At-home adult son should live by different rules

Question: How should we parent our at-home adult son when there are also two young teens in the house? We want to treat him differently in terms of rules and expectations, but we’re concerned about how this might affect the younger kids.

Jim: You’re wise to recognize a distinction between your grown son and his younger siblings. Though you’re still his parents, he’s now an adult and needs to be respected and treated as one.

This doesn’t mean that he shouldn’t be subject to rules of any kind while in your home. But from here on, you shouldn’t expect anything of him that you wouldn’t expect from any other adult boarder renting a room in your house. Rules are essential wherever people share living space. However, they shouldn’t exist to control your son’s attitudes, actions or behavior. Instead, the rules you implement should be for the purpose of ensuring safety, preserving order and safeguarding the best interests of the entire household.

Under these guidelines, it’s reasonable to insist that everyone pick up after themselves and keep shared spaces clear of personal clutter. Appropriate respect for other people’s privacy and property must also be maintained. Everyone should agree to uphold family standards of decency and propriety. If it’s decided that the older son should contribute to the financial burden of running the household, don’t be afraid to hold him to that.

This arrangement shouldn’t have a negative impact on your two teenagers. The key is to clarify the distinction between minors and adults. As part of that process, you should explain to your younger kids the reasons for the different sets of rules that will apply while their older brother is living at home. And assure them that the time is rapidly approaching when they, too, will have to carry the entire burden of responsibility for their behavior. As teens, they should already be moving in that direction.

Question: I’m intrigued by something I found on your website, a downloadable “Family Constitution” regarding media decision making. But before I try and get my clan to sign such a document, can you further explain why I should?

Bob Waliszewski, Director, Plugged In: My wife and I never assumed our two children would automatically keep practicing wise discernment once they left home. But because we believe there’s something powerful about committing to something in writing, we decided to use a “Family Constitution” to help guide us with entertainment decisions. And much to our delight, it’s stayed with them as adults.

Since you’re considering the possibility, let me walk you through our family’s signing time. It wasn’t an elaborate ceremony. There was no torch lighting, no drum roll; just a simple (and relatively brief) time together. With all of us gathered around the dinner table, I expressed the desire that as a family, we’d all pledge to be God-honoring in our media choices. Everyone agreed, and after reading the document aloud, we each took turns praying about our commitment. Then we signed it. It was that simple.

Looking back, I’m convinced it paid dividends. Not because we all got goose bumps and left with some emotional high. But because it was the right thing to do and everyone took it seriously. Much like the Old Testament practice of setting up a stone memorial, the power of this pledge is in the visible reminder of the signed document and its commitment to mutual accountability. You can find a copy on our website at

Finally, let me encourage you to not wait for your children to demonstrate great enthusiasm for the idea before moving ahead. If you lead kindly, confidently and by example, they’ll get on board.

Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at or at