In our house, as with most households I assume, there are lots of rules that we decided on, which might not be agreed upon by other families. Our son is 9 at the moment.

For example, to prevent video game addiction, our son is not allowed to play when it's sunny outside. Without going into details as to how we came to this arbitrary rule, it's basically because we want to promote playing outside, but there is really very little to do Inside of our house so disallowing it on rainy days felt unfair.

Another rule we have is that treats should be eaten for dessert. We allow eating between meals only if it's a healthy snack, like fruits or vegetables. Ice cream, for example, is only to be eaten at the end of a meal.

Unlike in this question, our son never displayed a problem with that. He usually abides by our rules without complaining. But of course, many of his friends have different rules.

What we have noticed is progressively happening is that our son is going more and more at his friend's houses, especially in summer, and they are coming less and less here. They don't spent more time together overall, but this time is starting to be almost entirely spent at their places.

Of course, I can't decide what happens in another house, and my wife and I agree that trying to tie strings to our son will only result in him lying. We can't possibly check on him, and we can't control the other parents, so either he's allowed to eat sweets and play video games at their friend's places, or he's not allowed but will keep doing it behind our back.

The obvious reason why this is happening is that our son wants to do thèses things, therefore he tries to spent as much time as possible in households where this is allowed. That's totally logical from his perspective, he found a loophole and is using it. If I could temporarily move to a country with much lower taxes for 2 weeks when it's taxes season to save much money, I'd certainly do it too.

But another possibility is that the friends themselves find our house "boring", and are pressuring our son to play at theirs, where the fun is.

So my question is vague, mostly because we are constantly second-guessing ourselves with our first kid. What are we supposed to do?

Specifically, should we loosen our own rules at the expenses of what we believe is good for him? Is there a variation that wouldn't have negative conséquences that we could put in place (Ex: "You can do these things only when there are guests" would certainly increase the frequency of guests).

We, obviously, do not want to alienate his friends and isolate him, but changing our rules because another family did so seems particularly unfair, as if they were raising our children.

We are open to any and all suggestions, and will try to answer any question raised in the comments without compromising privacy.

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    Instead of assigning arbitrary limits to the amount of games he can play in a day, Why not give him a list of tasks to complete each day before he is allowed to play video games? say he gets home from school at around 4pm and goes to bed at 8:30. That's 4 1/2 hours of free time. You may only permit 2 hours of gaming a day. Instead of saying "You only get 2 hours of gaming a day" Just make him do things that take roughly 2 1/2 hours to complete. These can be chores, homework, or even other extra-curricular activities, like reading or hanging out with you guys, his parents.
    – McITGuy
    Jun 15, 2018 at 22:50
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    -continued- This way, he won't see gaming as something you guys are limiting him from doing, (which might make him want it even more, if he's anything like most boys that age) He can "play as much as he wants" he just also has to do those things first.
    – McITGuy
    Jun 15, 2018 at 22:56
  • Have you talked to the parents of his friend? Not to question their rules, but to suggest that if your son is spending so much time over there as to be a nuisance, that you would be happy to see them push the two boys back over to your place some of the time. Jun 24, 2018 at 17:50

3 Answers 3


This is one of the harder things we deal with as well; parents who have different rules than us, in both directions. Some of our (nearly 7 year old) son's friends' parents are more strict about certain things, some less. Some of his friends play more violent video games than we're comfortable with, some play with toy guns; but some don't play any video games or eat any candy.

There's a few things that are important here, I think, to work this out so it causes as little stress as possible for all sides.

First, I think it's important to decide what rules are very important and you're not comfortable with your child doing (whatever), even at another house; and what rules are more like preferences. I prefer my child not eat too much sweet food, but it's not the end of the world if another mom feeds him ice cream or candy; as long as it's infrequent, anyway, it's not going to change him much. But I don't think a kid that young should play Fortnite, no matter where that play occurs.

For rules that are more like preferences, the best way to handle those in my opinion is to make sure the child knows why you prefer that. My children know why they shouldn't eat too many sweets - it's bad for their teeth, it's not nutritious, and they need to have protein and vitamins and fiber and all that stuff. They aren't perfect at choosing healthy foods, but they know the how and the why, and over time I've seen them slowly make better choices on their own.

For rules that are hard-and-fast rules, it's entirely appropriate to let the other parent(s) know that you're not comfortable with your child doing something. One approach I take is that, for children whose parents I don't know very well, when I have their child over I ask first thing if there are anything they don't want their child eating or doing. Sometimes they tell me, sometimes they don't express an opinion, but I give them an opening to do so. For the first time or two, I also try to tell them roughly what we'll be doing; as they get older you have less control over the schedule of course but at least a vague idea can help the other parent judge what else to plan for that day and express an opinion then.

Don't feel like it's inappropriate for you to express that opinion, when it's something you feel strongly about. You're right that you can't control their kid, but you can control yours, and for something you feel strongly about most parents I know have no problem helping out there. And if they don't, you can always ask that the play happen at your house instead.

Another thing you can and should do, if you don't already, is spend time with the other parents while the children are playing. This is how you get to know them and they get to know you, and your rules and theirs. It's a lot easier to have the conversation about your preferences or rules if you know them well and they have a sense of who you are and how you think; it's also easier for you to understand why they make the choices they do, and where perhaps it's okay to allow the relaxing.

As far as the element of your child's friends not wanting to come over here, that's something you'll have to decide for yourself whether you relax the rules some or not. As your child ages, the rules should relax in general; rules, or limits, are there to keep him from making harmful choices when he can't make a good choice on his own due to not being sufficiently mature. That maturity develops over time, and so the rules should relax over time (as a whole) to allow him more room to make choices and learn from them.

But whether you should relax this specific rule, only you can choose. It's certainly good for your child to play outside; but the better thing would be for your child to choose to play outside, right? Balancing that is what you must do. Only you know your child well enough to know how to help him learn to make the right choices, and when to let him start making those choices. And of course he won't always make the choice you'd prefer, once you let him; but if you've taught him well, he'll make reasonable choices most of the time, if not the ones you'd make, and will learn from when he makes poor ones.


I think Joe's answer pretty much covers it, so I'll limit myself to expand a bit on the following aspect of your question:

But another possibility is that the friends themselves find our house "boring", and are pressuring our son to play at theirs, where the fun is. [...] We, obviously, do not want to alienate his friends and isolate him

Don't be scared that you're isolating your son or alienating your son by having rules (I don't think the ones you mentioned are especially restrictive, btw). Consider that:

  1. Children aren't stupid - your son's friends realize that it's not your son that doesn't want them to play video games or eat ice cream just anytime. They do know it's you who makes the rules. So they might moan about how tough the rules are in your son's home, but that's just rules, which children understand fine. They won't think you don't like them, or drop your son as a friend, just because of a few house rules they don't like. It is of course possible that they'll find the simplest solution: play elsewhere. But is that really a problem?

  2. Trust that your son picked his friends because he likes them, not primarily because he likes their toys and their playstation. And trust that they in turn picked him as a friend because they like him, not how cool his house is. I realize there may be a materialistic component to friendships, but just like you don't make friends because they have a cool yacht to spend the weekend on, your son probably doesn't make friends because they have unlimited playstation gaming going for them.

  3. It may look to you like there is a fundamental asymmetry in rules, but do you actually know what the rules are at the houses which your son visits? I'd be surprised if there were no rules there, or if they were all less restrictive than yours. Kids can be very devious this way: As an example, my oldest son and his best friend had both sets of parents convinced that the other was allowed more freedom in playing video games, and we both allowed them to play a specific game because the other family allowed it, until we got together and found out they had both very cleverly misdirected us. We had a good laugh about that. They were not quite ten-year-olds at the time.

  4. I noticed in my own childhood and with my own kids that sometimes a pair of children will form preferences on where to play, and I don't think this necessarily has anything to do with the rules that are enforced at the homes. It could also be about how outgoing a child is, how safe he feels away from home, how much he likes the color of the walls in his friend's room, the fact that he likes playing monopoly with his friend's siblings, etc.

So, don't let yourself be pressured in changing the rules because you think they're driving away your son's friends. If that's hard to do and you want some peace of mind, you could meet the other parents and simply ask them how they handle rules in their home. You might be surprised at the answers you get. This is also a great way to make new friends yourself. We got to know several interesting families because our children made friends, and the parents then followed suit.

Being friends with the parents of your son's friends also gives you a much better idea about your son's life when he's not with you, without you having to spy on him or control him, and other perspectives on how to raise kids, which I find very useful (how we raise our kids, what works and what doesn't work is often the main topic when we adults get together). I like the idea that it takes a village to raise a child.


What are we supposed to do?

Well, you need to find a way to stop scaring your son away from your home. If he feels the rules at your place are too oppressive or restrictive, he will continue to find a way around them no matter what rules you put in place. If you stop letting him to friends houses, he'll try the library. Or he'll start flat out lying about where he's going.

Growing up, I had friends whose parents allowed them to drink alcohol or smoke pot at home. They rarely went out drinking or partying elsewhere because the risk of getting caught while out partying was high, and the risk of getting caught at home was next to zero - who was going to catch them, the parents? As a result, they learned how to manage their alcohol responsibly.

I would have a conversation with your son. Tell him that you don't want to stop him from playing video games, but that you have concerns about his physical and mental health. Be specific about what those concerns are, and collectively work something out that addresses your concerns and his desires. Show that you're willing to work with him. And if you can't be specific about what the problems are regarding video games, then you might just be stopping him because "video games are bad" without considering what the realities of it are.

He's only halfway through childhood, so he still has a lot to learn, and you've got a long time to teach him how to act. But even now, he has the independence to choose the zones that have the rules he likes. This is no different than businesses that operate in one state instead of another because of legal restrictions on their factories, or outsourcing jobs, or whatever. So this is definitely a skill that will be useful to him in life. Don't discourage him from having goals and operating towards those goals.

Instead, make him aware that you know he has that choice, and teach him how to make choices that are good for him short term and long term. I've often summed up adulthood as when you finally start making choices prioritizing what you need instead of what you want. I don't want to go to work today, but I have a mortgage and a family. I don't want to clean the yard, but the bylaw officer will fine me if it's not mowed, and it can't be mowed until the leaves are up. Etc. You need to convince him to make the right choice when you're not standing over his shoulder.

And you need to get him in that habit now so when someone pressures him into drugs, or sex, or lying, or crime, or bullying that he's got that proven track record of making healthy decisions. That starts now.

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