Setting boundaries when your adult child lives at home

For 18-year-olds, living at home is a sensible way to weather a tough economy and build up to a more independent life. But living with a young adult is different than living with the child they once were, and you’ll need to set some ground rules to make sure your entire household runs smoothly. We’ve compiled the 14 most important rules to establish to help you and your teen get comfortable. Just not too comfortable; the nest has got to empty someday!

Things You Should Know

  • Negotiate expenses like rent, utilities, and food. If your teen is working and making money, they can contribute to the household costs.
  • Set a timeline for when your teen needs to start looking for housing or moving out to keep them focused on becoming independent.
  • Divide up household chores like vacuuming, cooking, or pet care. If your teen lives at home, they should pitch in to maintain that home.
1

Set a curfew or quiet hours.

  1. They’re young and will probably want to stay out all night now and then, but you can’t have them slamming the front door when they get back at 3 a.m.[1] A curfew of around midnight or 1 a.m. is more than reasonable. Tell them that after that, the doors are locked.
    • Alternatively, set some quiet hours to give them a little more freedom. Sure, they can come home late, but no loud noises or voices louder than a whisper after, say, 11 p.m.
    • If your teen does want to stay out late on occasion, have them tell you a day or 2 beforehand, so you know where they are and you’re not staying up waiting for them.
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2

Encourage them to find work or go to school.

  1. And that doesn’t mean just spending their day at a cafe or a friend’s house. It’s time for them to contribute to the household, and that means finding work, or studying to help them find work later.[2] Suggest that they get an entry-level, part-time job, like working as a barista or waiting tables. To help, act as a reference on their job applications or drive them to interviews.
    • If you’re able, offer to help them pay for school. College is a big investment, and many young adults find it difficult to shoulder that burden alone.
    • Or, letting them stay at home might be how you support them through school. If this is the case, consider easing up or even overlooking rent or bills.
3

Ask for rent or help with bills.

  1. It’s true that new adults aren’t exactly raking in the cash, and living at home is an opportunity for them to save. But this is also an opportunity to train them for a more independent life, where bills are a reality.[3] Go easy on them as they discover their newfound financial independence, but make it clear that this isn’t a free ride.
    • Use a site like Zillow to look up rental rates in your area, then set your teen’s rate to around half that. This lets them contribute to the household while also saving up.
    • Don’t forget things like electric or water bills. If you feel it’s necessary, have your teen pay their fraction of the utilities. For example, if there are 4 people living under your roof, request that they pay ¼ of the bill.
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4

Assign household chores.

  1. Rent and utilities are negotiable; chores are not. Formulate a list of all the tasks it takes to keep your household running, and choose 4-5 to assign to your teen.[4] Or, prepare them for independent life by letting them handle all their own daily chores: they do their own laundry, cook their own food, clean their own living space, etc.
    • Get your teen to actually do their chores by showing them how to properly complete them. Then, create a schedule for when they ought to be completed.
    • Make it clear that completing those chores is a prerequisite for living there. If chores aren’t done, they’ll have to look for another home where they can skip their responsibilities.
5

Discuss food arrangements.

  1. When they’re off and living alone, they’ll be left to fend for themselves. Now’s the time to ease them into that. Will they be responsible for their own groceries? Will your pantry be open to them, but they have to cook their own meals?[5] Decide how comfortable you are providing for them as they live under your roof.
    • Mealtimes are a big deal for many families, and you may not want to exclude your teen from that. You might decide that providing their food is worth the bonding experience of eating together.
    • Or, teach your teen to cook some basic meals, and ask them to prepare those meals for the household 2-3 nights a week to pitch in on the food front.
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6

Set a policy for guests.

  1. A total ban on guests is a tad unreasonable, but so is having strangers in your house day-in, day-out. Lay down some ground rules for the sorts of gathering your teen can have.[6] House parties are probably off the table, but 2-3 friends every now and then helps them keep a healthy social life.
    • For example, designate a couple days of the week, like Fridays and Saturdays, as fair game for guests—with plenty of notice beforehand, of course.
    • Also discuss what kinds of guests can stay. You might be totally fine with a friend spending the night, but romantic partners could be a no-go, depending on your beliefs or philosophies.
8

Take a hard line on bad habits or illegal activities.

  1. When they’re on their own, it’ll be out of your control. But make it clear that while under your roof, you won’t tolerate bad habits, even if your child is a legal adult now.[8] This goes for other negative behaviors, too, like gambling, theft, or even the language they use. Make a complete list of zero-tolerance behavior.
    • At the same time, be sure to respect their space. Invasive behavior like frequent room checks only serves to damage the trust between you.
    • If your teen does struggle with addictive behaviors, let them know you’re there to help. A strong household supports its members, after all.
10

Request a plan for their future.

  1. You’re happy to help them get a headstart on independent living, but at some point they’ll have to actually become independent. [10] Have your child come up with a timeline for leaving the nest, one that includes a specific date for when they’ll start looking for their own housing, as well as an expected move-out date.
    • Having an expected move-out date helps you and your teen from falling into the perpetual living-at-home trap. Instead, your focus is on the future, and finding ways to make that future (an empty nest) happen.
11

Schedule regular household meetings.

  1. A harmonious household requires that everyone be on the same page.[11] Hold a weekly or monthly household meeting, where everyone can express their concerns—how chores are going, how people feel about the division of work and bills, etc. Use this as an opportunity to resolve any conflicts in the household—let your teen speak freely, and strive to calmly address their concerns.
    • If your teen is unhappy with the living situation, ask them why and how. Remember that you may need to make some compromises yourself to have a healthy, peaceful home.
    • Also use the opportunity to schedule fun household activities like outings to the zoo or a movie night. Bonding activities help keep everyone happy as they cohabitate.
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12

Respect their freedom, and ask that they do the same for you.

  1. It might be tough to keep in mind (it seems like just yesterday that they were in diapers), but your teen is old enough to make their own decisions. Unless it directly puts the household at risk, let them manage their own time and live their own life.[12] But also maintain your own boundaries and remind them that you won’t be at their beck and call.
    • Unless your teen asks for it, resist giving your own opinions about their daily life. This can feel stifling to a teen who’s trying to take the next step toward living on their own, and might only push them away emotionally.
13

Make a cohabitation contract.

  1. Make a bulleted list of your expectations for your teen, with each rule clearly described.[13] Then make sure they sign it so there aren’t any excuses later about vague or unspoken expectations. Tell them that if the contract is broken, they’ll have to find new living arrangements.
    • Place the signed contract somewhere visible, like on the fridge, as a reminder of everyone’s responsibilities.
    • Be sure to stick to that contract yourself. Your teen has no obligation to respect the contract if you don’t, either.
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About This Article

Kirsten Thompson, MD
Co-authored by:
Board Certified Psychiatrist
This article was co-authored by Kirsten Thompson, MD and by wikiHow staff writer, Luke Smith, MFA. Dr. Kirsten Thompson is a Board Certified Psychiatrist, Clinical Instructor at UCLA, and the Founder of Remedy Psychiatry. She specializes in helping patients with mental health conditions such as major depressive disorder, anxiety, ADHD, bipolar disorder, OCD, PTSD, and postpartum depression. Dr. Thompson holds a BS in Operations Research Industrial Engineering from Cornell University and an MD from The State University of New York, Downstate College of Medicine. This article has been viewed 38,232 times.
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Updated: November 2, 2023
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