Rules The Presidential Kids Have To Follow

Being the son or daughter of the President of the United States can't exactly be an easy role to take on — and yet the children in the first families have no other option. Having a parent who is the head of the most powerful country in the world comes with its own benefits, sure, but it also comes with a lot of pressure and public scrutiny. It has to be especially tough for the kids, who are forced to grow up in the spotlight. Think about all of the scathing comments that have been said about Sasha and Malia Obama, and Barron Trump. 

Presidential children also have to follow a strict set of rules and guidelines that affect everything from how they act in public, to where they go to school, to their daily life at home. Some of these rules can be, and have been, broken by the president's children, but that decision can come with a lot of backlash. Below are some of the rules the president's children are expected to follow. 

They can't open the windows at the White House

Living in the White House might sound glamorous and interesting, but in reality, it's basically like living in a giant museum — one that comes with many rules. One of the most restricting is that the presidential kids (and, actually, the entire family) are not allowed to open the windows anywhere in the White House, or in any car they're in. It might not sound like a big deal, but imagine not being able to get a breath of fresh air whenever you want.

In fact, being able to open windows was one of the things Michelle Obama said she was most excited to be able to do after moving out of the White House. During an appearance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Michelle said, "I really can't open a window. If I press it in the car, everybody's like, 'Oh my god! What was that?'" And during an interview with Oprah Winfrey, the former first lady said that Sasha had once opened her window in the house, saying, "There were calls. 'Shut the window!' It never opened again." 

The kids aren't supposed to take on official roles in the administration

There are many controversies surrounding the Trump presidency, but one of the biggest has always been the roles his adult children have taken on in his administration. President Donald Trump's daughter Ivanka Trump was given the role of special advisor to the president, in which she takes on many unspecified tasks, but is said to have an influential position. Her husband, Jared Kushner, was given the role of the White House Innovations Director shortly after the president went into office. 

The reason this is an issue for many is because there is a general rule that presidential family members are not supposed to work in the White House. According to Business Insider, Congress passed an anti-nepotism law in 1967, which "prohibits the president from appointing a family member to work in the office or agency they oversee." However, Ivanka isn't actually breaking the law, as it doesn't prevent children (or Kushner) from serving as unpaid advisors —which is exactly how they're classified at the White House. 

The kids are usually expected to attend private school

Since the life of a presidential child is under so much scrutiny, it's not surprising that even their schooling is controlled. While it's not a hard and fast rule, presidential children are generally expected to attend private schools over public schools. This isn't just because of the idea that expensive private schools offer a better education — it also has to do with safety and security. As The Atlantic pointed out, a busy politician might feel more comfortable putting their kids in a "more secure and customized education environment," especially considering the public exposure that comes with a different type of school. 

Still, it's a rule that can be broken, and once was. In 1977, when President Jimmy Carter was in office, he made sure to enroll his 9-year-old daughter, Amy, in a public school in Washington, D.C. where, as a white girl, she was in the minority. As The Atlantic noted, Carter did this because, during his presidential campaign, he stood up against the idea that private schools are thought to be better than public schools. 

They must always be accompanied by Secret Service Agents

When your parent is the president of the United States, that means your every move is being watched, and not only by the curious public eye. Like their parents, even former presidential kids must always be accompanied by Secret Service agents... at least until they are 16 years old. According to ABC News, after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, "Congress had ended lifetime security details for former presidents, cutting off Secret Service protection 10 years after a president leaves office." But when President Barack Obama was in office, he signed a repeal, HR. 6620, the "Former Presidents Protection Act of 2012." 

The act didn't just offer more protection for former presidents, but also for former first ladies. The act also declared that agents had to protect the children of former presidents until they turned 16 years old. After that age, they don't have to be followed around by an agent. But if families don't want the protection at all, they can choose to decline it. 

They should have a presidential pet

One guideline that presidential children (the entire family, actually) are expected to follow is the tradition of getting a presidential pet. The Obamas had their dog, Bo, and President George W. Bush also had a dog named Spot. Getting a pet isn't a rule that the family has to follow, but it is a time-honored tradition that they're expected to go along with. It began with Thomas Jefferson, who had a mockingbird and some bear cubs. 

Ed Lengel, chief historian at the White House Historical Association, told CNN that the pets "soften their image" and "broadens their appeal." He added, "They help create an atmosphere of the White House as a family, a lived-in place and not just a stiff museum, but a place where a family lives and plays and enjoys each other's company." President Donald Trump is the first president since Jefferson to break with this tradition, as he does not have a presidential pet. 

They have to participate in certain events, like the Easter egg roll

Although Congress' anti-nepotism law means presidential kids shouldn't have official roles in the administration, they are still expected to take part in some of the events that go on at the White House. The president and the first lady are expected to take part in many annual events that get the Washington community involved, mainly out of tradition, and the presidential children are supposed to be there as well. 

One example is the White House Easter Egg Roll, an event that has been around since 1878, when it began under the administration of President Rutherford B. Hayes, as noted by the White House Historical Association. Every February, there is a public lottery, and the winners get to go to the event. The White House Easter Egg Roll takes place on Easter Monday each year, and consists of family activities. Some of these include the famous egg roll, live musical performances, and the act of coloring and putting together cards for American service members. In April 2018, when Melania Trump hosted the 140th Easter Egg Roll, Donald Trump Jr. and Barron Trump were also present. 

They can decorate their rooms however they want... with a limitations

While the first family does get to redecorate the White House to their own tastes, there are limits to what they can and cannot change. The families have to be careful to preserve historic features of the residence, and some areas, such as the Lincoln Room, are completely off-limits. After winning the 2016 election, Donald Trump offered to build a $100 million ballroom in the White House, but the Obama administration rejected the idea.

"Some parts are essentially historic rooms and belong to the American people, not to the families who live there," Kate Andersen Brower, author of First Women: The Grace and Power of America's Modern First Ladies, told ABC News. This means that, while presidential kids can decorate their bedrooms and hang up posters, they're probably not going to be allowed to do a full remodel of their private space or install a personal hot tub.

They have to dress up for dinner

Attending formal dinners puts presidential kids in the public eye, and their every action is scrutinized. As a child, first daughter Amy Carter was criticized for showing up to a state dinner with books to keep her entertained. Presidential kids have to be dressed up and on their best behavior for such functions, if only to keep the critics at bay.

"That's one of the reasons that the Clintons and the Obamas have tried to keep their kids out of those official functions as much as they possibly can, because there is a pretty strict code of decorum and behavior that's expected," chief historian of the White House Historical Association Edward Lengel told The Washington Post. "They still have to wear nice clothes — they can't come to a formal dinner wearing a Snoopy shirt or something. And they have to eat carefully, in a certain way. They have to be polite and shake hands."

They don't get keys to the White House

If you're a kid living in the White House, sneaking out is next to impossible. Teenagers across the country might be able to sneak out of a window in the middle of the night and climb back in by morning, but remember that the first family isn't even allowed to open windows. Even if a rebellious presidential kid does manage to slip past their Secret Service detail, they wouldn't be able to get back in the house without anyone noticing since they don't carry keys to the White House.  

The doors also automatically lock, which has led to at least two presidents, Barack Obama and Gerald Ford, accidentally getting locked out of the White House. In Ford's case, he went to let his dog out at night and then couldn't access the White House elevator to get to his room. Obama had returned home early from a trip and couldn't get into the Oval Office.  

Presidential kids might not be able to leave the house without anyone knowing, but there is one place they can sneak off to for some privacy: the roof. Jenna Bush Hager has admitted to stealing a smooch from her now-husband while she lived at the White House when her father, George W. Bush, was president.

Expensive gifts can't be kept

Being part of the first family comes with some perks, like getting presents from visiting dignitaries and other guests. Unfortunately, many gifts to the first family are considered government property. "As gifts are received, they go to the National Archive to be logged in and have their value established," former U.S. diplomat Michael Montgomery told Realtor. "Everything above $375 — and the vast majority of things are below that limit — stays at the National Archive."

According to Bloomberg, that limit has since been raised to $390. If a member of the first family wants to keep a gift above that price point, they have to pay for it at market value. That means Hilary Clinton had to shell out nearly $1,000 for a black pearl necklace given to her by Myanmar state counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, and George W. Bush forked over $14,000 for a shotgun.

Sasha and Malia Obama weren't allowed to keep Adidas swag given to them by German chancellor Angela Merkel (valued at $557). The family also couldn't hold on to national soccer team jerseys autographed by Lionel Messi (valued at $1,700) presented by Argentina's president Mauricio Macri.

Riding in cars with friends isn't usually allowed

Okay, this rule might not apply to all presidential children, but it was enforced with Sasha and Malia Obama. "Normally, for security reasons, Malia and Sasha weren't allowed to ride in anyone else's car," Michelle Obama wrote in her memoir Becoming (via the Chicago Sun Times). This meant that the girls never took public transportation or got to go for a joy ride with friends. They couldn't even be driven around by their dad since presidents aren't allowed to drive on public roads. The president did, however, let Malia's prom date drive her to the dance — with the Secret Service "[riding] the boy's bumper" the whole way.

Many former presidents are still driven around by the Secret Service, as are their families. Even though Obama has left office, Michelle Obama told People that the Secret Service still won't let her drive her own car for safety reasons. "We still live in a bubble," she said.

At the end of the day, their parents still make the rules

Living in the White House can mean living in the lap of luxury for presidential kids, but only if their parents give the okay. At the end of the day, the president and the first lady are the ones making most of the rules for their kids. Barack and Michelle Obama, for example, made sure that their kids stayed grounded and didn't become spoiled by the fact that the White House comes fully staffed. When they first moved into the White House, Sasha and Malia still had a bedtime of 8 p.m. and were expected to tidy up after themselves, set their own alarms, and get themselves out of bed in the morning.

"That was the first thing I said to some of the staff when I did my visit," said the former first lady in an interview with ABC News (via The New York Times). "Don't make their beds. Make mine. Skip the kids. They have to learn these things."

Presidential kids can't eat whatever they want

While living in the White House might sound like the lap of luxury, it's not exactly like residing in a palace where all of your whims are met. 

According to the website for the White House Museum, the White House employs five full-time chefs, but the president's kids can't dine on caviar and expensive cuts of steak every day — at least, not without their parents' permission. Presidential kids might stay at the White House rent-free, but the first family is actually responsible for footing their own food bills, as Michelle Obama confirmed on Jimmy Kimmel Live in 2018.

While it's safe to assume that the president's kids don't have to pay for their meals, their parents probably don't give them an unlimited budget for junk food and candy. Not that the presidential kids shop for food themselves — as Obama explained, the first family doesn't actually go to the supermarket. Instead, the kitchen staff whips up the food, then sends the president the bill.

Presidential kids can't post whatever they want on social media

Social media is a fairly new technological development, which might be why there are no official rules about the presidential kids using it. That being said, we don't typically see younger presidential kids on social media, and it's easy to see why. Presidential kids are already in the public eye, and social media would only attract more attention. So while adult children of presidents may choose to cultivate a public image on social media, it's doubtful that we'll see any minor presidential kids become social media influencers anytime soon.

For example, in 2018, Melania Trump said in a speech that the then 12-year-old Barron Trump — the only Trump kid still living at home — didn't have any social media accounts (via Town & Country). And in 2016, Barack Obama revealed that his then 15-year-old daughter Sasha Obama was on Twitter, although the account wasn't public. The Washington Post reported at the time that it was likely both Sasha and Malia Obama were on multiple social media platforms (privately) but that they had "a dedicated staffer monitoring their social media moves."