Establishing House Rules for Teenagers

Balancing the Need for Independence With Guidance

Two teenage grls on a bed texting on their phones
Mark Mawson / Taxi / Getty Images

Parenting teenagers requires a delicate balance between giving them enough guidance to ensure they are making healthy choices and giving them enough freedom to make mistakes. Under your supervision, mistakes and failure can teach some of life's greatest lessons.

Establish house rules that respect your teenager’s desire to be independent while also ensuring that they are behaving responsibly. Clearly outline what negative consequences will be in store when a rule is broken.

Teenagers need discipline and the same five types of rules as younger children. When establishing house rules for your teen, establish stricter rules in the areas where your teenager still needs the most guidance.

When teens struggle to follow the rules, it is a sign that they aren’t ready for that much responsibility yet and may need more guidance.

As your teenager proves they can follow the rules, allow for increased independence. Here are the types of rules you should create to help your teen become a responsible adult.

Rules That Promote Safety

Teenagers tend to think they are immortal and invincible. They also tend to be impulsive, which is why it is very important to set rules that promote safety. Here are a few examples:

  • Driving: Car accidents are the number one killer of teenagers. Teenagers need clear rules about driving privileges and safety. Set limits on cell phone use in the car. Establish clear rules about passengers, speeding, and other safety violations. 
  • Drugs and alcohol: Teenagers need to be informed about the realities of drug and alcohol use. Talk often about how to make good choices and set clear consequences about what will happen if your teen is caught experimenting with substances. Also, discuss how they can get out of a bad situation if they need a ride home.
  • Curfew: Nothing good happens after midnight. Set a clear curfew time and if your teen shows responsibility in honoring an early curfew, consider making the curfew later.

Rules That Teach Morality

The teenage years offer teens opportunities to explore their values. Making your expectations clear at this age can influence the values your teen adopts. Although these rules will be specific to your family, there are a few areas that many families can agree on.

  • Honesty: Set rules with your teenager that encourages honesty. Agree that consequences for misbehavior will be more severe if your teenager attempts to lie to cover up his tracks. Also, consider rules that discourage cheating on homework.
  • Treating others respectfully: Teenagers often need rules that encourage treating others respectfully. Rules about gossiping, bullying and not talking back can be important lessons.

Rules That Encourage Healthy Habits

Most teenagers aren’t known for their overwhelming motivation. They usually need help from an adult to develop healthy habits with how they spend their time and care for themselves.

  • Work: Homework, chores, and part-time jobs often aren’t on the top of a teenager’s to-do list. Therefore, they may need rules that ensure they get their work done. Establishing a time to do homework or linking privileges to chores and encouraging your teen to earn spending money with a part-time job can encourage good habits.
  • Spare time: Teenagers often need rules to help them spend their spare time productively. Set limits on electronics usage so your teen’s spare waking hours aren’t devoted to the computer, cell phone or video games. Also, be clear about where your teenager is allowed to hang out.
  • Self-care: Although most teenagers no longer require reminders to brush their teeth, they do still tend to need help with self-care. Consider rules to promote healthy eating, good sleeping habits, exercise, and good hygiene.

Rules That Prep Teens for the Real World

The teenage years provide a short window of time for your child to practice for the real world. Take a look at your teenager’s behavior and consider what else your teen needs to learn before they are ready to live on their own. Here are a few areas where you'll want to create rules:

  • Money: Teach your child how to manage money so they are prepared for budgeting in the real world. Set rules about how much they need to save and help them make good choices with spending. Show them how to budget and determine what types of things they will need to buy with their own money.
  • Self-discipline: Teenagers need self-discipline so they can live independently. Establish rules that grant some freedom and allow for natural consequences when appropriate.

Rules That Enhance Social Skills

Teenagers often need some fine-tuning in the social skills department. Establish rules that help your teenager learn and practice healthy ways to deal with his emotions and interact with other people.

  • Friends: The type of friends your child chooses is likely to have a big impact on their behavior. If your teenager chooses friends who spell trouble, set limits on how much time they can spend together outside of school. Teens also often need parental guidance about how to deal with issues such as bullying and disagreements with friends.
  • Dating: Establish rules about dating that give your teenager some independence but also ensure that your teen is being safe. Set clear rules about the types of activities that are allowed and how much contact is acceptable.
  • Emotion regulation skills: Teenagers tend to be emotional by nature. Rules that promote anger management are especially important if you’ve got a teenager who breaks things or makes threats when they are angry. Teach problem-solving skills to teach safe and effective ways to solve problems independently.
4 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Teen drivers: Get the facts.

  2. American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Teens: Alcohol and other drugs.

  3. US Department of Health and Human Services. Setting limits.

  4. American Academy of Family Physicians. Anger management issues in children.

By Amy Morin, LCSW
Amy Morin, LCSW, is the Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind. She's also a psychotherapist, an international bestselling author of books on mental strength and host of The Verywell Mind Podcast. She delivered one of the most popular TEDx talks of all time.