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What House Rules Should Apply to Children Who Are Home From College?

For 17-18 years your children have lived under your roof and hopefully have lived by the rules of your family.  Then, they head off to college with all the freedom in the world (even at Christian colleges).  When they come back for breaks or the holidays, what then?  What household or family rules now apply?

Healthy parents want their children to learn to live independently.  However, when they return home, we often treat them as the children we raised, rather than the adults they are becoming.

Even if you’re a long way from that time of life or your past it and are empty-nesters yourself, read this blog and if you agree, forward it to a friend or relative about to face these decisions.

Unfortunately, the Bible gives very little specific directions about these issues.  The following are ideas my wife, Susan and I learned by painful trial and error after raising six college students of our own. Principle #1 – Whatever freedom they had at college, we gave them when they came home.  That meant:

  1. They didn’t have to go to church if they didn’t want to.

  2. They didn’t have a curfew when they came home.

  3. They didn’t have to ask permission regarding their activities, unless they wanted to do them in our home.

  4. They didn’t have to make their bed, but they did have to leave it made and their room “reasonably” picked up when they left.

  5. We invited them to eat meals with us, but it was rarely mandatory (except for larger family gatherings at holidays or for family birthdays).

Principle #2 – Whatever they did under our roof, was subject to our rules.  That meant:

  1. No alcohol in our home without our permission and until they were of legal age.

  2. No videos were allowed in our home unless they were confident we would approve.

  3. Friends were welcome, but only if one of us were home and our college age children were expected to enforce our rules with their friends.

  4. Their friends were asked by our college-age children to leave our house by an appropriate time (it’s been a few years, but I think that was about 2:00am).

  5. No boys in the girl’s rooms with the doors closed – ever!  (the same rule applied to our son)

  6. We expected our college age kids to make sure their friends’ conversations were appropriate if their younger siblings were within earshot.

Principle #3 – If we paid for something, we had a right to insist on accountability.  That meant:

  1. If they were driving a car we paid for, we expected them to maintain it (gas, oil changes, tires rotated, etc.).

  2. If they had an accident, they were expected to pay for a portion of the deductible (unless it wasn’t their fault).

  3. If we paid for housing at college, we expected them to be full-time students.  Some of our kids became part-time students for a time and then worked.  If so, they lived home, or we paid only for the percentage of time they were students.  (Example: If they were ½ time students, we only paid for ½ of their room and board.)

Principle #4 – Don’t establish a rule you can’t really enforce.

By 17 or 18 years of age, your children have figured out that while you may not like certain behaviors or attitudes, there is very little you can do to enforce them.  That’s a frightening place to be as a parent, but it’s a reality of life that you best get used to.  Nothing erodes the authority of a parent more than setting rules you either can’t enforce, or are unwilling to enforce.  So don’t do it.

Instead, parents should pray for wisdom to sort out the most important rules from the less important ones.  Choose fewer rules, but ones more important to the relational health of your family and enforceable.

Principle #5 – Remember the rest of the kids.

As parents of college age children, we forget that our younger children are watching us.  Whatever you let your older children “get away with,” your younger children will assume is okay for them.  Take time to explain to your high school age children what you’re doing and why.  And, also tell them that by the time they go off to college the rules may change based on what you’ve learned.  This isn’t a “one size, fits all” program.

Talk to other Christian parents of college students.  Glean from them what they’ve learned.  And finally, be united in your rules with your spouse.  If you aren’t, pray together until you are.

“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.”  James 1:5

Following Jesus in Real Life

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