Setting Reasonable Curfews
I grew up in a house at the bottom of a hill. This was a good thing. If I was past curfew, I'd turn off the headlights and engine, then glide down the hill, into the driveway ... steadily ... into park. The doors weren't as accommodating, however. The squeaking always woke up Mom, who was inevitably perched on the couch watching late-night TV. I swear my parents never greased those hinges so they could catch me.
Does your teen give you a hard time about the tabs you keep on him? Are you considered a member of the curfew police? Rather than thinking of curfews as steadfast rules, try to think of them as guidelines, or rules that can change depending on your teen's age and special circumstances.
Are curfews necessary?
Some parents believe their teens don't need curfews because they are trustworthy. Others believe in enforcing strict curfews regardless of the circumstance. Susan Kuczmarski, Ed.D., author of The Sacred Flight of the Teenager: A Parent's Guide to Stepping Back and Letting Go (Book Ends Publishing, 2004), explains, "We want to nurture creative, independent teens, but also create a family culture where everyone is respected. Setting and maintaining appropriate boundaries helps to protect each family member's dignity (and sanity) and to preserve reasonable harmony in your home."
There are many different parenting styles, and all parents have their own comfort zone. "Family systems can be closed or open," Kuczmarski says. "In a closed system, children are given orders, threats and warnings by their parents. In a totally open family, teens are allowed to do what they want. The first approach puts teens on a short leash, while the second puts them on one that is too long. The ideal system is somewhere in between."
Agreeing on a time
Discuss your reasons for setting a curfew. What if there were an accident or she needed your help? You wouldn't know to be concerned if you weren't expecting her.
There is no hard and fast rule to follow. My 16-year-old has always been more mature and grounded than most his age; however, my 14-year-old has always been impetuous and naïve. So I tend to parent with a shorter leash when it comes to my youngest. Parents should consider their teen's history — how well she has followed rules, and whether or not she has been able to avoid trouble.
Work out a reasonable curfew together. Your teen will be more likely to abide by it and take ownership of it. "Teens hate fixed, out-of-date and inhuman rules with a passion," Kuczmarski comments. "Teens need enough direction and control to guide them, yet enough room to breathe, learn and grow. There must be a balance between structure and flexibility. Curfews can accomplish this balance, especially if teens are involved in setting them up with their parents."
Explain that abiding by curfews builds trust and demonstrates maturity, so she will be rewarded for this. "As your teen gets older, the arrival hour can be negotiated toward an increasingly later time," Kuczmarski suggests.
Setting consequences for late arrival
If your teen has had input etablishing curfews, he may not break them. If he does, there needs to be a set of consequences. It's important to discuss the consequences ahead of time.
"When he is late, give him the freedom and opportunity to explain. Maybe there were unplanned events, like a flat tire or a surprise party," Kuczmarski says. "If your teen continues to break the curfew rule, let the agreed-upon consequences fall into place. If your teen has missed curfew because drinking or drugs were involved, then the consequences should be more serious."
Other guidelines to keep in mind include negotiating later hours for special events and allowing more freedoms if curfews are met consistently. And be sure to keep the light on, and stay awake, until teens arrive home safely.
Myrna Beth Haskell is the mother of two teens. She has been writing about parenting, family issues and children's health for 12 years.
TIPS AND TALES FROM OTHER PARENTS
"My kids (18 and 14) do not have curfews. I remember so clearly the fights I had with my parents over curfews. It's so much better to use a carrot than a stick. There is nothing more valuable to a teenager than being trusted to do the right thing. They tend to rise to the level of your expectations; I know mine have!"
— Katherine R. Hutt, Vienna, Va.
For prom time: "We have an after-prom party. It is at the high school gym. They need signed forms to be there and are locked down until 5 or 6 a.m. the following morning. Everyone feels this works better than anything else to keep the kids safe."
— Eileen Sarter, Kennett Square, Penn.