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Ask The Expert: When Teens Break Family House Rules

We talk a lot about enforcing family house rules for teens.

In response to a Your Teen article on checking on teens in the basement, a reader asked the following question: “What should you do when you check on what you think is a group of ‘good’ kids in the basement, and you find them doing something wrong, such as vaping or drinking? I recently found myself in this scenario. I laid out the house rules, provided snacks and drinks, and told them to have fun. When I walked downstairs to finish my laundry, I found a kid in a cloud of smoke from vaping. I wasn’t sure how to handle it.”

EXPERT | Sean Grover, LCSW

When you turned your back, somewhere between your laundry machine’s wash and spin cycle, you discovered the teens hanging out in your basement broke your family house rules and exploited your kindness. That’s a bummer of a parenting moment.

You ask: How should I respond?

When Teenagers Break the Family House Rules

There is a menu of options depending on the specific crime. However, more important than the broken rule, is how you manage this teen limit-testing moment. Remember, the goal is to maintain your leadership and hold to the guidelines that you’ve established, without damaging your relationship with your kid.

Let’s examine three popular options:

Option 1: Throw a fit

Ranting and lecturing is rarely a good idea. Shaming and guilting are not effective in the long term. Such outbursts weaken your leadership; they also run the risk of increasing defiance and undermining your relationship with your kid.

Parents’ first priority is modeling behaviors they want to see in their children. Screaming, yelling and threatening is not a behavior you want your kid to emulate.

Option 2: Confiscate the offending paraphernalia

If you discover alcohol, vapes, weed or other paraphernalia, confiscating them is an option. Then sit down for a short, frank talk. Gather the details, and if satisfied, restate your rules and allow the hang-out to continue. If you’re not happy with the response from the group, you have the right to ask any exasperated teen to leave.

Option 3: Shut down the Ggathering

Coming down hard is sometimes necessary, especially if the violations are extreme. Sending the teens home sends a clear message: when you break the house rules, there are consequences. You may lose popularity, but you’ll gain respect.

After everyone has left, allow time to pass before processing with your teen precisely what happened. When discussing the event, be sure to listen more than you speak. Frequently, when parents keep their cool, teenagers express relief that their parents intervened.

A Word of Caution

If teenagers get drunk or high in your home, as the supervising adult, you are liable for anything that happens, even after they leave. Arrange for the teens to get home safely. The best option would be to have the teen’s parent take him or her home. Another option would be to have a responsible adult drive them to their house.

I don’t encourage parents to tattle on teens to other parents. Too often it leads to misunderstandings; however, when it comes to safety, I recommend alerting the parents.

Deliver your message, keep it short and sweet, and be sure to avoid advice, opinions or gossip.

Sean Grover is a psychotherapist, author, and speaker with over 25 years of experience helping parents fend off nervous breakdowns. He is the author of When Kids Call the Shots: How to Seize Control from Your Darling Bully – and Enjoy Being a Parent Again.To contact Sean or arrange for a parenting workshop for your school or youth center, visit

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