My house has always been the community house. I love to cook, have movie or game nights, and I LIVE for birthday parties, so when my kids ask if friends can come over, the answer is usually “Yes.”

But what if the kid doesn’t leave?

This happened to me the other day when my son’s friend came home with him from band practice. I figured he’d be there for a few hours, but after two days, I wondered if I was dealing with a kid who didn’t want to go home. Of course, I didn’t mind. I’ve had foster children before and always feel privileged to be able to help a child in crisis, but my love for children doesn’t mean I just get to collect them without permission.

If my son’s pal were not a recent high school graduate, I would have certainly called his parents and asked permission for him to be there overnight, but I figured he’s old enough to make that decision himself. If he were younger though, I may have been crossing the line.

I did a little research with the American Bar Association and, from what I can tell, running away from home is only illegal in nine states: Georgia, Idaho, Kentucky, Nebraska, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, and Wyoming. In those states, I would have been required to send the kid home or call the authorities to return him or face getting in trouble myself. In all of the other states, it’s a little gray. Calling the parents, notifying the school, calling social services, or notifying the police may all be appropriate actions.

My personal rule of thumb is that friends can hang out until I start cooking dinner, then they have to get permission to stay any longer. I don’t like to have anyone’s child over for a meal when their parents may be at home fixing their own meal and expecting their child to be there.

So, what are your thoughts? Are your kids always bringing their friends home? What boundaries have you set?

Let me know in the comments!