Graz (Austria) -- Christiana Justin in Geidorf Cultural Center

Geidorf Cultural Center opened its doors in 1973. Besides offering formative activities for the students in Graz, in recent years it has also organized conferences on teaching methods for parents.

“Should limits be set for one’s children? How and when?” This was the title of a conference given on March 3 by Christiana Justin, an anesthesiologist. Dr. Justin has five children and has been a widow for the past five years. An appealing multimedia presentation with scenes from the daily life of her children, now ranging in age from 12 to 24, held the audience’s attention. She noted that the second part of the title of her talk suggested the answer to the first question. —Yes, one has to establish limits, but one has to decide what they are, how they should be presented so they are accepted, and when is the proper moment to set them and to remove them.

Dr. Justin said that the limits are established naturally, with a logic of their own, at the point where the freedom of one person curtails that of another: A child who eats the chocolate that his brother has hidden in his “secret hiding place;” an adolescent who is listening to loud music when his father gets home tired from work and sits down to read the newspaper; a daughter who spends the money her mother has given her for two weeks allowance on an expensive hair cut—all of these have gone over the line. In recent years, certain theories of education expounded radically anti-authoritarian systems, that of Summerhill being the most popular, with disastrous consequences. Thus, while the “healthy beating” our grandparents spoke of has gone out of style, today the imposition of behavioral limits on children, both tots and those of school age, has once more come to be seen as good pedagogy.

Limits are, in a way, challenges that contribute to the development of one’s personality: the children test how far they can go, how great a risk they can take before their parents react, and thus they learn to recognize the limits of what is possible and permitted. These limits give them security and confidence and impart attitudes necessary for life in society, learning to wait, not to have everything right away, to put others first, etc.

What characteristics, then, should limits have, to be effective in the education of children? Dr. Justin mentioned four. First: the limits have to make sense. That is, one must not make rules just for the sake of making rules. Second: the limits established have to be consistent, not changing them in a moment of “unsureness.” Third: the limits have to be the same for all the children, although at times one must apply them in a different way, according to circumstances of age, sickness, etc. In general, in a family with several children it is easier to set and maintain limits, because the children themselves will “educate” each other. Fourth and last: setting limits requires good judgment, that is, finding the mid-point between “laissez-faire” and over-strictness.

On April 30, Christiana Justin returned to Geidorf Cultural Center to take part in a meeting of friends and cooperators convoked to help get an ambitious project underway: the financing of the future building for Geidorf. The present building, provided by the Steirische Kulturvereinigung in 1973, is no longer adequate for the center’s needs, and the board of directors has decided to construct a new building.

Romana, No. 40, January-June 2005, p. 149-150.