Does Your Teen Sneak Out?
It is a rare teenager that has never been tempted to sneak out of the house. At some point, most teens are asked by their friends to meet up after curfew or to come out when they are grounded. Unfortunately, rarely does anything good happen when teenagers are hanging out in the middle of the night. To protect teens from the dangerous things that could happen late at night, parents must work to prevent their children from sneaking out of the house and get the behavior under control quickly if it does happen.
Prevent Your Teen from Sneaking Out
There are several things you can do to try to prevent your teen from sneaking out in the first place.
Discuss the risks. Even if you think your son or daughter will never sneak out at night, you should still talk to them about the dangers ahead of time. Make sure your teen knows how you feel about sneaking out and why that behavior is not safe. Share crime statistics and talk about all the bad things that could happen. You can also mention what the curfew laws are in your area and how important it is for you to know where your teen is.
Discuss peer pressure. One day, your teen is going to be invited to a late-night party, to “hang out” at in the wee hours of the morning, or something similar by a group of friends. Teens are eager to fit in and they likely will have a difficult time saying no. That’s why it’s critical that parents talk to their teens about how to handle peer pressure before it begins. To get started, read our previous blogs, “Managing Peer Pressure” or “5 Ways Parents Can Teach Assertiveness to Teens.”
Prohibit electronics in your teen’s bedroom. You should establish an electronics curfew. Smartphones, laptops, and any other electronics that connect to the Internet should be placed in a public location (kitchen, family room, etc.) by a certain time (your teen’s bedtime). This serves three purposes. First, it allows your teen to get a more restful night’s sleep. Second, it prevents your teen from engaging in dangerous Internet behavior while you are sleeping. Finally, it prevents your teen from receiving messages from their friends that either pressure them to sneak out or coordinate a plan to meet up.
Evaluate your family rules. Make an honest review of your family rules. Often, teens will stay within your rules if they feel they are age appropriate and that you are willing to negotiate. If your teen feels like they are able to have a “normal” social life, then they will be less likely to sneak behind your back. Within reason, be sure to allow your teen to choose their own friends, establish a curfew that is in line with the majority of their peers, and extend the curfew under special circumstances. The freedom you offer may be enough to keep your teen willingly in line.
Create a behavior contract. Many experts agree that signing a behavior contract with your teen is an effective way to make sure your child knows what is considered unacceptable behavior and to obtain their commitment to house rules. A contract would detail your family’s rules, consequences for breaking the rules, and the path to gaining more freedoms. While you obviously cannot list every possible behavior and consequence, a contract would at least hit upon the major themes. For example, your contract should establish a clear curfew for both school and non-school days. If your teen misses curfew or sneaks out in the middle of the night, your contract should detail a specific negative consequence. If your teen consistently abides by the curfew, then the contract can state that they will be allowed a later curfew on specific special occasions that you both agree to beforehand. The most important aspect of creating a contract is involving your teen and being willing to negotiate. For example, if your son thinks that your idea of a curfew is too early, you can either come up with a time you are both happy with or you can detail what efforts your son must undertake to earn a later curfew, such as staying out of trouble for a set amount of time or making good grades.
Consequences for Sneaking Out
If you catch your teen sneaking out, you absolutely must enforce a consequence. Sneaking out is a dangerous activity that needs to be stopped immediately. Your child must learn that when they make bad choices, they will receive negative consequences. If you don’t follow through with a punishment, they will continue to sneak out. Possible consequences may include:
- Grounding your teen from favorite activities or friends for a specified period of time.
- Restricting your teen’s privileges, such as taking away their cell phone or video games.
- Adding additional responsibilities, such as extra chores.
To be effective, consequences should take away something your teen truly values and should be specific, with a start and end time to the punishment and a clear explanation of what is restricted.
If you have done all of the above steps and your teen still sneaks out of the house, you may need to take more drastic measures.
- Install alarm codes. If you have a house alarm, you can assign codes to different people in your house and it will record when they arm and disarm the alarm. You can set up the system to send you a text message or let you check online to see when someone is logging on or off of the alarm so that you know the exact times anyone has been outside of the house. You can also have a house alarm alert you when a door or window is opened. Alarm systems are great because not only do they protect the whole family, they provide the additional safety of making sure your teenager is spending the whole night inside the house.
- Get an alarm for your teen’s room. If you do not have a house alarm, you can purchase an alarm that will go off when your teen exits his bedroom at night or opens his window. Or, an alternative to an alarm is to hang a bell on the door or window that can’t be easily removed. Do not nail the window shut, or otherwise prevent the window from opening, because then your teen could not escape in a fire or other emergency.
- Install motion sensor lights. Another less ideal solution is to have motion sensor lights installed around the house. They can be a good way to catch your teen and friends sneaking out. The two problems with this method are: 1) not every parent is woken by lights turning on outside, and 2) your lights will turn on for any motion, including wandering possums or raccoons.
- Set your alarm. If you are pretty sure your teen is sneaking out, you can set your alarm for 1 a.m. and check to see if they are still in bed. If they are gone, you could go back to sleep in their bed so that they have quite a surprise upon their return.
Sneaking out of the house is a very dangerous activity, not to mention disrespectful behavior, that must be stopped for your child’s well-being. Consider the reason your teen might be sneaking out. We already mentioned that you should make sure your family rules are age appropriate, but also consider whether you are giving your teen enough attention. If you are disengaged with your teen, they may subconsciously act out in order to gain your attention or feel that you won’t even notice if they are gone. Your teen may feel less inclined to sneak out if they know they are being closely monitored and that you take an active interest in his life.