All children – yes, even tweens and teenagers – need the routine and structure that firm family rules provide in order to develop confidence in navigating their environment. Curfews are one of those rules and are an important part of developing a teenager’s (and tween’s) responsibility.
Benefits of Establishing a Curfew
- Curfews help youth learn to follow a normal routine schedule by being home before a certain time each night. This actually reduces stress in their life, as well as within the family. It also prepares them to make better decisions for themselves when they are in college or out on their own.
- Most teens get into trouble if they have too much freedom. Knowing where your teen is and when he or she will be home adds in a layer of safety and dissuades troubled behavior.
- Curfews teach the importance of keeping track of time. This is an important skill that will serve them well as an adult when they must keep appointments.
- Curfews help teens get enough sleep every night. When teens are not sleep deprived, they are able to function better during the day.
How to Set Up a Curfew
Parents should set an official curfew – a set time around which your teen will have to schedule their activities. Generally, this curfew doesn’t change and helps your teen understand limits and boundaries. It does not have to be the same time on weeknights as on weekends, but it does remain consistent from weekday to weekday and weekend to weekend. You can always add or restrict this time when they have something special to do or you need them to be home earlier. For example, if your 16-year-old’s curfew is midnight on the weekends, you may want to extend that time on prom night.
When setting a curfew, parents should be willing to compromise with their teen when determining the curfew time and then stay firm once that curfew has been agreed to by the family. It’s important to get your teen’s input into curfews for two main reasons: (1) it increases their likelihood to comply, and (2) it may offer you ideas that you had not considered when choosing a time. They may have an excellent reason for needing an extra half hour on the weekend, which should be taken into account, and again will increase your teen’s likelihood of meeting your rules. Parents should explain their reasoning in choosing a time. They should discuss how curfews increase a child’s safety and that is the parents’ number one concern. Parents should also talk to their teen about what it means to have this responsibility. Explain the trust you are placing in them to be home on time.
Here are a few more tips:
- Know the law concerning curfews. Many cities and counties in the United States have legislated curfews for tweens and teens. In those places, what time your teen should be home is pretty clear-cut. However, even if your locality already has a curfew for minors, it may be later than the curfew you had in mind for your child. Don’t feel guilty if you require your child to be home before his friends or any local ordinance limitations. Do not get sucked into what ‘everyone else is allowed to do’. Make decisions that fit your family.
- Allow occasional exceptions. It is perfectly acceptable to extend a curfew for special events and circumstances, such as a school play, prom, a family event, or an extra-curricular commitment. Just make sure that extensions are the exceptions to the rule, rather than the norm. Consistency is the key to making curfews work.
- Consider your child’s maturity and how much sleep he needs. Consider your own child’s sleep needs before deciding on a curfew time. One of the reasons parents establish curfews is to make sure children have time for all the other important events of the day. You child’s maturity level is important, too – if they aren’t handling responsibility well in other areas of their life, then they won’t manage curfews well either.
- Be prepared for complaints. No matter what time you establish as your child’s curfew, more than likely he will complain and insist that his friends can stay out much longer. Be prepared, and read the section below about “negotiating”.
- Set consequences. Once a curfew is set, be very specific about the rules and consequences. The best time to decide on penalties for broken curfews is before the fact. (When deciding on appropriate consequences, it’s a good idea to solicit your teen’s input. Ask what they think is an appropriate penalty.) Be sure to explain what consequences your child will face if he forgets his curfew, or ignores it all together. For example, if your son arrives home 20 minutes after his curfew, you may require that he come home 20 minutes early the next time he goes out. Curfews don’t work unless they’re enforced, and the whole idea behind setting a curfew is for your child to learn how to follow the rules, behave responsibly and safely, and show you that he’s worthy of your trust.
- Know where they are. Just because you know what time they will be home, does not mean that what they do during that time is up to them. They still should tell you where they are going and who they are with and call if their plans change. If their friends decide to change locations from what your child originally said, you should make a firm rule that they must call you to inform you of their new whereabouts. And do not allow them to call 1/2 hour (or so) before their curfew to ask if they can sleep over at a friend’s house. This can be a red flag that something is wrong.
Nearly every parent finds themselves negotiating around the issue of their child’s curfew. When your child pushes you to extend the time by another half hour or hour, you can quickly find yourself in a pointless argument or backing down to avoid one. James Lehman, who writes for “Empowering Parents” – a weekly newsletter – recommends following these specific rules when your child wants to negotiate about curfew:
- Parents should not negotiate predetermined agreements and responsibilities. You can say, “You agreed to be home by 6 o’clock on school nights. That’s what we agreed to when we talked about this. It’s your responsibility. We’re not going to talk about it anymore.”
- Parents should not negotiate extending their child’s curfew over the phone, whether it’s 15 minutes or an hour before they’re expected home. If the child wants a later curfew, he has to come home on time now. Then he can sit down with you at another time to discuss a later curfew. He can’t change it on the night he wants to break it. Or you can approach it this way: Sit down with him when things are calm and say, “If you want a later curfew, come home on time on your regular curfew three times in a row and then we’ll talk about changing it. But if you can’t come home on time on this one, why should I give you a later one?” Remember, keeping curfew is a responsibility, and you don’t negotiate responsibilities.
- Don’t negotiate with the child when he’s trying to wrangle a later curfew with you through force. If he’s calling you and getting into a power struggle about “I don’t wanna come home yet,” don’t attend the fight you’re being invited to. Tell him you expect him home at his normal curfew, remind him of the consequence for not being home on time, and refuse to negotiate further.
- Don’t negotiate your child’s curfew “on the spot.” Kids will do this to you all the time. They’ll bring up the issue of when they have to be home when you’re busy, stressed or distracted, thinking it will be easier to get you to give in. If your child wants to talk to you about his curfew while you’re making dinner, tell him you’ll talk about it after dinner at seven o’clock. Give yourself some time to think it through. When you meet at seven, both you and your child will likely have more of a clear head about the matter. Remember, just because your child asks you to talk about it doesn’t mean you have to give up the answer immediately. Take some time to think before you respond.