A California father with an open-door policy for teenagers says the strategy keeps everyone safe and happy.
Jeremy Serrano, a pastor in Concord, Calif., shared his parenting move in a Dec. 15 TikTok video called "Be that house!" explaining how he and his wife Jessica make their home inviting for the friends of their children, ages 17, 15 and 12.
"I was talking to another parent the other day and they asked me, 'Why do you always have teenagers over at your house?'" Serrano said on TikTok. "One of the things that we've worked really hard on is being the house that the teenage friends of my children want to hang out at."
In the Serrano home, guests can play with a homemade axe-throwing target (while supervised), jump on a trampoline, or play Ping Pong, darts, basketball and video games. And the kitchen is brimming with potato chips, soda and instant noodles.
"My wife and I, we intentionally ask our children's friends what kind of food and drinks they like and then we make sure that we have those things on hand for them," he said in the video.
"It's just one of the best things that we've ever done," added Serrano. "Because we get to know our kids' friends and then we know that they're hanging out here."
Serrano tells TODAY.com that opening his home feels like the natural thing to do.
"I grew up in a Mexican home and my grandmother always welcomed people in; she never locked her doors," he says. "Jessica's parents were the same, so we made a concerted effort to give our children's friends a place to hang out."
Serrano and his wife are not worried about drugs or alcohol or kids sneaking into bedrooms together.
"We have boundaries and don't allow that here," he explains. "In fact, I'd lose credibility with my children by not providing boundaries."
Instead, Serrano is an unbiased presence for his kids and their friends. Consequently, some young guests have asked for his advice.
"I was really honored that my children pointed their friends to me — the first time it happened I was like, 'Whoa that is a big deal,'" he says. Secrets are safe with Serrano: "My rule is, they can share our conversations with anyone they want, but I won't. If their parents ask if we've talked, I won't lie, but I'll point them back to their children."
According to Denver-based family therapist Sheryl Ziegler, author of "Mommy Burnout," Serrano is doing right by his kids.
"When you create spaces that are made for kids and safe for kids, their guard goes down," she tells TODAY.com. "Sometimes being present is all kids need."
Parents like Serrano are "emotional containers," holding space for kids to communicate, think for themselves and grow self-awareness, says Ziegler. "It's not just about having a cool basement or a stocked kitchen."
Ziegler says "hangout" homes should keep boundaries with alcohol use, for example, so kids don't take advantage of their environment and parents don't unintentionally relax rules. "As kids grow up, they don't always want to sit around and eat cookies," she notes.
Serrano and his wife see only upsides to their house rules.
"We get to be involved in our children's lives," he says. "And provide a safe space among chaos in the world."