.

We never regretted this rule. Especially when we saw the tangles some kids got into. I will say watching one of Sandwich-Child’s friends go through a high-school pregnancy was an excellent experience for all of us.

There was one exception to our dating rule—school dances where parents did the driving. More than once, Sandwich-Child took advantage of this bend in the rules.

Know Your Kids’ Friends

For the most part, our kids’ friends have been great. There were a few exceptions—a girl whose snarkiness and disrespect for elders tended to rub off on Sandwich-Child. Thankfully though, they grew apart after a year or three.

First-Born also had a friend I wasn’t crazy about. My daughter thought me mean for not giving the girl my stamp-of-approval, but something in my mother’s gut knew: That one’s not quite right. When the girl went wild—with  boys and drugs, if memory serves—my daughter said, “Mom, you were right!” Imagine that.

 Bonus Tip: The Sleepover Rule

Because his parents never allowed sleepovers, and because they are often loud, annoying, and messy, Tony-Bear has never been a fan. Now me, I have many fond memories of pajama parties and sleepovers. Still, because of my experience with childhood abuse, we were very careful with who and where our kids spent the night.

As such, our family rule was: You cannot sleep over at a friend’s house until you’ve had at least one 2-hour playdate there. This gave Tony-Bear and I a chance to meet the parents and see the home situation. And, our kids could determine if they’d feel comfortable staying overnight. This rule served us well through the years, allowing us to know not just our kids’ friends, but also their parents.

There you have it—some of the secrets of our parenting success. If you have any great parenting ideas, feel free to share them in the comment section below.

If you’d like more great parenting advice check out these posts:

How to Have the “Birds and Bees Talk” with your kids

My Best Mothering Advice

6 Sanity-Saving Parenting Tips

The Day I Hurt My Child

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