This Post: 12 House Rules for Teens That are Firm, Yet Flexible
Co-written by: Marybeth Bock & Nancy Reynolds
As a parent of teens, I’m sure it’s become painfully clear that raising teens comes with a fair amount of challenges. It’s a delicate balance of giving our kids enough freedom to experience life as an emerging young adult (and letting them figure out a few things on their own), all while we’re trying to protect them and help them avoid making monumental mistakes along the way.
For my family, my saving grace was knowing my kids and I agreed to certain “house rules.” Not only did my “firm, yet flexible” rules offer my kids guidelines on what was okay and what wasn’t (along with the consequences when those rules were broken), it gave me tremendous peace of mind knowing that my kids and I were always on the same page.
Let’s face it, teenagers are going through tremendous changes, physically and mentally, and sometimes, their brain (through no fault of their own) deceptively leads them down the wrong path. We need to map out a few firm, yet flexible rules and boundaries for them to follow – not only to teach and guide them but to protect them.
While these rules don’t cover everything, they certainly made life for me and my teens easier, more peaceful, and far more predictable.
Here are 12 house rules for teens that are firm, yet flexible.
12 House Rules for Teens That are Firm, Yet Flexible
1. Respect is Not an Option
It starts out small… an occasional dismissal when we ask our teen to do something or a heavy sigh and a snarky comment, “No Mom… I SAID I’d do it later!” Of course, we should always give our kids room to have a bad day (no one’s perfect), but we need to have high expectations of our teens when it comes to respect or, quite often, they will push the limit. Without mutual respect for one another (we have to show the same respect toward our teens) the entire family dynamic starts to crumble. It’s the foundation upon which everything else stands.
From knocking before entering and not shouting or using foul language to asking before borrowing and learning the art of “agreeing to disagree,” your teen needs to understand that blatant disrespect won’t fly under your roof and that there will be consequences. (The more you expect respect from your teen, the more they’ll carry that respect over to other areas of their life, i.e. with teachers, coaches, bosses, etc.)
2. We’re a Family – Everyone Will Have Chores
It’s not simply about pitching in and working as a team in a family, which of course is important. It’s also about teaching our kids basic life skills, making them responsible, and making sure they understand that gender roles don’t apply. We need to teach our boys how to do the dishes, fold laundry, vacuum, and cook. And, teach our daughters how to mow the lawn, cut hedges and change a tire.
That’s not to say we should implement this house rule with an iron fist. Most teens have extremely busy schedules. There will be times when our kids can help a lot and other times (like during finals) when they can’t help at all. Hold them accountable for some chores, but be flexible and respectful of the demands in their life.
3. Honesty Is Expected
If your teen walks in the door an hour past curfew, you need a straight answer. When they get in trouble with their friends, you need an honest explanation. Parenting is hard enough. When our kids start sneaking behind our backs, bending the truth, or flat-out lying, it becomes nearly impossible to effectively parent or protect our kids. In other words, you need to expect (even demand) the truth – no matter how hard it is for your teen to fess up.
Heads up, parents: If you want your teen to be open and honest, you need to establish a safe foundation for them to do so. Avoid overreacting and scale back on harsh discipline (which has proven to backfire in many cases) and use your teen’s foul-ups and honesty as an opportunity to connect, forge a stronger bond and guide them.
4. School Is Their Job
Our teens may not go to work every day, but they DO have a job. School, homework, studying, focusing on their future – that’s their job. Make sure your teen knows that you expect their best effort. That doesn’t mean you expect all As. What it means is that slacking off, cutting school, blowing off homework, and choosing gaming on their computer over studying for a big history test the next day isn’t an option.
5. They Will Be Held Accountable for Their Actions
Now that our kids are getting older, we’re not doing them any favors if we rescue them when they screw up. They need to face the consequences of their actions head-on if they’re to become responsible adults. Sure, we’ll stand beside them and support them emotionally through it all (little do they know, we’ll always have their back), but they need to face the music solo.
Fail a test? Blow off curfew? Break a rule at home or school? Get a speeding ticket? Heads up, teens, life is full of consequences. It’s better you start to learn that now rather than later. Remember: When implementing consequences at home, they should make sense and be relevant and fair. Over-the-top consequences that don’t align with the nature of your teen’s action is one of the fastest ways to lose your teen’s respect and trigger rebellion and/or resentment.
6. Safe Driving Rules Apply
Nothing can freak a mom or dad out more than when their teen takes to the wheel ALONE. It’s when the real worry kicks in. That’s why we need to have solid rules in place.
Absolutely no texting or illegal substances while driving, always wear a seatbelt, and you may want to limit the number of passengers in the car depending on how long your teen has been driving (some states dictate the number of passengers for new drivers).
Also, make sure your teen knows you have a “Call me, no questions asked” policy. Your teen needs to know they can call you anytime – no matter what.
7. Tracking is a Parent’s Prerogative
As for me, I’m all for tracking my kids. Not because I don’t trust them. Not because I’m a hovering helicopter parent. But because there are times I need peace of mind. And, since my kids aren’t always in a position to text me back, I love knowing they’re safe when they run a half hour past curfew. It brings me a ton of comfort knowing that my college kid made it back to college okay. Whether you love the idea of tracking your teen or you hate it, it IS your prerogative to track your kids. (A lot of parents swear by the Life360 app.)
8. A Reasonable (Flexible) Curfew
Ask just about any parent of teens and they’ll admit that the topic of curfew has triggered more than a few arguments between them and their teen. Why? Because it’s one of those rules that’s always bending. Summertime? One curfew. School nights? Another curfew. Prom? Yep, a different curfew. And, curfew is likely to be extended the older your teen gets.
Rather than leave the door wide open and give your teen carte blanche to return home whenever they like, talk about your expectations before they leave the house. Flexibility really is key here since there are so many different scenarios that can impact the set curfew time for your teen. The two most important things to remember when designating a curfew are: #1 Nothing good happens after midnight. And, #2 More accidents with teen drivers happen after dark.
9. Limits for Personal Technology
The use of iPhones and gaming time is one of the biggest gripes parents have with their teens. It’s important to remember that their phones and gaming platforms are important outlets for our kids to chill out and socialize. Still, some boundaries need to be set. Establish fair limits for how long and when your teen can use their tech and whether you’ll allow iPhones in their bedroom at night. Make sure your teen knows, too, that you can and will look at their phone on occasion, including the apps they have downloaded and whether they’re connecting with people they’ve never met. The online world is NOT safe – especially for younger teens.
10. Dating/Romantic Relationship Expectations
It’s important to put a few rules in place before your teen hits the dating scene. While every parent’s rules might differ slightly, your teen needs to know where the line in the sand is.
Rules such as meeting their date before they go out (especially important if they met someone online or if there’s an age gap) having an established curfew and communicating about where they’re going on their date are a good start. It’s also important to dive into subjects including what a healthy relationship looks like, date rape, date drugs, and the rules of sexual consent.
Yep… your teen might cringe when you bring up these topics, but the more you talk about them openly, the more they’ll become comfortable with it.
11. Ground Rules for Friend Gatherings/Parties
Most teens love having their friends over and, as a mom, I’m here to tell you, there’s a certain peace that comes from knowing where your child is, who they’re with and what they’re doing. But, here too, you need to have a few rules… ask permission before planning a sleepover, gathering, or party with friends at the house. Absolutely no illegal substances under your roof. Everyone is expected to treat your home with respect. And, they’re in total charge of clean-up.
12. Open Communication – ALWAYS
When it comes to house rules for teens, open communication tops the list. It doesn’t matter if your teen is 13 or 17, they need to keep you in the loop – where they’re going, who they’ll be with, what they’ll be doing and when they’ll be home. The world isn’t what it used to be and it’s important you know your teen’s whereabouts at all times. It also means they need to text you back, answer your calls, and ask permission before they make plans – especially when it involves you handing out money or being the designated driver.
As our kids move through the teen years, we need to loosen our grip – that’s a given. But in the midst of all that “loosening,” there will always be areas we’ll hold with a vice grip.
Anything that compromises our teen’s safety or another individual’s safety or anything that compromises their future in a big way (i.e. life-altering mistakes). So sure, we need to give our kids plenty of latitude to grow and figure out who they are, but our main job (beyond loving the absolute smithereens out of them, being by their side every step of the way, and guiding them) is to make sure they arrive at adulthood’s door in one piece.
Marybeth Bock, MPH, is Mom to two young adults and one delightful hound dog. She has logged time as a military spouse, childbirth educator, college instructor, and freelance writer. She lives in Arizona and thoroughly enjoys research and writing – as long as iced coffee is involved. Her work can be found on numerous websites and in two books. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram.