Amy Welborn is a columnist for Our Sunday Visitor and Catholic News Service and a regular contributer to the Living Faith quarterly devotional.

It’s a calm little scene much of the time. But once in a while, the mood changes. For, as I said, while there’s no actual physical fence put up as a barrier between the dog’s yard and the rest of the world, there is something designed to keep them contained: one of those underground electrical fences which sends out a nasty little shock via the dog’s collar when he crosses over.

One of the dogs is fine with the situation. He obviously absorbed his lessons well, and never crosses over the invisible line. Such is not the case with his brother beagle.

It’s easy to tell when he’s ventured farther than he should: it’s the yelping that does it. Frantic, high-pitched barking from the dog who broke free of prison. When I look out the window, I can see him hopping too, as if in mild pain. None of this stops him from his real job, though: yipping and jumping, he keeps right on sniffing the ground, in our yard though, then around to the front and into the neighbor’s until one of his owners comes and fetches him.

I cannot make up my mind whether that dog is brave or just stupid.

Is he a creature with a strong will and a determination to follow adventure wherever it leads, no matter what the cost? Or is he just too dumb to figure out the source of his pain and what to do to stop it?

Our teenaged children may have a similar quandary when it comes to the boundaries in their own lives, and there are no doubt scads of them:

There are curfews and house rules. There are term paper deadlines and uniform regulations and class rules. There are guidelines for how they’re to look, what they’re to say and how they’re to act at work. And then there are the boundaries that aren’t so definable: They will go to college. They will major in something “useful.” They will look like their parent’s child and not embarrass them.

Is crossing these boundaries a brave act of exploration of their true identity? Or is it just a stupid act that shows they just don’t know what’s good for them?

Well, it depends.

For you see, not all of the boundaries teens must live with are there for the same purpose, and an important part of growing to adulthood involves learning to distinguish between them. The person who slavishly reveres all rules just because someone made them is just as foolish as the person who thinks it’s the height of maturity to disdain all boundaries.

Here's a helpful clue to assist your teen in teasing these boundaries apart so that they can see which are useful and which could stand a little stretching with no harm to them or others.

Look at Jesus.

Jesus pushed some boundaries to the limit: he mingled with the despised, which was supposed to render him “unclean.” He broke the Sabbath rules about eating and working without apology.

But he respected just as many boundaries as he challenged: he reminded those who asked to respect the government. He talked tough about marriage and divorce. He was enraged by those who violated the sanctity of the Temple.

Yes, our children are surrounded by boundaries: invisible fences that just might shock them if they cross. With Jesus' help, though, they will be able to tell which crossings are worth the pain, and which are just plain dumb.

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