Setting Appropriate Curfews

With summer in full swing, teens are eager to hang out with friends, go on dates, and enjoy activities outside the house. As a result, it’s a perfect time to set an appropriate curfew for your son or daughter. Curfews are actually an important part of developing responsibility in your teen, and regardless of what your child may say, teens need routine and structure to develop confidence and feel safe.

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

When setting a curfew, you should be willing to compromise with your 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. You should explain your reasoning in choosing a time and discuss how curfews increase safety, which is your number one concern.

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, the 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 (though it is perfectly fine to set different curfews for weeknights versus weekend). Additionally, it’s within your rights to reduce their curfew on a specific night if they have something to do early the next morning.
  • Consider your child’s maturity and how much sleep he needs. Consider your teen’s sleep needs before deciding on a curfew time. One of the reasons parents establish curfews is to make sure teens have time for all the other important events of the day. Your 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 or she will complain and insist that his or her 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 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. 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 soon 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.


Negotiating Curfews

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.” Teens often bring up issues when you’re busy, stressed or distracted – they are clever; they know you might be more likely to give in at those times. If your child wants to talk to you about his curfew, make an “appointment.” Give yourself time to think it through and then meet with them at a convenient time.

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