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My 9-year-old son is awesome. I love him madly. Having established that, I can also tell you his favorite expression several years ago was, "I didn't do it on purpose." Not just for transgressions on the level of spilled milk. He trotted out that defense for everything from pestering his big sister to Crayola abuse. Consequently, my wife and I felt the need to help him understand the difference between what's accidental and intentional—and the fact that crossing a line yields consequences, regardless.

Back in 2007, the Belarus national rowing team learned that lesson the hard way. Because reservoirs in that former Soviet state were still frozen in late March, the team was invited by the independent republic of Pridnestrovie to train for the upcoming world championships on the Kuchurgan Liman, a saltwater lake it shares with Ukraine. It was a crisp Tuesday morning. As athletes dug their oars into frigid water, eight boats glided across the surface.

Inhale. Exhale. Harder. Faster. I'm sure they were making great time when the Ukrainian coast guard showed up and arrested them for illegally paddling across an international border. Oops. Focused as they were, the Belarusians miscalculated. And while they didn't do it on purpose, the athletes and their coach found themselves in over their heads 300 meters inside Ukrainian waters.

You can bet I shared that story with my son. I also used it as an opportunity to discuss boundaries and why we need to respect them. Whether or not we think the Ukrainian government overreacted in this case, the rowers' predicament shows that there are penalties for crossing a line, which is true even if authorities aren't waiting on the other side to point out our mistakes.

Boundaries exist for our protection. While some teens insist on learning that truth from the school of hard knocks, the smart ones glean it from mom, dad and biblical history. For example, God wasted no time in erecting hedges. In Genesis 2:15-17, He deposited Adam in the Garden of Eden, appointed him caretaker and told him to have fun, but to resist eating from one tree: the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

As you know, Adam and Eve blew it, which got them tossed from Eden and required a second hedge in Genesis 3:24. That's where God set up his own Ukrainian border patrol in the form of "cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth." Why? He knew that if Adam and Eve visited the tree of life in their fallen state, the results would have been devastating.

So why not just start out by posting the big guns at the tree of the knowledge of good and evil?

Have you ever asked that question? After all, it would've saved everyone a lot of trouble. No fall of man. No sin nature. No need for God to send his only Son to die a horrible death. Just make it impossible for Adam to transgress the boundary. God could have done that. Was giving His child the ability to choose (for better or worse) so important to the Creator of the universe that it was worth all of the fallout?

Apparently so.

That humbles me as a parent, because it reminds me that giving children the freedom to mess up is part of God's divine plan. We should protect them where we can, but not come unraveled if they cross a line and have to pay a price—even if they do it on purpose. It's our job to set healthy boundaries. Curfews. Wardrobe parameters. Entertainment guidelines. Rules for using the family car. And just as God did in Genesis 2:17, we should make the consequences clear ahead of time. But at some point, it's up to our kids to make responsible choices.

I've met a lot of parents who carry guilt because their teen chose to jump a hedge. Even if they're gracious toward their child, they have a hard time forgiving themselves. If that sounds familiar, rest assured that God has been there, and despite knowing the outcome in advance, He elected not to control us.

Published March 2011