If you need emergency HELP NOW dial 911. If you need INFORMATION call The Iowa Substance Abuse Information Center at 866-242-4111.

Setting Clear Rules

Research has shown that young people are three times more likely to use tobacco, alcohol and other drugs if their parents don’t set clear rules about them. But to make these rules stick, it’s vitally important to get your children used to obeying established rules about basic daily activities early on. Keep your list of house rules short–just enough to be sure that children are finishing homework, doing chores and staying involved with friends who are good influences.

At the same time that you set up the rules, it’s important to establish specific consequences for breaking them, penalties that aren’t too harsh but fit the seriousness of the violation. Hesitating to punish small infractions only teaches children that rules don’t have to be followed. If you wait for major misbehavior, you may be too late. Avoid arguing and criticizing when you impose a consequence. Ignore any negative reactions that follow–sulking or shouting, for instance.


House Rules
1. Don’t go to a friend’s house–or invite friends to your house–when there are no adults around.
2. Finish homework before watching TV.
3. Complete chores before going out with friends.
4. Be home by set curfew.
5. Call if you’re going to be late or if you go somewhere other than planned.

...and the consequences of breaking them
Removal of a privilege for a day (because you didn’t feed the cat).
Staying home Friday night (because you didn’t come home on time Tuesday).
Grounding from social activities for two weeks (because you were smoking).
Making a two-minute speech at the next family meeting on specific ways to regain family trust.


Don’t worry that your rules will alienate your children. They want you to show that you care enough to set rules and go to the trouble of enforcing them. Rules about what’s acceptable and expected–from curfews to callins– make children feel loved and secure. And rules about drugs give them something to fall back on when they feel tempted to make unwise decisions–a reason to say, “No, thanks.”