What’s New with Teen Curfews?

For Sue Watkins, being the mother of a 14-year-old daughter comes with plenty of opportunities and challenges. Daughter Tracey is active in her school and church, enjoys youth soccer and likes talking on the telephone. But now the Cary teen also wants to go to the movies on Friday nights with friends or spend Saturday evenings shopping at one of the local malls. So, for the first time, the Watkins family is talking about curfews. And, not surprisingly, mother and daughter don’t always see eye to eye.

Curfews Are Determined by Trust

During the teen years, kids’ social lives focus more on evening activities, and the push for later nights begins. Rather than negotiating each outing separately, many families set a regular curfew, along with other ground rules about staying in touch. These curfews and rules are based on a number of factors, including the level of responsibility of the youth and the level of trust between the youth and parents.

“Parents need to state clearly that teenagers must earn the right to be trusted and have a reasonable curfew,” says Dr. Robert Winton, a Durham psychiatrist. “If a teen is doing well in school, getting chores done around the house and participating in the family activities, they can earn a later curfew. If they are not behaving responsibly, the teen does not get the later time.”

According to a national survey of 1,000 adolescents ages 13-17, approximately 71 percent live in a household with curfews. According to Margaret Sagarese, co-author of the book, The Roller-Coaster Years (Bloomsbury Publishing, 1998), the vast majority of them agreed with the rules.

“Teens do want limits, but they are loathe to admit it,” she says. “It is important to let your teen know that abiding by a curfew shows responsibility and maturity.”

Curfews Should Be Fair and Reasonable

Winton says parents need to be in agreement over the child’s curfew limits. Couples need to make sure they are on the same page with the child. “It is important that parents present a united front,” he says.

It’s also important for parents to avoid sexism when establishing rules and times, Sagarese says. Sometimes boys are given more leeway, thus sending a message to girls that they are less competent and trustworthy.

So, how late should a young teen be allowed to stay out? Winton encourages parents not to feel guilty when they hear that other kids don’t have to come home so early. “You need to determine what’s acceptable in your family, and appropriate for your child,” he says. “Everyone has heard the general rule that nothing good ever happens after midnight.”

If Tracey Watkins goes out on a weeknight, she is expected home by 9 p.m., 10 p.m. on weekends. Homework, however, is to be done by 8 p.m., so, practically speaking, weeknight outings depend on completing homework first. The weekend curfew can be extended for a special reason like a later movie, says mother Sue.

Cell Phone: Friend or Foe?

Going hand-in-hand with the curfew is the importance of knowing where the teen is at all times. Today’s teens are constantly on the move. Many parents, especially those with young teens, have a ground rule: When they change locations, the kids have to call in. Sue Watkins recently got Tracey a cell phone. But she, like many parents, has mixed feelings about the phone.

“It does make it easier for children to keep in touch, but it also makes it easier for them to lie. If you call your child on his cell, you don’t really know if she’s at her friend Jason’s house or not,” she explains. “It all really still comes down to a matter of trust.”

Community Curfews

Parents are not the only ones dealing with the debate surrounding teen curfews. One Triangle area town and two shopping malls already have tackled the issue. In mid-May, Knightdale officials approved a seven-day curfew ordinance, which includes steep fines for parents whose children are cited by town police. In the Wake County town, anyone younger than 18 must be off the streets by 9 p.m. According to town officials, the strict curfew and fines are in response to a spate of violence and vandalism in the small town. The new law went into effect June 1.

“The new ordinance is designed to make parents more responsible,” says Knightdale Public Safety Director Skip Blaylock. “It also gives our officers another tool to use when groups of teenagers are walking the streets.”

According to a survey by USA Weekend, more than 700 cities nationwide have enacted teen curfews, including 146 of the nation’s largest 200.

Durham leaders are among those discussing the possibility of establishing teen curfews, but to date no action has been taken by the city. However, at Northgate Mall, one of the city’s major shopping centers, teens under 16 are prohibited from shopping without an adult chaperone during the evenings.

“Our policy started out as a way to put our shoppers first at the mall,” says Paula Harris, marketing director for Northgate Mall. “Some shoppers feel uncomfortable coming to the mall where a group of teenagers are just hanging out.”

Managers of other malls have called for more information on the shopping policy, she says. Soon after it opened in the fall, the renovated North Hills shopping center off Six Forks Road in North Raleigh said children younger than high-school age would have to be accompanied by an adult after 9 p.m.