21 Rules for Teenagers and House Guests to Get Along

Rodney King once asked the plaintive question, “Can’t we all just get along?”

Although Mr. King’s question was directed toward a racially diverse world, getting along with others starts in the home. If you can’t live harmoniously with your own family, how do you expect to live with roommates, or get along with people at work or in your neighborhood?

When my nephew moved in with our family, it occurred to me that although we have had no problems living with our own children, he had been raised in a different household; the “unwritten rules” that we live by may have been different for him. So, I decided to write down the rules that I felt were most important to help us all get along.

When I finished, I brought the list home and asked everyone in the house to read them. I then provided an opportunity to discuss the rules and make any changes, including additions or deletions, that were necessary. This enabled everyone in the house to feel that they contributed to the set of rules, and we came to a quick agreement to adopt the rules.

Please note – these are the rules in my house. Whether you have adult children living in your home, other family members coming to stay for a long period of time, or just guests arriving for the holidays, I encourage you to make your own list of house rules available to all who will be staying. Setting expectations up front can save a lot of drama and heartache!


These rules are intended for everyone living in the house, whether permanent resident, temporary resident, or guest. Following these rules will help everyone in the household get along, feel respected, and find a way to contribute.

  1. Respect Privacy. Respecting privacy means that we are all provided with our own space to keep our personal things, and to retreat to for peace and quiet time. These personal spaces (bedrooms) are considered “off limits” when the resident is not around, regardless of whether or not something is needed. Exception: There will be no expectation of privacy if illegal activity is suspected. There is also no expectation of privacy for computer data (e.g., e-mail, etc.) on computers that belong to the household. Homeowners reserve the right to enter your private space at any time – but will only do so if it is deemed necessary – in other words, we will respect your right to privacy to the best of our ability.
  2. Keep your personal space clean. You’re right, we’re not supposed to go in there without good reason. We still expect you to keep your personal space neat and clean. It’s respectful to the homeowners, and respectful to yourself. Besides, at some point, you’re going to open the door…
  3. Keep common areas neat. Common areas include living room, dining room, family room, kitchen, patio and yard areas, unattached bathrooms, etc. Basically anywhere that is not specifically your personal space or someone else’s. We all share these areas, and we need to keep them neat. Put your shoes and clothes away; if you use a dish, clean it and put it away, and pick up after yourself.
  4. Help out. If you have more time and energy than someone else in the house, be considerate and help out. Maybe you didn’t cook those eggs, but someone will surely appreciate your cleaning the pan and putting it away anyway. One day that person may do the same for you when you’ve been working hard.
  5. Take a few minutes every day to clean something. If each of us were to spend 15-30 minutes every day vacuuming, dusting, sweeping, or generally straightening up, our home would be bright, shiny, cheerful, and very pleasant to live in – and we won’t have to pay someone or lose our weekends cleaning it all at once!
  6. Keep up with your personal hygiene. This includes taking a shower/bath, brushing teeth, keeping your hair and clothes neat, washing your clothes (and wearing them clean). No one likes to be around a stinky person. ‘Nuff said.
  7. Respect each others’ schedules. There’s a lot going on. Please understand that people are busy, and have places to be, things to do. Communicate your schedule, and plan in advance if you need help getting somewhere. It’s not fair for someone to miss their appointment, or even their “down-time” because you made last-minute plans, forgot to make them in advance, or were just plain late. If you do forget, it’s appropriate to be apologetic and acknowledge the inconvenience.
  8. Keep disagreements civil. It’s okay to disagree. But please do not shout, holler, or otherwise behave in a manner that could be considered bullying. Please DO take the time to talk things through and consider other people’s perspectives. Things can usually be worked out if we take the time to try.
  9. Money is tight. For everyone. Please be considerate in your shopping list, and how you treat things that may need to be replaced.
  10. No Smoking. Unless it’s your brain working really hard, no smoking is allowed in the house, and preferably not on the property. Remember that smoking clings to your clothes, your breath, your skin, … we can tell. Some of us are allergic; others just find it unpleasant.
  11. No Drugs. Unless your doctor prescribed them. To you. Exceptions for over the counter medication, used appropriately.
  12. Alcohol use is to be appropriate to your age, and situation. This means if you are under 21, you may not drink alcohol. If you are over 21 and have a history of abusing alcohol, please don’t drink alcohol in our home. If you are over 21 and like to party, please be considerate and limit your alcohol use to levels that are conducive to harmonic living. And yes, as homeowner, I’ll be the judge of that.
  13. No member of the opposite sex (or same sex, if the situation applies) in your room. Unless you’re married. (“Common Law” counts.)
  14. Parties get planned. We don’t mean that you need to plan your party in secret and invite 50 friends over when we’re not home. That’s disrespectful. We think parties can be fun, but we need to be on the same page. If you’d like to have a party, we’ll discuss it together, plan the invitation list, talk about expectations, food, activities, limitations, and who will pay for it all. All party guests will be expected to follow the household rules, and the party host will be responsible for ensuring this happens. Note: If you’re out partying and break our household rules somewhere else, don’t hide it. Call us. We’ll come and get you. We’d rather have you safe and whole in the house and deal with the trouble later, than to have you jailed or dead. Wouldn’t you?
  15. About company… Your friends are welcome in our home, provided there is a responsible adult present. A responsible adult is over eighteen, and has proven themselves to be reliable, considerate, and able to control themselves and their friends. Until you have been deemed “a responsible adult,” please do not invite friends over without first talking to the homeowners, and making arrangements to ensure someone is home. This is for your safety, as well as the safeguard of our home, personal property, and reputations.
  16. We do stay up waiting for you. If you’re going to be out past 11:00 p.m., please tell us when to expect you. It’s not that we’re trying to control you and keep tabs on you – we care, we want to ensure that you are safe, and we will worry until you are home safe again. It’s how we roll.
  17. I know you like music. So do we. Before sharing it loudly with us and the neighbors, consider the time of day, and if everyone would appreciate it. You might consider asking. There’s at least one female in the home who doesn’t appreciate songs that swear every 10 words.
  18. We love electronics. The televisions, gaming systems and other electronic luxuries that can be found in the common areas are to be shared (not monopolized), and treated well. If you want to reserve some time, communicate in advance. If we forget, gentle reminders are appropriate.
  19. Ask for help. No one can do everything by themselves. People like to be needed, and people like to be able to help. Feel free to offer help, too!
  20. About Freak-Out-Factor. You may have news. Bad news. Really bad news. Don’t hide it; that only makes it worse. Just know that bad news has a certain “freak-out-factor” associated with it. Understand the level of freak-out-factor, and provide some warning in advance. Then, tell us your news, allows us our freak out, and then wait for us to finish. When we’re done, we’ll get to figuring out how to solve the problem. Note: This is not permission to get into trouble. Please avoid it at all costs. Be responsible, and do the best you can.
  21. Ultimately, the homeowners trump all. Yeah, this may not be your favorite one, but in the long run, our names are on the paperwork, the insurance, the bills, etc. We’re on the hook for everything that happens in our home, so we do get the final word. We hope that you will trust us to make those final decisions with respect in mind, and not a power trip. If you think we’re on a power trip, you have the option of leaving the home (unless you’re our biological child and under 18 – then you’re stuck with us until you’re 18). But we hope you don’t think we’re on a power trip. That’s just too exhausting!
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The basis of all of these rules is mutual respect and responsibility. We all strive to be contributing members of society, and it starts in our home. Treat each other the way you would like us to treat you, and we should all get along very well!