Structure and Boundaries – The Stages of Raising Kids

I’ve spent a lot of years working with parents and I’m deep in the throes of raising four adolescents, ranging from 15 to 22 years of age.  These lessons come from hands on experience, not all of them positive if I am being completely honest.  This post isn’t about parenting the perfect children.  I made plenty of mistakes and my kids are definitely not perfect.

Parenting is unique.  Every parent/child relationship is different and these are only my thoughts.  Please no judgement, as I won’t judge you.  Parents have enough to worry with, let’s not add lack of support from one another.

Here’s how I see it.

Structure and Boundaries in the Beginning

Few expectations, minimum responsibilities and limited conversations…

When my kids were little, I was structured.  I had elaborate schedules. My babies ate, played and napped and that repeated until it was time for bed.  Conversations mostly consisted of adults talking and reading to them.  As they grew older, they were expected to rest, even if they didn’t want to sleep.  Reading and workbook time was a part of our daily routine.   You get the idea, the expectations grew and I provided structure for them to be successful.  Conversations grew and “why” became an ever popular question, which I tried to always entertain.

I didn’t use a lot of child locks or gates.  I kept them close by – exhausting at times. But, when we went places, I had a level of comfort because they weren’t use to complete freedom.  They had lots of boundaries and structure.  My kids checked them often and dad and I were right there to make sure they knew where the lines were drawn.  When they were ready, their boundaries expanded.

I was crazy about maintaining a regular schedule and providing boundaries during this time in their life. It worked for our family.

Structure and Boundaries Begin to Change

Increased expectations, more responsibilities, and developing conversations…

As they got older, the boundaries expanded and more of the structure was turned over to them to set or not set.  I began to expect more from them.  They had responsibilities that increased with age and conversations were expected to go two ways and to be meaningful.  I expected pleasant, respectful, helpful and kind beings in my home.  I didn’t always get that, but I kept expecting it.

I believed that talking to them about healthy choices while they were little was important and I tried to provide the foundation for more difficult conversations that were to come.  We discussed things like sleeping and eating habits at first and then the conversations turned to relationships, substances and consequences of their choices as they grew.  As they aged, the conversations did get more intense, deeper and tougher.  They didn’t always enjoy the conversations, but I just kept talking – providing the structure and the expectation.

Oversight of Structure and Boundaries – Adolescents and Learning to Adult 

They begin to set their schedule and boundaries with our oversight and approval and conversations became critical…

This is a tough stage, not going to lie.  Some years are a challenge.

With cell phones came a freedom that was impossible for me to put a boundary around.  Many parents try, but they often end up teaching their child to work a system, a system parents simply can’t keep up with – technology.  I could never keep up with the apps, video games, music, TV shows, etc.  I felt by giving kids strict phone use restrictions and non-negotiable curfews, instead of encouraging deep conversations, I was only pushing them away.

I decided to try something different.  I expected them to learn to use their phone in a responsible mature manner, instead of trying to monitor and restrict.  I placed reminders and appointments on their calendar and communicated with them through their phone, often using the many apps that I had them teach me how to use.  I “friended/followed” them and many of their friends on social media, much to their friends encouragement.

I talked to them, all the time.  The structure and expectations had been set.  I asked all kinds of questions about their friends, feelings, classes, relationships, and current events.  I was now the one asking all the “why’s” and I expected them to at least try to entertain my questions.  I didn’t keep up with their homework, but I expected them to let me know if there was a problem.  I let go of more and more.  They controlled their curfew and other privileges by how respectful and mature they were, within reason and with my oversight.  Of course things happened and of course there were consequences.

Hopefully, if we do it right…

Final Stage – An Independent Life with Us by Their Side

They are living on their own and we are a healthy part of their life…

Final Thoughts

I think we get it backwards.

Structure was learned from an early age, boundaries grew as they grew, and conversations deepened as they became more complex thinkers.   A trust was established; a relationship and foundation were built.  They learned that privileges and expectations grew together.

Kids need to learn how to structure and schedule their busy lives.  We see extremes.  We see kids stressed and burned out from overachieving and/or spaced out in front of the screen playing video games for hours. They need help learning what a normal schedule looks like and how to set one.

Us nagging them, or continuing to set limits for them doesn’t help them long term.  Us teaching them along the way to set their own limits definitely does.

I learned things by making mistakes – believe me!  Again, this is not a post about how I did it right.  There is no such thing; I have four kids.  My oldest and I laugh all the time about how she had to experience all my bad parenting, while I learned.  I made mistakes and learned along the way, it’s okay for kids to see that too.

With Purpose,


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