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It’s a situation no parent thinks will ever come up: one of your teen’s friends asks to stay at your house. Not just overnight but indefinitely. He wants to move in.

There are many reasons why this might happen. There could be some big issue going on with the teen’s parents, so that getting out of the way seems to him like a good idea. The teen himself may be having an issue with his parents, so that it’s your place or running away entirely. There could be something else going on, like a family move that will take the child away from his friends, including away from your own child. If you like this kid and if your child is lobbying on his behalf, you might be tempted to say “yes.”

In the Colonial era and even beyond, this sort of thing was commonplace. Adolescents were routinely apprenticed to someone, meaning they lived in a master’s household and learned a trade there, or they were farmed out to a relative who might introduce the teen to a career or put him to work in some way. This practice not only provided on-the-job training but it got children out on their own at the time when all kids chafe under their parents’ rule but it got them “out on their own” in an adult-supervised environment. The practice of teens leaving their own home for someone else’s has a long history.

Nonetheless, there might be good reasons to refuse this request. If you know this teen to be violent or to have trouble with the law, then taking him in takes in this baggage too. If he has problems with drugs or alcohol or has an unsavory reputation, then he will bring his issues with him. If you have any reason to suspect that your own child is uncomfortable with this kid or that his presence in your home will create issues with your other children, the answer should be , “no.” Help him connect up with your local runaway hotline or other resource but realize that you need not give in. You might feel uncomfortable turning him away but your first responsibility is to your own children and their wellbeing.

If you are inclined to agree to let this child shelter under your roof, then your first move is to talk with him. Why does he need to leave his home? Find out. If this child refuses to have a conversation with you about his issues, then you will have a difficult time making things work.

Second, make certain his parents know where he is. You need a phone number, you need names. If something happens to this kid, you need to know how to get hold of his family. Understand that you may have some legal liability but you have few legal rights in this situation.

Third, establish daily expectations. If you expect him to go to school every day or to find a job and go to work, then make that crystal clear. If you expect him to be out of the house at a certain time in the morning, do his own laundry, chip in for groceries, be in by a particular hour at night, set it all down ahead of time. You are not running a hotel. Make it clear what the rules are.

Finally, set a time limit. Even if you think you’ll be happy to have this kid around forever, set a date at the very start to revisit things. Make the first date soon after he moves in, then later dates at intervals that seem reasonable. Remember to check with your own child too, to make certain he thinks things are still going okay. Have an exit plan in place – some next stop your boarder can make if you need him to move on.

Even though you might think this situation is unlikely, it’s more common than you think. It’s a situation that happened to me. I took the friend in and he lived with us for a year. I’m not sorry I did it. But it was a big decision and the request was completely unexpected.

If you have a teen, this request might be coming your way too.

© 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved.