a blurred photo of three people having a discussion in a backyard

This can help if you're:

  • blending a new family
  • worried about competing ideas
  • setting some guidelines for new family life

Are they rules or 'guidelines'?

For teens and young people, the idea of ‘rules’ can feel harsh. Developmentally, it’s normal for teens to be making more and more of their own decisions, and developing their own style. Using a different word, like ‘guidelines’, and involving teens in setting them up will go down better than telling them what to do. It shows you respect them for where they’re at, and aren’t putting them down or trying to treat them like a kid.

But guidelines are still important to keep the household sane. Each family will be coming in with different past experiences and expectations. It can be a great opportunity for you all to work together and come-up with something truly great that works for everyone.

Being clear with teens about which rules or guidelines are flexible, and which are non-negotiable, helps keep everyone on the same page. Let them know what happens if they’re broken, and have a clear consequence, for example: ‘Your curfew is 11pm. If you miss curfew, you must call me to let me know, otherwise you’re grounded for a month’. Chat to your partner beforehand to make sure you’re on the same page with non-negotiables, and try to have the same rules for all kids and teens, depending on their age.

Write down what the current rules are with your biological kids and try and fit the new system into old. Have a family meeting so everybody can brainstorm ideas. As parents, you and your partner can lead the meeting, and come up with the guidelines. Write them down and put them where everyone can see. It’s important to involve everyone, as there will need to be some compromise.

Hear from a mum and stepmum who's been through it.

Checking off the main areas

Here are some checklists of things that you might want to cover.

Night time routine

  • Set a time for dinner and what happens if people have different routines
  • Decide on a homework time
  • Is there time for technology/TV? If so, how long?
  • Work out bed times for each child


Ask yourself the following questions

  • What time do you expect them back on a school night?
  • What time should they be home on a weekend?
  • What should they do if they're running late?
  • What happens if they break curfew?
  • Does curfew get later as they get older?

Consequences for breaking the rules/guidelines

  • Have different consequences for breaking different rules/guidelines
  • Try to build in some flexibility for the less serious stuff and go more on a case by case basis


  • Write a chore roster
  • Change it up between different kids
  • Throw yourself in the mix - it can help you gain a lot of cred


  • Make different profiles for each person in the family so teens have more ownership and freedom
  • Set out who has control over the remote and when!

Getting along

  • Respect everybody's personal space and things
  • Be kind to one another

If you set up rules or guidelines and it doesn’t seem like they’re working out that’s ok. Families grow and change so make sure you take time to reflect and talk through any problems, adjusting your rules and guidelines if you need to.

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