Strict Rules The Duggar Family Has To Follow

The Duggar family has lived through many TV evolutions. Back in 2004, they kicked off their reality TV career with a special originally called "14 Children and Pregnant Again!"

"Pregnant Again" seemed like the operative phrase, as the series changed its name based on the growing brood. Hence, the Duggars went all the way up to "19 Kids and Counting." The show was canceled in 2015 and was replaced by "Counting On," but for much more serious reasons. News broke that Josh Duggar, the eldest son of Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, had molested his sisters and other minors when he was 14. More scandals aired in 2021 that involved Josh, who faced trial for "receiving and possessing child pornography" (via Deadline). TLC subsequently announced that the network was canceling "Counting On."

The rest of the family has carried on in their own ways, with many of the other Duggar children thriving on social media, in their own relationships, and with their own families. While plenty of Duggar children have left the nest (the older ones, at least), viewers still haven't forgotten the family atmosphere from earlier renditions of Duggar reality shows. In light of their television history, let's look back on the strict rules that the Duggar family has had to follow.

The Duggars' abstinence-only policy toward intimacy before marriage

The Duggars, led by parents Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, have been characterized as independent Christian Baptists, a notably conservative branch of Protestantism. The family's rules, which can seem strict to outside audiences, might make more sense when seen through the family's religious framework.

A big rule the Duggar children are expected to follow is an abstinence-only policy before marriage, so any form of physical intimacy is prohibited until a couple says their vows. An in-law of the Duggar family spoke up about the group's stance on intimacy before marriage in the funniest way. Derick Dillard, who married Jill Duggar, had a little fun with fans on Instagram after Jill congratulated her younger brother, Justin Duggar, on his engagement to Claire Spivey, just a day after Justin turned 18. 

A fan commented (forgetting Justin had just turned 18), "Amazingly surprised that your brother is 17 and engaged!!! Why do you guys rush to marry [sic] life. He's a kid and Claire too!!!" (via Hollywood Life). Not mincing words, Derick replied that it was "because we want to have sex." His wife obviously enjoyed the statement, because her response was a smiley face emoji with its tongue sticking out, followed by the A-Okay emoji. 

The Duggars' requirement of no sex before marriage seems to function as an umbrella for several other rules. 

No kissing until marriage!

It's not just sex that can wait for marriage when you're a Duggar. The family's courtship system prohibits most other forms of physical contact before marriage. Interestingly, the Duggar children get a little more leeway with this rule.

Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar told Today that they let their kids decide what physical boundaries will look like, but each couple must tell the Duggar parents what those boundaries are. In a "19 Kids and Counting" clip, Jessa Seewald (then Duggar) said of her physical relationship with Ben Seewald, "Basically, all we would do is just brief side-hug when we're greeting or saying goodbye to each other, and really trying to focus on communication."

"But they have committed to waiting for the first kiss till marriage," Jim Bob countered to Today. He added that Ben and Jessa were going to hold hands once they were engaged. Michelle added her thoughts about pre-marital PDA: "We believe it's best for them to save the physical part for marriage. That way there's no regrets."

Josiah Duggar opted not to kiss Lauren Swanson until their wedding day, but he confessed on "Counting On" that he practiced on his hand prior to their first smooch (via In Touch). "I think practicing on my hand was just to see what it felt like from her side — you can't kiss a tree and expect to see what it's going to feel like for her," Josiah explained. "So, if you kiss on your hand, you can feel ... like, 'Okay, maybe I should make my lips more full,' or whatever, and kind of think of it from that perspective." 

It's all about courtship, not dating, for the Duggars

For an adolescent Duggar, any romantic pursuit is geared toward a deeper commitment, so parents Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar don't believe in dating relationships that don't factor in the possibility of marriage. They spoke with Today in 2014 about this family rule. 

"Courtship is really waiting for the one God has for you and praying through the whole process," he said. Michelle chimed in: "It's really examining the person and considering, 'Would this be the guy I want to be the father of my kids?'" If the courtship ends, it simply means that the couple discerned they weren't compatible for marriage. If it succeeds, then there's a wedding. "There is no failed courtship," Michelle explain to Today. She expressed that loving, caring parents want the best for their kids.

So what exactly can one do whilst courting? Austin Forsyth and Joy Forsyth (née Duggar) spoke with TLC about their relationship prior to marriage. "It's really fun getting to spend time with her in different occasions and getting to do different activities and church-related stuff. We've gone on several road trips." Joy added that many of their activities were outdoors, including horseback riding.

Ben Seewald, in a "Counting On" clip, emphasized the "focus on getting to know each other as a person, asking lots of questions, having a lot of conversation." You could say it's a cerebral process. But that's not the last rule around courtship. 

The Duggar dates are always chaperoned

While the Duggar children explore the possibilities of marriage with their significant others, the actual experience of going on a "date" doesn't just happen between a couple. A chaperone is always present. 

"A lot of times, if you're alone with the person, that can create desires that can kind of get stirred up and you don't have any accountability. It can kind of lead to some hanky-panky," Jim Bob said in a "19 Kids and Counting" clip. Yep, hanky-panky.

Conveniently, with a family as large as the Duggars, there tends to be a sibling (or two) available. James and Jackson Duggar accompanied their brother, Joseph, on a rollerskating outing with Joe's eventual wife, Kendra Caldwell. James didn't hide his chaperoning prowess during the "Counting On" episode: "I used to chaperone Jill and Derick. ... Now I'm starting to chaperone Joe and Kendra. I've been doing it for a little while, not too long. I guess you could say I'm a pro chaperone." Young Jackson Duggar was "a chaperone in training," Joe said.

Most texting in a relationship includes Jim Bob and Michelle

It's not just the physical dates that require chaperones. Any form of contact between a new couple, including texting, is supervised by the Duggar parents. 

The couple explained this to Today, when they were describing Ben Seewald courting their daughter, Jessa. Ben and Jessa's relationship was long-distance for a time, so they wanted to text to stay in touch. Well, Jim Bob and Michelle joined in and made a family thread of it. "It's neat to see their conversations," Jim Bob said of the experience. Ben mentioned in a "Counting On" clip that the group texting allowed Jessa's parents "to get to know me a little better ... and see what we were talking about, see what kind of questions we were asking, and they could throw in some questions, too, and hop in on the conversation."

Longtime viewers of "19 Kids and Counting" might also remember that Michelle and Jim Bob sat in the room for Jill's face-to-face Skype call with Derick Dillard when the two were getting to know one another.

The technological parameters aren't entirely intrusive, though. The parents informed Today in 2014 that one hour a day to speak on the phone Duggar-free was permissible. As is probably clear by now, a running theme to the Duggar family rules is that Jim Bob is in charge. 

Father knows best, in the Duggar family's opinion

The Duggar family is famous for their conservative stance, so it might not come as a huge surprise that potential suitors for the Duggar daughters have to go through Jim Bob Duggar and meet his approval before they can move forward.

Jim Bob was the first one to interact with Jill's husband, Derick Dillard, when the two were prayer partners. When Jill and Derick were first courting, he was away for a period doing humanitarian work in Nepal. Jill wanted to visit him, so Jim Bob accompanied her on the trip. The dad isn't just an international travel chaperone — he has kept tabs on his eventual sons-in-law in one very unusual way.

Jeremy Vuolo (Jinger's husband) can be seen in a "Counting On" clip asking Ben Seewald and Derick Dillard, "Did Mr. Duggar ever grill you guys about your financial situation before marriage?" Derick answered, "It's on the 45-page application." Jessa chimed in, "Everybody did the 30-page questionnaire," while Jeremy revealed he had been sent 50 pages. The document was described as a way for Jim Bob to get to know his daughters' suitors, including their personal practices of Christianity. 

When Michelle Duggar spoke to Today, she reiterated the idea that her daughters sent prospective men Jim Bob's way: ​​"The girls have always said they would send any guy who was interested in them to Dad. That's a good thing — that is such good protection for them."

Dress codes are a big deal for the Duggars

The Duggar family has regulations that revolve around clothing, specifically when it comes to what the daughters wear. Viewers will already be familiar with the dress code implemented by Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar for the whole family. The girls wore long dresses or skirts paired with high-cut shirts with sleeves.

In their 2014 memoir, "Growing Up Duggar," authors Jill, Jinger, Jessa, and Jana Duggar explain the mindset behind their family's dress code. "It's okay to enhance or accent whatever beauty God has given us, but we try to be careful not to wear clothes that are too tight and draw attention to the wrong places," they wrote. "But this does not mean we go out dressing frumpy or trying to look formless. Clothing can be cute, trendy, and stylish, and still entirely modest."

However, as the daughters grew up, they forged their own paths, and some have chosen to change their dress code rules. In Jinger Vuolo's 2021 memoir, "The Hope We Hold," which she wrote with husband Jeremy Vuolo, she describes her process of examining this rule for herself. "My mom had always dressed us girls in skirts and dresses, a standard that was taken from Deuteronomy 22:5, which says, 'A woman shall not wear a man's garment,' (ESV) and I never really questioned it," she wrote. But this isn't the end of the Duggars' rules about clothes.

The Duggar family has a code-word for clothing they deem inappropriate

With such an emphasis on clothing and modesty, it's not surprising that the Duggar family has ongoing rules around outfits, even when they're worn by members outside of the immediate family. In their 2014 memoir "Growing Up Duggar," the Duggar daughters explained how the family responded to people in public who didn't meet the family dress code: Nike.

It all started, the group wrote, when the family walked by a young woman wearing "a short skirt and a rather low-cut top." In response, one of the younger Duggar boys yelled: "Don't look! That girl's not dressed right!" The sisters wrote that the response was "admittedly judgemental," so the family came up with the idea that someone would say "Nike" when they're in proximity to a person wearing what the family would deem inappropriate clothing.

"That's a signal to the boys, and even to Dad, that they should nonchalantly drop their eyes and look down at their shoes as we walk past her. It's meant to help keep the guys' eyes from seeing things they shouldn't be seeing," Jana, Jill, Jessa, and Jinger added. The code word was, as E! News pointed out, an attempt to "avoid lustful thoughts" brought on by clothing choices. The Duggar family rules don't stop at outfits. 

Music is closely monitored because it could lead to dancing

There's an old joke that goes: "Why do Baptists object to fornication? Because they're afraid it might lead to dancing" (via The Herald). This isn't far off from the Duggar family's rule about music and the censorship of popular culture. A source told People that Jim Bob Duggar took out batteries in musical toys "because he didn't want [his kids] to dance or move their bodies that way." As In Touch noted, Michelle Duggar once said that dancing can prompt "sensual feelings."

In 2008, Jim Bob said in a confessional on "19 Kids and Counting": "I think any of the little ones, when they hear music, they start jiggling around; that's natural. That's why we're careful about the music we allow in our home" (per OK!). He said in a 2019 episode, "We noticed when there was a rock beat, the kids would be jumping around. We thought, the more calm the music, the more calm the kids would be."

John-David Duggar also spoke about music in the Duggar household on a "Counting On" episode in 2019 (via Ok!): "In our house growing up, there were definitely rules regarding music. The goal was to keep music more melodious." Jana Duggar explained, "We've had more of, I guess, a conservative side of music and no dancing." It certainly seems so. Well, let's boogie on, then.

The Duggars teach their children about a husband's needs

In honor of Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar's 34th wedding anniversary, Michelle wrote a blog post summarizing the outlook the couple shares that has kept their marriage alive. In the post, she outlined the "Seven Basic Needs of a Husband," which were: "A man needs a wife who is loyal and supportive," "honors his leadership," "develops inward and outward beauty," who appeals rather than demands, who gives him time alone with God, who is grateful, and "will be praised by others."

There were also the "Seven Basic Needs of a Wife," which stipulated that a wife needed "spiritual leadership" from her husband, who protects, honors, and cherishes her, who communicates with her, "invests in her life," and lets her know that "she is meeting her husband's vital needs."

This topic came up again when Jim Bob and Michelle spoke with Today, and the first rule was, "Say yes to sex, even when you're tired." Michelle reiterated advice she got from a friend prior to her wedding: "She said, 'In your marriage there will be times you're going to be very exhausted. Your hubby comes home after a hard day's work, you get the baby to bed, and he is going to be looking forward to that time with you.'" Michelle's friend also told her, "'Be available. Anyone can fix him lunch, but only one person can meet that physical need of love that he has, and you always need to be available when he calls.'"

TV and media are highly restricted

The Duggar family is famous for restricting the media and TV content their children consume, which might seem contradictory, since they were on TV. The family's decision to limit television access started when Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar first got married. Jim Bob explained how it happened to HuffPost in 2011. 

"I grew up watching TV, but when we got married a doctor friend of ours encouraged us not to have a pet or a TV the first year of marriage. So we did that. For the first year, we lived on love," he stated. When they were gifted with a TV, Jim Bob and Michelle spent all their time watching it instead of talking to one another. They found the content inappropriate and decided the whole thing was "detrimental to our marriage. We prayed about it and felt we had to pull it out of our house, which we did. And I would say that is one of the best things we have done for our family," he added.

When more of the kids were at home and the family was growing up, they did actually have a television set, but they only used it to watch Duggar-appropriate DVDs, including "The Andy Griffith Show."

In a Q&A on "19 Kids & Counting," Jim Bob elaborated on their lack of interest in watching TV. "I tell you what, there is nonstop entertainment around here. It's like a 19-ring circus. ... There's never a dull moment around here."

Birth control is a no-no for the Duggar family

This one might be super obvious, considering the Duggars boast a brood of 19 kids, but Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar follow a lifestyle that does not include birth control.

In their 2008 memoir, "The Duggars: 20 and Counting!: Raising One of America's Largest Families," Jim Bob and Michelle wrote about why they made this choice. They had initially used the pill after Josh was born. However, Michelle miscarried during this time. The parents wrote: "As conservative Christians, we believe every life is sacred, even the life of the unborn. ... We prayed and studied the Bible and found a host of references that told us God considered children a gift, a blessing, and a reward. Yet we had considered having another child an inconvenience during that busy time in our lives, and we had taken steps to prevent it from happening."

It's worth noting that Mayo Clinic explains that there is "little risk" if a woman takes birth control pills without knowing she's pregnant. However, for the Duggars, the point is that birth control does not align with their religious beliefs. Michelle even joked in her memoir that she's used to being asked about her stance on the subject, so it's clearly not a TMI issue for the family.

No alcohol for the Duggar clan

The Duggar family has always been open about their rules and why they choose to live by them. This is certainly necessary for the world of reality TV and for a family that has published several books about their lives. Another rule that they've publicly talked about is that the Duggar household is alcohol-free. Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar don't drink, and they raised their kids to abstain from alcohol, too.

In "Growing Up Duggar," daughters Jill, Jinger, Jessa, and Jana Duggar shed some light on their parents' teaching. Jim Bob told his children a story about a young man who grew up going to church, but in high school, he was introduced to alcohol and eventually became a drug addict. "How sad that one, seemingly small decision started him on a path of self-destruction," they wrote.

Have the Duggar house alcohol rules influenced any of the adult children? Maybe, maybe not. Jill and Derick Dillard addressed their stance on alcohol in a 2020 YouTube video. Derick shared their belief that "drunkenness is absolutely sinful." He then quipped, "But that doesn't mean that Jill wouldn't have a piña colada at dinner or something." The couple indicated that they drink responsibly, highlighting the importance of boundaries and transparency. Jill also said she wants their kids "to see a healthy balance" in her and Derick's lives.

Have the Duggar children abided by their parents' rules?

With an upbringing in such a conservative, Christian household, many wonder what the Duggar children have done with the rules passed on to them from their parents. A number of Duggar children are married now with children of their own, but there seems to be a trend of forging their own paths with the same frank candidness that their parents have always shared. For example, in 2020, Jill Duggar and husband Derick Dillard shared in a Q&A on YouTube that they decided to use birth control after baby #2. ″We use birth control, but we prefer to use non-hormonal birth control methods," Jill explained.

Many of the adult daughters have been spotted wearing pants, or even shorts, so they've clearly made their own decisions about the Duggar dress code.

But perhaps the most open of all the Duggar kids is Jinger, who graciously and respectfully wrote about the decisions she made as an adult, in light of her upbringing. In her memoir, "The Hope We Hold," Jinger explained how the decision to wear pants ended up leading to a very deep experience of making her own decisions about everything. "I struggled with believing something that was different from my family. I knew they deeply cared about their convictions, and I didn't want to hurt them... In the end though, I had to walk in truth." Sounds like a powerful message.